Good Art Matters

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When was the last time you were struck by a piece of art?

To clarify, I don’t mean the last time you saw an impressive painting or the last time you were impressed with the worship music on a Sunday morning. When was the last time a work of art moved your spirit due to its beauty alone?

And, listen, I get it. Time moves quickly, and we’re all so distracted. Not to mention, I considered myself a jock growing up and didn’t foster any of the qualities that would help me appreciate art later in life. So, the sad reality of the question is that it’s pretty rare for me too.

There’s a chalk street artist located in downtown Denver (unfortunately, she’s relocating to Seattle). Her work has consistently amazed me, along with the rest of the community. Her most famous portrait has made the rounds throughout the city, and she was given the backside of a building in the heart of downtown as an easel for that work.

The first time I saw the portrait of that little girl, her eyes captivated me. She was confident and spunky and fun, yet she’d been wounded and had grown numb. Her eyes. It took me a while just to be able to articulate why I was so drawn to her.

That day, my heart recognized something my mind had known for quite some time. At its finest, art illuminates the human experience. Not all art accomplishes that goal, of course; yet any artistic medium has the potential to shed light to that end. I’ve experienced the same powerful, soul-level growth through good literature and good music. You see, artistic creation and appreciation are fundamentally practices of the heart.

In between a couple of Jesus’s ‘I am’ statements, He reveals a pivotal truth about our faith:

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” -John 10:9-11

Jesus offers us Himself, which is our only route to the full human experience.

Beautiful art, then, is like a peephole. Through it we’re given momentary glimpses of either the full human experience that we can have in Jesus or the gravity and reality of human experience in a broken world.

My heart was so moved by the portrait of that little girl because her eyes were a visual expression of something I’ve felt and seen in the world around me. She was, for me, a brief portal into the human experience. Yet, I longed for her to experience the full life of joy that Jesus offers.

All throughout Scripture we see manifestations of art. Crafting the tabernacle/temple, singing, songwriting, dancing, poetry…the list goes on and on. God gave us art as an avenue for worship, and it reveals to us truths about our journey through this life.

I’ve had to battle for this development in my own heart and life, and it nearly drove me away from Christianity. Fortunately and unfortunately, I grew up in the church, but I thought church was the lamest thing (and still do sometimes). I felt that the music and the preaching were generally insufferable. Simultaneously, I was drawn to music and ideas that were considered wrong in the churches I attended.

With the benefit of hindsight, I realize my yearnings weren’t really that dramatic. My heart was craving art. Well, my heart was craving good art, and I didn’t see it anywhere in church or the Christian community at large. Thankfully, God drew me to Himself without regard to those frustrations.

But, the need for art in the human heart is real. I can say that from personal experience. We need help understanding the human experience, even our own.

So, I’m encouraging you today. First, if you haven’t taken the time to explore your creative gifts in a while, please do. Not just for you, but for the rest of us that will benefit and grow as humans from that artistic expression. Second, enjoy excellent art. Don’t settle for poorly made music or visual art. There are a multitude of lessons for your heart that good art can unlock.

If nothing else, know that there’s probably someone in your community like me. This person struggles to find beauty in Christianity, and it’s blocking their hearts. I’ve met quite a few people like that in Denver. Your art and your engagement with beauty might just be what God uses to break through to them.

And, by God’s grace along the way you’ll most assuredly cultivate more and more answers to the opening question.

Jesus offers us Himself, which is our only route to the full human experience.

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Brian Pell

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