One day in England, I found my kids digging my art out of the trash. I said, “What are you doing? That is terrible.” They said something like, “This art is going to pay for our kids to go to college someday. Remember all those sketchbook pages of half drawn people we’ve seen in the art museums by Picasso, Van Gough, Rembrandt…one day, someone will want this too.”
That was the day I learned that the art I create isn’t necessarily for me. I don’t have to think it is good or valuable for it to do good or be valuable. I am shocked by some of the paintings I’ve sold because I can see so many things that, “I could have done better.” But that piece of art was just as it should be for the purchaser, it was meant for them, and I was fortunate enough to participate in the creation of it.
If artists do their jobs well, people will see things they’ve overlooked their entire lives. They will learn that clouds are not white and the sky is not blue. Artists reveal that clouds can be white on top, but they have silver, gray, pink, purple, and shades of blue throughout. The sky is most blue when you look directly above your head and it is a lighter blue the closer you look to the horizon, unless you’re observing a sunrise or a sunset when the sky can be gentle purples and pinks, or brilliant yellows and oranges. It is fine to see blue skies and white clouds, but it is better to see the full truth of what you are observing.
Artists and Christians, like other humans, do not get things right the first time, or the second, or third. However, artists exhibit what they think is their best art and hide the rest in portfolios under their beds. Christians sometimes act like they have it all together in public, hiding their failures at home. This pretense is not the genuine human experience even though we behave as if it is. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, or behave perfectly. He asks us to acknowledge His perfection and live a life loving Him and those around us. It’s that easy--and that hard--so is the truth.
With this understanding, today, I acknowledge my mistakes and find relief in the fact that I don’t have to hide my imperfections. I have not yet arrived as an artist or Christian, but I will continue to practice both. In the meantime, for your amusement, I provide a painting rescued from the bin by my daughter and one of my first art videos (it made my art group laugh to the point of tears). I don’t think you have to be an artist to know how bad this video is: you know what color you get when you mix red and white, right? Apparently, I forgot in a fit of patriotism. Anyway, a painting and a video to reveal the full truth of my experience as an artist and a Christian.
My husband met Philip Yancey at an event last year and received a copy of his book Vanishing Grace. Justin enjoyed his dinner conversation with the author and suggested I might enjoy his book. I finally got around to reading it and this part really grabbed hold of me:
While discussing the growing antipathy toward Christians, a friend remarked to me, "There are three kinds of Christians that outsiders to the faith still respect: pilgrims, activists, and artists. The uncommitted will listen to them far sooner than to an evangelist or apologist." Although nonbelievers do not oppose a spiritual search, they will listen only to those Christians who present themselves as fellow-pilgrims on the way rather than as part of a superior class who has already arrived. Activists express their faith in the most persuasive way of all, by their deeds. And art succeeds when it speaks most authentically to the human condition; when believers do so with skill, again the world takes note.
As a Christian artist I have a responsibility to dispense Grace. To do this effectively, I must become the best artist I can be so that my skills do not interfere with the message. I must spend hours practicing and refining my art in order to present the most clear and understandable images possible.
I am often quoted as saying, "Just because you're a Christian doesn't mean you can suck at your job". As Christians, we must be better at our jobs than the average person because we are representing the King. Christian art should never be synonymous with second rate, just okay, cliche, or predictable art. If we do our job properly, Christian art should mean inspired, beautiful, truthful, insightful, excellent. I may not be there yet, but I have a life time to perfect my artistic skills and leave something that outsiders of the faith will hopefully respect, admire, and stir them to investigate the source of my beliefs and their own. In the end, I hope to be remembered as a dispenser of grace-filled art for a hurting world. What are you dispensing?
Sherry Barrett is an active artist who takes inspiration from great works of literature, historical figures, and wise people.