By Guest Blogger Br. Sam Gunn
Enter the Story
Art tells a story. In paint, in melody, in movement or in marble – no matter the media – art invites us to be part of something greater than we are. I’m speaking of good art, of course. So much of what passes for art leaves us either cold or confused. Good art first engages us, then captivates us – often starting with something small that points to something immense. It’s a spark of the eternal, captured skillfully by the artist and cloaked in the disarming disguise of the everyday.
We must admit our displeasure with much of what passes for art. We feel alienated by the high-brow and we prefer, many of us I’d say, the gooey goodness of entertainment media. But like a bag of taffy, its sweetness leaves us wanting more. Much more. Art that is worth the name awakens in us that yearning for something infinite – a hunger for something achingly more than the barrage of glitzy images and “reality” shows can pacify. At best they distract for a while, but their seduction wears out soon enough. “Is this all there is?” we ask – more with a restless finger on the remote than with any thoughtful reflection.
Unlike entertainment, art calls for greater effort on our part. We have to use our own resources – our imagination, our insights, our dreams – to complete the work. Art gives us only part of the story, leaving the rest for us to fill out and apply to our own lives. Entertainment does all this for us. That’s why we like it. But entertainment is somebody else’s story. Art becomes our own – becomes part of who we are.
Faith tells a story too. And like art, it invites us to become a part of the unfolding drama. Maybe that’s why so much of the world’s greatest art is religious art. Natural compatibility. How can we benefit from this rich connectivity? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Start with what you like. I know this means that we’ll likely opt for Norman Rockwell over Rembrandt but so be it. Personally, I’m a fan of Norman Rockwell. I’m also a fan of Rembrandt.
2. Keep open to the new. This goes for music and dance as well. Experience different styles, but always be willing to admit that something doesn’t grab you. Maybe later it will. Or then again, maybe it never will. Ignore the critics. For the most part, they’re useless.
3. Whenever possible, see art in its native habitat. If it’s painting, especially Christian art, visit the churches where it resides. If you’re in a museum, don’t rush to ‘see it all.’ Best to see a few things well than many things in a rush. Spend more time looking than your restlessness likes. Draw up close. Then stand back a bit. Don’t worry what the other visitors think of you. Let the image say what it wants to you. Try to ‘hear’ the message. With music, attend concerts with people who share your faith. Talk afterwards about what you heard.
4. Finally, talk to God in your heart about what you’re seeing or hearing. Delight with Him in the dappled light of a landscape painting. Grieve with Him in the sober rumble of a requiem. Marvel at the beauty of the human form through sculpture or dance and thank Him for this His greatest wonder. By all means bring your own life experience to what you’re experiencing. Remember, you’re part of the story too.
On a cold night in a small town in Judea, God came in human flesh. So subtle. So silent. And yet the everyday was suddenly saturated with the divine. The best art mirrors this mysterious emergence. The ordinary holds a promise and a possibility. A few notes, a sculpted figure, a stroke of the brush or a bright stick of pastel in the hands of the skillful artist can be imbued with the eternal and can awaken us to what cannot be seen or heard or touched: the gift of faith.