Art and the Will of God, part 2

Last time (before the pop song) I was looking at how I might apply advice I’ve heard (about giving everything to God, and looking for His will in everything) to something concrete and specific, and how that runs into difficulty. In that case it was art, because it’s something I am very conflicted about. I want to leave it at that — I’m tired and distracted and my head is fuzzy, so I’d rather just drop it and not think about art unless I have to — but whether I have an obligation to make any or not I suppose that if I’m going to be a conscientious teacher I’d best at least examine what’s going on here. To do that I need an in: how will I go about examining it? How can I examine it even with a fuzzy and distracted mind? I’ll try a tack that looks promising and essay in the old sense: I’ll make an attempt. I like to write because it’s a way to make an attempt at something; to take a stab at it and see if I can pull truth out of what I know and have on the edge of my mind and have been reading. I write because I do not yet know — once I know something very well I don’t write it anymore. Then I could write on something else that I don’t yet know, or haven’t yet solidified into thought. Sometimes I also write to tell someone else about what I do know, and then I write to communicate something. I write like a hound following a scent, and then sometime I would like to learn to revise so that people will be able to read what I’ve written without being distracted by the peculiarities of my own thought processes.

What, then, about making things? There I’m less certain because I’ve written a good deal as an adult, but mostly stopped making things. I make things for a reason. Someone’s birthday is coming up; someone needs a silkscreen design for a t-shirt; I have to pass a class; I have to teach a lesson; this person wants to see what it’s like to make a quick drawing; that person would like a drawing of herself. But then I say: what would it be for me to have a body of work? What would it be for me to cultivate a style? And there I’m stumped, because I suppose it would mean exploring something in art, and I don’t know what that would be, or else I don’t want to actually produce it. It’s easy enough to declare: “I will make art for an hour three times a week,” but then the hour comes and I realize that I don’t know what kind of art I want to make. I don’t know what kind of trail I’m to follow, or how to follow it. I could draw this copper pudding mold or paint that bunch of grapes, but why? Just to have made something? So that I’ll feel like all that time learning art in college was worth it? People say that art is about expression, but what am I expressing? What am I expressing with the drawing of my friend or the print of the philosophy joke?

Fr Earl always greets us Sunday morning with: “how are you doing today?” and the correct response is “glory to God!” Fr Nicholas said that as well. Really, the best answer to “how are you?” is apparently to glorify God. I usually forget and say “fine,” though. But we are to glorify God in all things, and be joyful in all things. Probably, if I were thinking, what I would be trying to do with art would be to glorify God. This could, of course, mean icons, but it need not. What would it mean other than icons? Well, there’s joy in a lot of things, but the joy isn’t in the thing itself, but rather in the Spirit of God pointing out the thing. I remember being all immersed in angst over a Descartes essay I ought to have written and hadn’t yet, with “what am I? I am a thinking thing,” recursive proofs for the existence of God, why on earth can’t I write this essay, and so on, in this rather dark little dorm room with a bed and desk and computer. I had been angsting about it for several days or perhaps a week, and was feeling terrible on account of things I ought to have done but hadn’t yet. All the same, it was sunset in Santa Fe, so I went out to sit on the balcony, and brought Descartes with me. But the sunset was there, and from the balcony it wasn’t just there going “look what a lovely sunset I am,” but it was decked with gold and scarlet and fire, reflected against pink and blue and even sometimes green storm clouds, and presented as a gift from God, with a lovely landscape painted in it involving a lake that reflected trees and whatnot; there might as well have been trumpets involved. So I stood and appreciated the sunset, because it was obviously being presented as something to be delighted in, like a piece of very fine artwork that I person might travel to another continent and visit a museum to see. And here it was most every night for two months, always different. And once or twice in the dark the stars came out and the trees on the hills seemed like they might be about to wake up, like they did for Lucy in Prince Caspian.

I suppose if I were going to make art it would have to be about things like that. But how does one even attempt art about that? Every now and again a novel can suggest it. But then there it is: I don’t suppose that I have to make art, but if it did, it would have to be about something I don’t at all know how to express even in words, let alone visually. It wouldn’t look like a sunset, I think; I don’t know what it would look like.


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