On Art and Artists

I used to be an artist. Galleries showed my work. People sometimes bought it. Some of it was impressionist landscape; moonlit winter scenes sold best. They had a Nordic charm to them, perhaps, a kind of hard-edged mysticism. I did a lot of collage, as well, a woman’s art, with religious and mythic themes. It didn’t sell much, but it was shown a lot.

And then I stopped. I didn’t need to create anymore, and art is a poor, secondhand kind of creation. I’ve read Bishop N.T. Wright on art and music, and it’s not that I disagree, but I no longer find much importance in it. Rarely do the creative arts transcend the ego of the artist.

And that would include me. Too much ego was involved, and in all honesty, I soured on the constant push to produce something that would sell. I didn’t care that Van Gogh sold almost nothing in his lifetime but is reckoned a genius. I agree, he was.  But he died an ill, suicidal, bitter-souled artist. Certainly, I am no Van Gogh in mood or talent.

I think I always disliked the creative compulsion. It is too selfish. I disliked the childish dare-you attitude of the art world, always pushing to shock and intimidate. I disliked the accolades given to both the outrageous and the sentimental.  I was dismayed by the messy personal lives of so many artists, by their arrogance and their introspection that made servants of their families.

Yet I appreciate a lot of art. We live with icons around us. They are constant prayer, a praying without ceasing that connects the subject, the iconographer and the viewer in the divine presence.

I like the visionary paintings by an 18th century Quaker on the theme of the Peaceable Kingdom. It is the landscape of the soul, a yearning for the New Creation, the fulfillment of the incarnation. Naif in style, the animals have almost human expressions; they are as spiritual as any of the great cathedral works of art. There is a depth to the Kingdom paintings unappreciated by a generation or so who think of them as mere Americana, a suitable decoration for a Colonial themed room. Seen with Quaker eyes they are a powerful statement, icons in their own right.

Perhaps some day I will again be able to visit a museum or art gallery with aprpeciation of the artists’ endeavours, but now I feel too much pity and sorrow for the paltriness of human vision without divine inspiration.

8 thoughts on “On Art and Artists

  1. Wow. I was heavily involved in piano for the first 17 years of my life, then one day, under God, I gave it up and have not touched one in the 16 years since, nor have I desired to. I was simply done; that part of my life and my self was complete. I have never quite known how to express this to anyone. So many assume that there must be some underlying trauma behind simply abandoning something at which one once excelled. Your entry gives me food for thought and offers words for this, even in some differences. I turned to seek God, and no longer wanted my self and all that absorption and ego bring.

  2. I’m an art student.I am never content unless I am drawing, cutting, printing or sewing, so for me there is no choice in the matter; I must carry on creating.I do art for personal pleasure and because of a driven necessity.

    It is a shame that you no longer see the joy in art.

    That Quaker style painting is in my head, but I do not know the name.

  3. One way that good art always transcends the ego of the artists? It’s ability to endure. Long after the artist and his ego and dead, good art transcends both place and time.

  4. Hi there,
    My personal experience is that some of my artist friends are oh so self focused, and yes as much as I love them, they’re quite selfish. It’s all about them…the focus constantly about how they feel, express themselves etc. Then there are those I know and love also who are exactly the opposite. Expressing the wonder of their family, their surroundings, their faith, joyfulness and no navel gazing whatsoever. They simply love to create and paint. It might be worth noting that Van Gogh may well have died a miserable soul…he had a largely untreated mental illness. I suspect there may be many artists in history who were not wealthy during their lifetime as a result of their art, but led happy, godly and virtuous lives. Well, at least a few. :)

  5. Dear Fellow Travlers,
    I have been attending a creative journaling class, we meet at various churches around Santa Cruz, CA we also do some sketching too.
    Our vegetable garden has been productive, we appreciate having fresh, organic, veggies just outside our door.

    I have been reading through a book entitled: “The Pilgrim Road…Insights from the Early Christians,” There is one chapter in particular that speaks to me entitled: “Poor In Spirit” “Blessed are the poor in spirit the theirs is the kingdom of heaven” Matt 5:3
    ” It is not simply those who are poor that He pronounces blessed, but those who have wished to become to become poor for righteousness sake. These are the ones who have scorned the honors of this world in order to procure that which is truly good.”

    This book was compiled by David Bercot

    Love, Thea

  6. Thank you for posting this (almost a year ago – thy timing is fruitful). It really speaks to me. My journey through to Plain has included this component of art – as an artist. Since going Plain I finally understand the self-aggrandizement, the self-masturbation – if you will – that art can be — to say nothing of the Business of Art. I know it’s quite popular and psycho-babble-correct to talk about ‘creativity’ and ‘self-expression.’ The more Plain I’ve become (and I’m admitted not all there yet) the more I’ve come to a place where I truly understand creativity from a quantum perspective and that my self IS an expression of All That Is and all I can really express is All That Is and that is through love and service.

    @H – Vincent Van Gogh was probably the victim of his art. Painters didn’t truly understand the danger of the heavy metals they used. They would “tip” their brushes in their mouths and it would be on their skin for days at a time, under their fingernails and so forth. It’s rather likely that at least some of Vincent’s problems were caused by cadmium and other color chemicals in his paint.

    • Yes, VVG may have poisoned himself. I know better than to put the brushes in my mouth, though. Still I wondered – am I absorbing stuff through my skin? And the best paints are often the most poisonous – flake white, for example, is much deeper than zinc white – hey, that great grey lead!

      I made up some scrapbook pages for a friend’s birthday recently. (All she has to do is put in the birthday photos.) Four pages took me about half an hour. It was like collage at its dullest. I don’t think I can go back. My creativity is going into the garden from now on.

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