Friday, May 01, 2015

Works of art, and artists at Work

Do we take too much for granted?
It's easy to take so many of the things in our life for granted isn't it? There was a cable fault in our area earlier this week which meant we were without broadband, landline and TV for five or six hours. Nothing big really, but something we take for granted which we only notice when it's not there.

How about clean water, electricity, food supply? One of the communities I visited in South Africa last autumn has no water supply. Water gets delivered by truck most of the time, sometimes it doesn't show up, sometimes the water is dirty... water is not something to be taken for granted in that community.
"Life itself is a fragile and precious thing which we can also take for granted."
If you've never come across Maslow's hierarchy of needs diagram then it's a triangle with life's essentials at the bottom (physiological needs) upon which other needs are progressively layered (safety, love, self esteem, self actualisation).

Apart from anything else, it's a way of appreciating what's most important and what needs building into our lives and communities first. Things like water supply and housing and safety that we often take for granted, or don't take seriously - like the edited version of Maslow's diagram I saw on social media this week which had two extra layers at the base.. wifi and battery - something which says volumes about our lifestyles and priorities in the west!

Life itself is a fragile and precious thing which we can also take for granted. A friend of mine died very suddenly this week. He was only a few years older than me, still in the prime of his life really, someone with plenty of life left to live. We mustn't take the precious gift of life lightly. We are masterpieces, but easily damaged and broken.
"We are masterpieces, but easily damaged and broken."
In Birmingham's museum and art gallery, which is just around the corner from my office, there are plenty of masterpieces on display. Priceless paintings, works of art, many of which have lost their original lustre or vividness due to light damage. Various rooms are tightly regulated for light, temperature and moisture to prevent further damage and to preserve the artworks for the future.

My daughter's feet as a newborn
As the psalmist says, we are "fearfully and wonderfully made"  (Ps 139:14) - known and loved even before conception. Elsewhere in the letter to the Ephesians we are described as God's masterpiece. We are works of art.

When my wonderful wife was pregnant with our first child, I found it hard to comprehend that there was a life growing within her expanding tummy. I was taken aback by the emotion I felt seeing the foetus bouncing around at the twelve week scan.

When labour finally began, many weeks later, and my daughter entered the world, I was filled with wonder to hold this precious and tiny life in my arms. Tiny creased feet, toes, fingers, nose. Unfocusing eyes, delicate ears. Fearfully and wonderfully made. It was the same with my son when he was born, and I still delight in them as they're growing up - whether it's watching them sleep, dance or play!
"I was filled with wonder to hold this precious and tiny life in my arms"
The title for this post is from Erwin McManus's book The Artisan Soul. Here's an extended quote: "Though we may create many beautiful works of art, the most important works of art to which we will ever give ourselves are the lives we live. The complexity is that we are both works of art and artists at work."

Elsewhere McManus reminds us that being made in the image of God means we're "created to create" and "imagined to imagine". I find this so freeing - we're all called to create something beautiful with our lives, whatever that looks like.

We're artists at work...
It's fascinating to watch artists at work. A friend of mine produces photo-real paintings and recently he released a stop-frame video of him painting. It's amazing to see how he starts, what changes and how the picture emerges.

The stop-frame video doesn't represent the true time the painting took though - it's exaggerated and accelerated. Like our lives, the masterpiece gets created one brush stroke, or for a sculpture one chip at a time. This requires great patience, and sometimes it's not obvious to us what picture is emerging!

Da Vinci once said, apparently, that "art is never finished, only abandoned". Taking our lives for granted is like abandoning the masterpiece we're becoming. Rather than putting the paintbrush or chisel down, let's instead embrace the challenge to create and become the most beautiful and authentic work of art we're made to be. We owe it to ourselves to make the most of the life we've been given.


In memory of Navin Sukram, a true work of art and a much missed masterpiece.


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Cuddle Fairy said...

Life certainly is precious and fragile. The photo of your daughters feet says it all - they are so delicate! Gorgeous photo. #BigFatLinky

Martyn Kitney said...

Fab post. I've always loved that Da vinci quote. As an artist i completely get it. Life is precious and you don't always see the little aspects that make it build up. Thanks for linking up with us on the #bigfatlinky hope to see you there next week