“In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you will also live.” ~~ John 14:19
Descartes the philosopher said, “I think, therefore I am.” We who are artists say, “I create, therefore I am.” Creating is what makes us feel alive because we connect to the God who created all things and to his Word through whom all things were created (John 1:1-3). “What came into being was live, and the life was the light of all people” (1:4).
No work of art can exist without light: a photograph needs light or it won’t change the film (old school) or register digitally in the camera. A sculpture needs light to display its curves and shapes; the wrong lighting can destroy its forms, but the right light can emphasize its shapes and turns. The artists of the 17th century used a technique called chiaroscuro in which they placed portions of their paintings into deep shadows, but brightly lit the important areas as if the canvas were a small stage and their subject was a moment plucked from a larger drama. To render a three-dimensional form on a two-dimensional surface, the artist must use the techniques of light and shadow to give the illusion of form even though the surface is truly flat.
Our spiritual life is what brings our flat, ordinary lives into a new reality, a third dimension if you will. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5). Just as a painter must control the light source and take care not to hides his/her whole painting in the shadows, we need to seek out the light in our lives. Sometimes the world can be too overwhelming: the lists of the things we want to do keep getting pushed aside for the lists everyone else wants us to do for them, we too often say “yes” when we should say “no” or “later,” our work no longer excites us but our volunteering lifts us up, our family dramas are like non stop reality TV shows or soap operas, or we have a long-term challenge to deal with (health, retirement, grief, disability, bankruptcy, job loss, etc.).
We can let our painting muddy out until there is only grays and no contrasts of dark and light. We can overwork our painting so that we lose focus on what the main theme was that called us to our easel in the first place. We can forget to cleanse our brushes completely so that our colors begin to look the same. We fail to step back and let the wet areas dry but continue to work over and over the same places until the whole has lost any freshness and spirit. Indeed, it looks as dead as we feel inside.
This is a new year, and we can make a new beginning, a fresh start. When I’ve sat with one of my old paintings, I have a chance to really see it. After a year, it might fall apart. There might be an area that is good enough to keep, but not the whole. It was a learning experience, but not good enough to keep in my body of work. It isn’t representative of my best efforts. It might take two or three years to fall apart, but the end result is the same: I will take that canvas off the stretcher strips and put a new one on. Time to try again, try better, since I know more I have the opportunity to fail better! I’ll cut up the best parts of the old canvases and recycle them into another painting to make them worthwhile. When a painting doesn’t show signs of life, it’s time to recycle it.
Why are we so afraid to let something we have produced in our studio be destroyed? Why do we hang onto it? For that matter, why are we afraid to let our past go and set out afresh and forgiven? If we have faith in the one who is Light and Life, we can be assured that if we give ourselves to him, the darkness cannot overcome us. We will create in beauty and we will walk in beauty.