“The poet is not a man who asks me to look at him; he is a man who says, ‘look at that’ and points; the more I follow the pointing of his finger the less I can possibly see of him…I must look where he looks and not turn round to face him; I must make of him not a spectacle but a pair of spectacles…” — C.S. Lewis, The Personal Heresy That C.S. Lewis quote was shared with me by a precious friend and it quickly became just as significant to me as I think it is significant to her. Those words Mr. Lewis penned are a beautiful and encouraging reminder of the purpose of an artist.
I remember an art history class I took my freshman year of college; my professor brought up the debate over whether photography was truly an art form since it didn’t require the “skill” that painting or drawing did. But, from my learned and extremely wise point of view (*cough*), art isn’t about the skill at all. I think art IS pointing out Truth. Yes, there is such a thing as fine art–painting, drawing, sculpting, photographing… but the artfulness comes from the intention of the artist. Doesn’t it strike you as beautiful when your friend comes over to share a cup of coffee and she ends up bestowing on you a beautiful truth that she has learned–a truth that is filling her world to overflowing and it spills over into your half-empty one? Don’t you find that those situations can affect you just as reading a poem, listening to a song, or viewing a painting?
I’m now trying to teach creative writing to a classroom of 13-15 year olds and I have been hearing a lot of questions that are really asking “what is art/good writing?”. These minds that really want to create something worth reading can easily be stopped by doubting that they really have anything original to say. “But, what is original?” I ask them. They shrug. I look at them with understanding and an insane urge to take them all up into my arms together and hug them as they all look at each other, realizing their teacher is a nut job and maybe now is a good time to contract an illness that will put them out of school for a few weeks. “YOU are original,” I say. They roll their eyes.
But really, you are. You are the only you that lives at your address, and has your dirty sneakers that you wear every day even though a hole is wearing in the toe, and attend your ballet classes at the local studio down the street from the Kroger. You even have your own fingerprints. BUT that isn’t what should motivate you to bestow your artistic brilliance on the world, it is only your material. Rather, your motivation is the artist that made you original: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” Psalm 139:13. Hearing, “You are special you’re the only one, you’re the only one like you…” doesn’t move me to compassion or love or thankfulness or any kind of artfulness (no offense, Barney). Instead, it moves me to satiate my own desires and worship myself more. But hearing this does move me to artfulness:
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he has loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing…” Ephesians 2:4-8
And hopefully someday, if not soon, these students will realize that they are not great because of their originality, they cannot create something out of nothing, and working for accolades isn’t worth the effort. And then, maybe they will be happy with what they can type on a blank page.