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?

2 comments:

rozelles said...

I think you've got two different meanings for mediocre being used here.

I would submit that the two meanings aren't interchangeable either. When you use mediocre at the end I think you mean "mundane" or "ordinary" (as not all people are as gifted a Picasso). The earlier use seems to imply "half-assed" or "shoddy" for which there is no excuse.

Sure it's good for someone to produce an ordinary loaf of bread, chair or painting but it doesn't glorify God for it to be not done with all your heart.

Ally Gordon said...

Thanks for that Rozelles, yeah I think you're right. I just realised all the spelling mistakes in that blog too which doesn't exactly help make the point! Yes, there is a differnce between shoddy or half-assed work and art for the everyday or 'popular' art and I'd put in a case for seeing simple things like bread, chairs or a meal (?) as works of art too. Thanks for your comment.