My father and mother were/are both artists. My father, now deceased, was a master carpenter. My mother, now living with us, is an artist according to the more usual mediums of clay, oils, pastels, pen and ink, etc. I was always encouraged to participate in their artistic endeavors. Sadly, I was endowed by the Holy Spirit with the same gift of artistic “genius” (see Roman mythology). Now that my mom lives with us, I am, perhaps, being invited to deal with the old wound of labeling myself as “artless.” Perhaps the narrative of my life has been and is the quest for the medium of my artistic expression. Perhaps I have always been attempting to prove something to myself as well as my mom and dad. (By the way, Taylor, Madison, and Joshua all have the artistic “genius” in the usual sense. I guess it skipped a generation :o)…
The attempt to prove something isn’t necessarily all bad. It could be positive. It could, admittedly, be a desire to prove that I have a right to exist, in which I am always trying to prove to someone/everyone that I didn’t slip in the side door of human existence without a ticket. On the positive side, I could be pursuing the realization of my artistic identity as an affirmation that I am authentically human. This second way equates human being with artistic identity.
“Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identify, our own destiny. We are free beings and sons of God. This means to say that we should not passively exist, but actively participate in (God’s) creative freedom, in our own lives, and in the lives of others, by choosing the truth. To put it better, we are even called to share with God the work of creating the truth of our identity.” Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation
“It is essential to human being to fall apart, to fragment, disintegrate, and to experience the despair that comes with lack of wholeness. To what can we turn, then, in this moment of crisis? I believe it is at this critical moment that the possibility of creative living arises. If we can let go of our previous identities and move into the experience of the void, then the possibility arises for new forms of existence to emerge. Poiesis, the creative act, occurs as the death and re-birth of the soul. . . We are called upon constantly to re-form ourselves, to engage in what James Hillman calls ‘soul-making’ . . . The soul finds its form in art.” Stephen K Levine, Poeisis: The Language of Psychology and the Speech of the Soul
The “creative act,” to quote Stephen Levine, “is an affirmation of being, an attempt to bring something new into the world.” (a disclaimer — I have, admittedly only read the “Introduction” to the book from which the quotes I have included are taken. My initial perusal of the book reveals that I would probably disagree with just about everything else in it. Nonetheless, I was incredibly intrigued and attracted by his words and the chords it struck deep within me even if they are taken out of context…) It could be driven by a need to prove one’s right to exist or it could be the fruit of receiving one’s right to exist as a gift of God’s artistic expression. It could be the acceptance of a mandate to exert the influence that each and every human being has been created to exert in God’s redemptive design in Christ Jesus as a artist in the medium(s) of faith, hope, and love.
To “receive myself as an artist” might just be an essential way of understanding what it means to receive my true identity in Christ Jesus. To be created in the image of God and grow into the likeness of God in Christ Jesus is to receive and consummate my identity as a child of the “One True Artist” if I may be so bold as to attach such a moniker to God. It is to be, at one and the same time, completely and redemptively “dis-illusioned” to borrow Bonhoeffer’s word. That requires a redemptive community of would-be and already artists. Indeed, the Body of Christ might be understood as an “artist’s colony.”
Someone must die for someone to live. That is the essential message of the Gospel. I do not mean that is just the penal, substitutional atonement sense, but also the personal sense. I must die to the artistless self to be born to the artistic self. My life-long struggle (and I do mean struggle) to realize and receive my identity as an artist in my own right, unique in my artistic expression and medium(s), is not an illusion. It is the redemptive struggle to live an authentically human life. If I yearn and strive for it and die to all that hinders it, a work of art does emerge through me that is mysteriously an expression of myself and the artistic identity and giftedness of the “One True Artist,” God Himself, by His grace/love.