On the Necessity of Good Art

A little backstory to this post… Recently I was approached by an editor of my university’s school paper and asked if I would be interested in taking stead of the fine arts column, to which I agreed. I’m not 100% sure what I’m doing yet, but it’s been a blessing so far, and I am enjoying the task. (And yes, getting one’s first byline is an exciting feeling even if it’s just the school paper!) It also gives me an excuse to repost my columns here since I often get too busy to post very regularly. So why not. 🙂 Without further ado, here’s the first column I wrote a couple weeks back.


Of all mankind’s shared experiences, one of the simplest joys I have had the pleasure of knowing is that of receiving mail. The extraordinary return one can achieve, in the form of a friend’s happiness, on the effort of a brief missive makes it a miraculously fruitful endeavor. The suspense of the time it spends in transit, the surprise of not knowing the precise hour of the postman’s arrival – these only serve to heighten the impact and significance of that sacred art of letter writing.

Of course, at times what we await is not a letter but the spoils of online shopping. I am inclined to believe that, in their proper place, these too can be rightly received with a similar enthusiasm. Shortly after I arrived on campus this semester, for example, I received a parcel I had been expecting from a vendor across the country: an old vinyl recording of violinist Jascha Heifetz playing Max Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy.” I had sought out this performance after my mother came across it on YouTube several weeks ago.

The rise and fall of the melody, the vivid dialogue between the violin and orchestra, rang out from the living room like a prophet summoning the attention of Israel. The energy of the performance one might describe, in a platitude, as magical. In Christian terms, one might just as readily call it an echo of the divine.

The piercing effect of such transcendent instances of art is double-edged. On one hand, to have the heights of art depicted in such clarity can serve as a metaphorical shot in the arm for the amateur artist, a reminder of the eventual effects of practice and improvement. On the other, it is at times disheartening, as though we are convinced through some misplaced humility that we can never be “good” at our art, or reach whatever level of achievement we choose to define as “mastery.” It is an unfruitful comparison. The point is not that all art has a potential to be good, although this could be said. Rather, all art is good, merely because all art is real and unique and necessary.

We see this quite easily when we look at persons. Not everyone we meet will have the same sort of personality or the same list of accomplishments, the same hopes and fears or the same perspective on the world.

Yet we affirm each one of them as necessary and created in the image of God. One need not play like Jascha Heifetz for one’s habit of playing the violin to be a good thing; one need not paint like Caravaggio to bring joy to one’s friends and associates and image some aspect of the divine through art. Art does not exist on a spectrum of perfect skill to failure, and in some sense this spectrum is a mere construction. The art critic may require such a scale to evaluate the myriad examples of art they encounter. But our human experience of art is much deeper, much more natural and much less definable. To make art well and to practice good technique, that is something in which all artists should desire to grow. But to make art unlike any other, art which is as necessary and individual as they are, that is something which every artist already does.

The great C. S. Lewis describes friendship as the moment when one man says to another ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .’” We should never underestimate the ability we have through art to touch those around us in a similar fashion. Yours may be precisely the voice someone in the same corner of the world as you has been waiting to hear.

 (© 2018)

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Hallowed Be

Reserve not for me this chalice
For my horizon runneth over
Between the redrawn corners
And the penciled sketch marks
Between the tangled questions
And the patterned notebook
A seashell imprint
Pressed upon the patchwork stars
Not one a resting place
Nor one a constellation
A myriad of catch breaths
At each occurrence of the tune
In, 1-2, out, 1-2, in time,
In time, all manner of things shall be
If it only be your will, let the sky fall
Gently, and in time

(16 October 2017)

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Along the route home from my university sometime last year, the first glimpse of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. Gotta love them hills.

Pathways

Cracks in the sidewalk grin
Surfaced like a shell
Beating the lifeblood of a city
Across your freckled soul

What is a sidewalk but a
Slantwise fable of crooked roads
A path so straight my boots slide
Down into the cracks and grimace
At the comfort and inertia

Sapling roots its way to freedom
A miracle amidst the loose gravel
And a warning to me: you are not
A sapling, my love. You are
The sun that hits me as I pass
Between brick wall redwoods
You are a downpour beating across
The windows and running through
The sidewalk cracks to find the sea

A city sheds its skin and calls
My weary feet to search this Georgia mountain
‘Til I find the glimmer of its Christmas lights
Its storefronts and streetlamps
A front porch with a spare key
And a peaceful endurance
As miles stretch behind us
And marathons ahead

(21 December 2016, edited 2 July 2017)

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Sunset along W. Main Street in my hometown.  Guess the time of year from the ghost decorations?

