catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 10 :: 2011.05.20 — 2011.06.09


Eyes to see

Art has always been outside of me. Looking back, I would like to blame my parents for not valuing art enough. Admittedly, our school drawings would be hung on the fridge, but our walls were relatively bare. A plaque from my grandparents hung in our kitchen and a painting by my other grandmother was in the hall. I don’t remember any trips to an art museum or recall my parents’ eyes lighting up at the beauty of a masterpiece. We were not encouraged to linger with paint and canvas or to play with charcoal or pastels until they stained our finger tips. But perhaps it’s a bit unfair of me to blame them. Our family finances were limited and I preferred sports, getting dirty outside and riding my bike. Had they afforded me the opportunity, I probably would have informed them that “art is for girls” with all of the naïve belligerence I could muster, just like I did when they gave me piano lessons one Christmas and tennis lessons another. Art has always been outside of me.

I write “has always been” with intentionality.  Even now, as an adult, no latent gifts have suddenly bloomed. I look around our walls and see a picture of a lion lying down with a lamb, which one of my kids drew in first or second grade. There is a plaque that I received from my parents as a graduation gift. A pencil drawing of Jesus laughing is in our living room. But that’s it. Art is still relatively absent from our home.

However, we do have a craft table — my daughter’s place of solitude.  I occasionally join her and inevitably marvel as her stories pour into and seep out of every picture she sketches and paints and glues together. I occasionally pull out a sketch pad and a few colored pencils of my own, finding them to be willing participants and able recipients of an overdue catharsis. But I’ve also found that the invitation to mingle the colors together on paper requires a degree of being still and a subtle responsiveness that I am not often ready to accept. And so I write “has always been” knowing that I am the one who keeps art outside of me.

Yet, something about the simplicity of my daughter’s art lingers. What Sister Wendy Beckett writes about prayer — “the real difficulty with prayer is that it has no difficulty” — could well be said of my daughter’s artistry as well. The beauty and potency is not found in magnificent lines, precise clarity or subtle hues. Her art is a vessel for her story, for the way she interprets the day’s events, how she sees the people and pets she loves, and even the way she imagines the world could be.

“Daddy, look at what I drew. If we had a pool and my friends came over, we would jump in it and it would be lots of fun.” There is no guile, no manipulation, no passive aggressive implication that I need to buy a pool. She finds joy simply in the imagined possibility of experiencing joy, and delights in drawing a story about what that joyous experience could be. Her art reflects her rather uninhibited imagination engaging and anticipating a fullness of life beyond what she already experiences.

The “difficulty” with her art is that its simplicity exposes my naiveté in assuming that impossibilities define reality. “I’m a full-time student. We don’t have money for a pool. Our family is busy enough already. We can’t add a whole other layer of pool-upkeep to our schedule. Besides, we’re renting this house. We couldn’t build a pool here even if we wanted to.” With such internal objections, I reinforce my enslavement to what I already believe and reject the invitation of her imagination.

It is here that her art, like prayer, confronts my unbelief; and such confrontations can come about only through the moving of the Spirit. Whether in the solitude of my prayer journal or the prayers offered in communal worship or the imaginative play at my daughter’s craft table, I am learning that the Spirit persistently beckons us to have ears to hear and eyes to see what we have not yet imagined God doing.  

Sister Wendy sagely instructs, “Religious art does not ‘illustrate,’ or not primarily. What it does is to carry us away from the limitations of what we already know and believe and set us free in the infinities of a deeper vision.” Deeper vision. Perhaps that’s what disturbs me. I tend to see myself as one who thinks deeply. Yet, in the simplicity of my daughter’s art, my depth is shown to be still quite shallow. I am too often content to dwell in what I have already seen, rather than embracing the hope-filled possibilities of what could be. I wonder if what Jesus meant when he told his disciples, “You will do even greater things than these,” came out of this kind of prayerful visioning — seeing possibilities: God-created, God-desired, God-breathed potential, where others only saw limitations in the fallen political, economic, social, artistic and religious structures around them. 

Art has always been outside of me and that has dulled my anticipation of how God might yet move in making all things new. As I listen to my daughter share her storied art, I wonder: what will it take to renew my vision? Maybe I need to let art in — not superficial or popular conceptions per se; rather, art that has the depth of vision that allows me to see the circumstances around me as the raw material of the Spirit’s imaginative work in restoring the world. And perhaps the place I need to begin is to sit beside my daughter and learn from her as she tells more stories about a fullness of life I have not allowed myself to imagine. Art has always been outside of me, but it does not have to be. 

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