Thursday, 31 July 2008

Painting Through Turmoil

Here's something interesting...

Oscar Wilde used to say that great art comes through great times of celebration or turmoil. This clip appeared on the bbc news website this morning (I think you need to click on the "?"above - anyone know how to get bbc clips up on to blogger?) An Iraqi artist who found solice in her art as the bombs exploded around her. I find it very interesting how God devises art to help us make sense of the difficulties around us and bring some kind of order from the chaos. I guess in part she escpaes through her art but she also models what Calvin Seerveld called rainbows in a fallen world.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

The Capricious Guest

The composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky called inspiration The Capricious Guest. Wait for him to arrive and you may be waiting for a long while.

I've been doing a little writing recently and finding the hardest part is getting going. Inspiration doesn't fall from the sky. The apple of isn't hovering above my head ready to plummet any time soon. The word inspire means "breathes in". Sometimes the creative process feels just like that. Breathing. Sometimes we just need to show up at the desk (or the studio) and work, process, hoping that good comes from just keep going.

In the bible the word inspire appears in 2 Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is inspired by God..." The Greek word here is theoneusi which translates "breathed-out". The bible writers were inspired in a very different way than we are. The words of the bible were breathed out by God rather than breathed in by men.

Since all creativity originates in the character of God, ultimately all inspiration, in all its forms, comes from him too.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Follow a Painting in Progress

Here's a thought...

Blogs chronicle something of the creative mind in process, right? Ideas are aired in an unresolved manner to stimulate a little discussion online? I thought I'd try that visually.

I know artists aren't supposed to show their work until it's finished but I've always been interested in artists' creative process (their sketchbooks, painting methods and ideas etc) as well as the final result.

Last year, our UCCF team enjoyed a few days away together in the south of France. We visited the studio where Paul Cezanne painted some of his salient works. Incredible. What an extraordinary experience to handle his palette, view his sketchbooks, brushes and abandoned canvases albeit at a somewhat forced sanitised distance for tourists.

Not that I would compare myself to Cezanne but I thought it might be interesting to record my next painting online as it evolves. So… here we go – my latest painting from conception to (hopefully!) completion.

The working title is ‘East of Pingvellar’. The idea for this painting came from the drive away from the Alping church towards the horizon with no sense of imminent destination. A journey. The haunting, almost cinematic light. The pull of the horizon. Just a drive towards the fading evening sun of Iceland, east of Pingvellar.

Monday, 21 July 2008

New Works on Show

bleep... bleep... bleep... News Flash!

For anyone around in London at the end of the month I'll be exhibiting new work at the Mile End Arts Pavillion 31st July-2nd August as part of the Mile End Art Exhibition (clever title, huh?). I'll be exhibiting with a group of emerging and contemporary artists from London's East end and giving an artists talk on the Saturday night. Please do come along if you're in the area. Here's the info...

One of the works on show will be 'Requiem (Green Mist)', a lament for the former dockland workers of Glasgow. The painting shows park benches surrounded by the encrouching mist, empty and isolated. To me they were something of a forgotten memorial to the workers lunchtime gatherings and the mist seemed to emphasise the melancholy of the rememberence.

Also showing are Mary Gayton, Semmmab Guhl and Charles Reid. Charles moved to London from the States last year with his wife, Kim and now works as artist in residence at the London City Mission. He's making some really intersting work about word, words and 'the Word': weird fusions of science fisction creatures, comic book landscapes and deconstruction theory. Something like these...

Art as a Blessing

At the Interface conference two weeks ago we spent quite a bit of time discussing what it means to make art that blesses those it reaches.

In the bible, the word bless means ‘enlarge’. To bring a blessing is to enlarge the thinking, living or actions of another.

Blessings and good feelings are not the same thing. Sometimes God gives a blessing but it comes as a painful experience. Think of Jacob who wrestled God in the middle of the night and came away with a blessing that caused him to limp. When the Holy Spirit convicts me to change my attitudes or my actions this always comes as a painful experience yet I am enlarged as a result.