It’s a strange feeling to invent a title for a months-old poem just to avoid the shame of naming it something like “Another Poem I Wrote Months Ago”.  But let’s just pretend it was always a part of the whole.

After all, for better or for worse, we humans are quite skilled at pretending.  Which is why it is always the duty and the struggle of the mind to sift through the illusions of the workaday world in search of truth.  Countless ways of achieving this have been proposed up and down the centuries.  But I rather think it benefits particularly to heed Christ’s teaching when he says, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth” (John 8:31-32).  “And the truth will make you free,” He says next, lest anyone should wonder why truth is important.

One might still ask what it is we’re being freed from, and to them I would say… just read John chapter 8.  It’s worth it, I promise you.  (Okay, short answer, it’s sin, but there’s lots and lots to ponder in that chapter, and I encourage you to read it.  Good good stuff.)

Happy Sunday to you all.  God is good, and never ceases to bless His Creation, and I pray you may continue to live in His truth by the strength of His grace.  🙂

Pax vobiscum.

Child of Summer (Part I)

Petals touched with frozen steel
Caught in the repose of flight
Drift upon my heart. A voice
That pierces through the winter breeze,
Cuts me with its frostbite gleam
So soft and warm a death, for snow.

(9 February 2017)

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Snowfall at my university, where the weather this semester changed from winter to spring and then back again probably 10 times.

It’s been much too long since I’ve shared any of my poetry with you all.  🙂

(And doing so reminds me that I need to write more, so I thank you for your readership.)

Random question for discussion: in the Owl City song “Fireflies”, Adam Young sings that he gets “a thousand hugs from ten thousand lightning bugs”.  Does this mean all 10,000 of them hug him a thousand times, totaling 10,000,000 hugs, or do only 1/10 of them hug him so that 1,000 refers to the net total of the hugs?  Discuss amongst yourselves.  (If you follow me on Twitter, you already know the answer, but I’m curious to hear all of your best, most emphatic, (il)logical-sounding answers.)

May the peace of Christ be with you now and always.

Twilight / Dawn

Thus turns the world to sleep
Like the thoughts, revolving
Behind my eyelids
                  I see you, there
And I shut them so much the tighter
For I hear a thousand voices
Intone so bright a chord
I know I could never quite dance
Suitably, to such a song.
Thus I clench my fists around
Every word
           and they fall,
Broken, to circumstance
And to some future skyline,
Forgotten like a picture book.
How could I ever dream of days
Filled with anything but despair
And false wells to drown in
Except...  You.
                 All,
                 except for You.
You are
        a singularity,
                      a ray: simplicity
Ebullient and towering and glorious
And altogether baffling
For countless are the days
I've spent, floundering in puddles
Of my own design, silencing
The whispered corners of my mind.
Still,
       even now
You do not forsake me
And still,
           the words I claim are rubble
They all will fade to retrospect
As dust, beside You.
                     Heard softly,
Your words are all that I shall ever need.

Not the prettiest type in the world, but until I find a better way to preserve the structure, it’ll suffice.  🙂

Ooh, I need a song to leave y’all with, don’t I…  So here’s a song about the Transfiguration.  Because, why not have a song about the Transfiguration?  So there you go.  And it’s pretty.

Good old Sufjan never lets us down…

I hope that wherever you may be this evening, dear reader, that you are feeling the peace and joy of Christ that thaws every winter into spring.  (Maybe it won’t for a little longer if you’re up north.  But He will.  Just you wait.  😉

Peace to you, now and always.  Stay classy.

Red & Black

if I paint the skyline
too close, and
force red and black
to define the pathways
you weave in the sky,
throw my paintbrush
to earth. sometimes
i bind myself to it
too closely.
one foot in front
of the other, begin
with a single
step.

(7 August 2015)

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No need to bother with the last five minutes of this one.  Unless you’re really bored or find it soothing.