Saturday, November 8, 2014

Thoughts on Art and Artists

I saw a quote on facebook today: "When you buy something from an artist you're buying more than an object. You're buying hundreds of hours of error and experimentation.  You're buying years of frustration and moments of pure joy. You're not buying just one thing, you are buying a piece of a heart, a piece of a soul...a small piece of someone else's life."

This is a beautiful sentiment and I believe there is truth in it.  All of us who engage in any kind of art work hard to put ourselves into that art. When it is not honored, it feels like it is we, ourselves, who are not being honored. When it is not treated with reverence or value, it feels like we, ourselves, are being discarded, not valued. We fail to be seen in those moments and the hurt of that can be deep and lasting.

So, yes, I agree with the quote above.

And yet, I also believe that this thinking can be abused.  For example, Taylor Swift made a comment this last week that she is taking her music off of Spotify because artists should be paid for their work. Her millions aren't enough for her? And if so, why is that? Because a person's "art" makes them somehow a better human being and therefore more deserving of an indecent amount of luxury and wealth while others are starving in the world and unable to access art at all? I agree that true art lets us into a person's soul - whether that be visual arts, music, poetry, stories, sermons or other. It must be respected and honored. I also think it should be shared, and accessible to ALL people, but not because of the greed or personal self-interest of the artist. True art reflects not only the one who created it, but the Creator behind it all. It is a gift to all of humanity to witness, experience and have access to real and deep art. Should artists be able to earn enough to live on with their art? Of course. We all should be able to earn enough to live on with whatever talents (or even lack of talents) we use in our work.  But art is a gift given to us. Our talents and the opportunities we are given to share them, to use them, to make a living from them are not things we have somehow earned because we are better humans and therefore more deserving of wealth than the rest of the world. God loves us all the same.  God values us all the same. And those gifts of talent, art, ability - those are given to us by God for the service of God and God's people. They are not given to us so that we can declare ourselves innately better or more deserving than others.  They are not given to us so we can hoard the world's resources and leave others to suffer. They are not given to us to use selfishly for our own gain.

Most of our best artists never received the accolades or support of their art during their life times and that is a tragedy. Too many genius artists die poor and unrecognized. That is tragic because the gifts they gave have long lasting benefits for those who eventually have gotten to witness their arts. But I also wonder if that suffering didn't deepen their art at times. I'm not saying that is a justification or even a good thing. Tragedy is not a good thing. But it does deepen all of us. And while I would not wish awful things to happen to anyone, I find myself grateful for the events in my life that have deepened my soul, though they were hard to live through at the time. As a result, when I read about Taylor Swift's comment, I found myself feeling a sadness and compassion for any of those "artists" who never have the opportunities to deepen because their biggest challenge is whether they will earn only a million, as opposed to 20 or 100 or more, in profits this year. Will they ever have the chance to see themselves as children who are loved no more and no less than the homeless man they pass on the street? Will they ever have the opportunity to see that the money they make could change the world if used in the right way? Will they ever be given the experience of feeling genuine compassion for someone radically different from themselves? To look in the eyes of someone they normally wouldn't see at all and to see in that other person a brother, a sister, a person on the journey as they are?  Will they ever find that the art of those who remain undiscovered is sometimes just as amazing and incredible as their own?

Our artistic talents are gifts given to us out of grace for no other reason than because we are loved. What we do with them, how we share them, whom we allow access to that art and how we honor all of those others with their arts as well - that is a gift that we can give back.