Sometimes art needs to ask the difficult questions. Sometimes the making of art can be a painful experience for the viewer and also for the artist but the fruit of such labours can bring great blessing. Recently, I saw Steven Spielberg’s, ‘Schindlers List’ again. I couldn’t say that I ‘enjoyed’ the film or it made me feel good yet I was certainly enlarged by being reminded of such sacrificial kindness and genuine heroics. The film is beautiful and excellent: a memorial and a blessing. It shows so much of what is good in God's world, finding beauty (truth) in the most horrific of circumstances but it does not make us feel good.

The opposite of blessing is curse. The biblical word curse means ‘reduce’. To curse someone is to reduce then in some way.

Sometimes art appears as though it is bringing a blessing where actually is brings a curse. Art that offers sentiment, insincerity or that panders to popular ideals serves more as an anaesthetic than is does a blessing. Art might feel good but actually brings a reduction in thinking, living or actions. Dare I go on about it again but much kitsch art brings more a curse than a blessing in that it reduces our understanding of God and his creation rather than enlarging our relationship with him.

As I head to the studio this morning my prayer is for the Holy Spirit to help me work at my art so that through difficulty there might be something that enlarges both my understanding of God’s reality and the thinking of those it reaches.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Excellence and Mediocrity in Art.

Sorry to be away for a while. For the last three weeks my mind and body have been caught up in the Interface 08 conference - a very special weekend and morer about it in the next blog. One of teh subjects on the plate for the weekend was the idea of artistic excellence.

A defining moment in Michael Parkinson’s career came during his TV interview with Pablo Picasso shortly before his death in 1973. Recognising the great painter’s age Parkinson took the opportunity to commission his own original drawing live on air. Picasso accepted and took two minutes to sketch Parkinson’s portrait as the interview continued. Parkinson was thrilled. It was an excellent sketch

“Out of interest,” asked Parkinson, “How much would this sketch sell for?”

Picasso replied with a rye smile, “Around six thousands pounds,”

“Six thousand pounds! How can something so quick be worth so much?”

The audience was shocked by Parkinson's somewhat out of character affront but Picasso, easing back into his armchair, was completely unfazed.

“Michael, this drawing did not take me two minutes,” he said. “I’ve been working on it for over eighty years.”

Picasso knew, as all true masters know, that excellence does not come overnight.

Good art doesn’t happen quickly. Like Picasso, Bezalel would have worked hard over several years: Developing the gifts God had given him and grafting hard. Therefore, hard graft is a thoroughly biblical value.

As a student worker, I sometimes meet young artists who use their artistic gifts as a license for laziness. Sometimes this is manifest in simply not working all that hard at their art, perhaps skipping the odd tutorial or crit. On occasion, I meet students who think God would rather have them at another bible study than go to lectures. Not only does this crave a false segregation between the sacred and the secular, it also undervalues the gift of God’s Spirit for skill, craft and knowledge .

In the Exodus account we see an anointing for hard graft: for skill, ability and knowledge. In so doing we have a challenge to work hard in our own discipline. Paul writes to the Colossians in 3:23;

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for men”.

Whatever you do: Be that painting, sculpture, dance or writing; Whether you work in a city centre office or a studio under a railway arch. All our work is to be considered worship to the Lord and we are to work well for His glory.

This is not to say that there is nor room for the mediocre in art. Franky Shaeffer wrote a pretty venemous book on the subject of Christians being 'Addicted to Mediocrity'. I don't agree with some of his ideas. It strikes me that God gifts some with a lavious degree of artistic gifting whilst others receive less. The same might be said for other spiritual giftings such as evangelism, administration, preahing, prophecy and hospitality. Surely our responsibility is to fan into flame the measure of gifting God has given us, working with all our hearts with the tools at our disposal as working for the Lord and not for men and asking that God might lavish us with more for His glory. We need excellent artists buit I likewsie believe we also need the mediocre. What do you think?