In this Holy Day season of Christmas, I am reminded by a Brother, Christ (like wrist) Otto, author of Mary: When God Shares His Glory, of the many parallels that we artists share with Mary, the mother of Jesus. The late Madeleine L’Engle, author of the master work, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, also drew on these parallels by reminding artists of the need to be available to the work Father asks of us. In submission and surrender Mary said, “Let it be unto me according to Your will.” In this way the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us, Immanuel.
If we artists will adopt Mary’s submission to the work, we too can participate in this act of incarnation of His Word. Through us, in the cause of Father God, our art is also a form of His Word becoming flesh.
We might want to ask what our inspirational source is for the art we make. Is it our own mind, our own intellect? Or is our source, in relational-faith, none other than the Beloved Father Himself? And when the angel of invitation appears in our hearts, do we choose to accept Father’s invitation to make the work? Will we venture, with Him, into the invisible spiritual realm and render our experience as artwork to share with God’s people? If our relational-faith with Father God is indeed the sole source of our work, then can it not be said that we too participate in the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us?
We artists, as the Charashim of God (His creative artisans), are we not Spirit filled? Do we not posses the closest of intimate relationships with Father God? Do we not participate in our own Mystic Union, that He is in us and we are in Him?
The Holy Spirit came upon Mary and she conceived. In our own spiritual union with Father God we too can experience the conception of works of art that Father desires to share with the world. In this way we participate in the incarnation of His Word. But, are we willing to surrender our own agendas and yield to Him for the benefit of our fellow human kind? What is Father God asking each one of us to “enflesh,” as L’Engle says?
The choice is ours, dear artists. It’s always been ours.
Personally, I am still working to figure out what art is, what the purpose of art is, and why some human beings even bother to make art. When I go back to the beginnings, the earliest expressions of what we now call art – cave paintings & carvings – I am captured by the thought that those primordial people had something other than making art in mind. I don’t think for an instant that our primordial ancestors asked about what they were doing. It’s almost as if an urge needed expression and carvings and cave paintings were simply the necessary outlet.
I believe as well that expressions through singing, chanting, dancing, drumming and the like all came into being and developed because of a rising need for the release of celebration and expression that could not be suppressed. They could not simply sit on their hands and ignore these creative urges that were rising up within them.
Today – and I promise to be very brief – art is treated as are all human products as an economic commodity. Those who buy and sell art, after stealing it from the artist – that is all but the motion picture artists – run off with the many objects of art in the world to buy and sell them with vigorous abandon. Success is often measured by the auction block price tag. And while the artist never sees a dime of those later transactions, that artist is deemed a great success because some of their work sold for thousands, even millions, of dollars. These are transactions which completely exclude the artists.
How did we get from our ancestral heritage of mark-making to today’s “art market”? It’s a question that has interested me for the past decade. Before that time I was all too willing to sell whatever artwork it was that I had made in order to become a “success”. No longer though. I’ve absolutely no interest in playing the art world game with all of its sham, glitter, and goo. I know why I make the art I do and the source from whence it comes. I even know the purpose of my art, and it isn’t to garner personal fame or fortune. In fact, since there’s little or nothing that I want to do to change that condition, is the question even worth my asking?
I think it may be of some value on a personal level because I am still trying to grasp my role as an artist in this world.
As I’m “talking” here, perhaps the question that I’m after is indeed deeply personal and can best be shaped by asking, how I can reconnect with those primordial ancestors who made such innocent and selfless marks? How best do I draw from their drive because I believe that, for them, it was a spiritual drive. So is mine.
In those primordial days, I don’t see someone sitting around thinking in terms of bison anatomy and landscape beauty that they wish to capture visually. I see someone whose entire world was spiritual. This is one of the marks of the emergence of humanity, the acknowledgment of connection with the spiritual realm(s).
I see a duality of vision – harmonious to be sure – wherein those early peoples could see both the living animals as well as their spirits at the same time. I neither know nor care what that looks like in literal terms. What I do care about is the fact of this dual vision they experienced and carried within themselves.
Somewhere, somehow, a person chose to celebrate and express that dual vision in imagery. Carving – even desiring to carve – and painting developed into a means of that celebratory expression. I want to know this selfsame celebration and expression – the primordial essence of what it means to be human and to make marks of meaning.
In my own parallel experience, my life has been deeply touched by Father God. He and I developed a relationship and to this day we live in that relationship. Because Father created me as an artist, something of our spiritual relationship rises up in me and will not be silenced or ignored. I must express and, yes, even celebrate, this relationship through my artmaking with Father. It is this celebration of relationship that leads me to see our artmaking together as an act of worship. If I’d been born as I am, millennia ago, I would have experienced this selfsame life, not of creativity, but of artistic expression.
As it is, I do chant and play drums as worship. I do paint and write as worship. The writing I am doing right here, right now, is an active celebration of my relationship with my Beloved Father God. In a way, I suppose I am that so-called caveman who has dire need to share, celebrate, and express his dual vision of the physical and the spiritual with the others of his tribal clan.