The Intimacy of Art
My pastor, Mike Lueken, posed a question to us in his most recent Sunday message. If you were to meet the real Jesus, he posited, the real flesh-in-blood Jesus of the Bible, would you want to be with Him? Would you sit with Him and talk to Him and eat with Him and be drawn to be with Him? Or would you make some small talk for a few minutes, and then find some polite way to excuse yourself and leave? Would you find a conversation with Jesus compelling and deep and delightful, or would you find it stilted and surfacy and uncomfortable? Would you have a lot to talk about, or would you be grasping for words?
It got me thinking about the nature of how we interact with others, and how we will sometimes guard ourselves with our small courtesies and our social graces, to keep ourselves from the risk of knowing and being known by others. Because maybe that applies not just to the people we meet in our neighborhoods and schools and workplaces, but also with God as well.
Artists—at least those of us who are made of equal parts of deep passion and silent melancholy—will often have a tendency to live within ourselves. We secretly desire intimacy, and yet we instinctively protect ourselves by placing distance between ourselves and others. This is true of our lives and also true of our art. So we spend hours in our studios and practice rooms and creative spaces alone in our thoughts, alone in the creative process.
Artmaking is an extremely intimate act. We pour ourselves out into the things we create, fleshing out our inner selves into the clay, the canvas, the guitar strings. Through our creative expressions, we bare a bit of ourselves in everything we make. So in this sense, artmaking is an act of incarnation. We simply can’t help it—our poetry and songs and films reflect the meta-narrative of mortal brokenness and divine redemption. But ironically, in the midst of this creative intimacy, we tend toward aloneness. It’s like giving birth to a baby—you want to show the baby off, but you don’t want too many people in the delivery room either.
There have been a number of times when musician friends of mine will ask me if I’d like to collaborate on some songwriting. I’ll always find myself politely declining the opportunity, for reasons I never quite understand. Really, what am I afraid of?
And I know I’m not alone in this irony. I know many musicians and painters and other artists who create not only alone in their rooms but more profoundly alone in themselves.
If you are one of those solitary artists, I want to encourage you to do two things. First, invite someone you know and trust into your creative process. I don’t know what that might mean to you, given your medium and situation, but I do know that it can be an act of spiritual formation to allow others into the internal space (both physical and emotional) you reserve for yourself. Co-write, collaborate, dialogue your ideas and visions. Dare to get outside of yourself and share the creative process. You may find that a collaborative interaction will stretch and challenge you—artistically and personally and spiritually—in good and formative ways.
Second, don’t forget to allow God into that place also. For our Creator God is an intimate Being as well, and He meets us in the act of creation. Omnipotent and omnipresent, he desires to be with us and share the creative moment. Offer your creativity to God and invite the Holy Spirit to be the inspirer of your work. Allow Him into the process, the struggle, of writing your lyrics or choreography or drawing. Commune with God in every brushstroke you take, every phrase you write, every idea that comes to mind. Make your artmaking a sacred conversation. For God is not only our audience. He is also the origin of all creativity.
Artmaking for the artist can too often be a place we hide from the world, and hide from God. But if that is the case, then we miss out on the intimate horizontal and vertical relationships that enrich the process. Like a conversation with Jesus, the act of creation should be compelling and deep and delightful when shared with others—and especially with God.
Do you have an example—either horizontal or vertical—that you can share about the creative process? I’d love to hear about it.
[Note: If you hadn't figured it out, the photo above is from a scene from the classic eighties movie, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." The painting is "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" by French painter, Georges Pierre Seurat.]