Stark white. Not a single mark has been made, and there’s unbelievable opportunity for what it could become. How it could end up. Every creator knows that you can’t simply look at a picture and recreate it. You have to work, erase, cover up, mix more paints, overlap, and do it all over again to get the desired result.
And maybe the desired result isn’t even created, maybe it turns out completely different, yet almost better. And you step back and your brow furrows and your eyes shine and it’s like you accidentally came up with what you wanted to create all along. Thank goodness you didn’t give up the first three times you thought it was awful. Thank goodness you persisted, you slept on it, you woke up and tried again the next day.
If you haven’t caught on yet, I’m speaking in metaphor. I’m speaking about the everyday experience I had as an art minor, and how it so closely related to life itself. It’s why every Thursday night I stand in front of my students and try to teach them one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned thus far: creating art is a form of worship.
Every time I pick up a new sheet of paper or pull out a blank canvas, I can always expect to encounter Jesus – because he teaches me in those quiet moments of focus and intent, that I may not have it all together or even know what I’m doing, but he can still create something beautiful through me. Because that’s who He is. It’s kind of cheesy, but it’s very true. That in those moments where I didn’t know what I was doing, God did. And the final piece is beautiful. And I wouldn’t want to change a thing. Not one brush stroke, not one color.
That’s why I choose to create art. Because I can. Because He has blessed me with the ability to create something that speaks to people. And because, it is in those moments of creating that he often speaks most clearly to me and that I can have some of my most intimate conversations with God.
I used to experience anxiety and fear when staring at a blank canvas, because that is oftentimes how I approach the unknown in general. But now, Jesus has taught me to look at the unknown, my inability, my fear of not being good enough and to remember His omniscience, his never-ending proficiency, and his perfection. That is because practicing art is about making space – both physical and mental – for listening, searching, and expressing. Not only that, but art gives us the “space for attention, which looks quite a lot like prayer” (Megan Mitchell, M.A.R in Religion and the Arts, Yale University).
Learning art through various mediums and really learning the history of art and where it came from: which artists impacted it, why their work was so impactful, can connect people more deeply to this world and open their eyes to new ways of seeing. That is why I believe a well-rounded art curriculum is so crucial to all students – not just to those that are interested. Because learning art doesn’t just teach students about art, but about life in general.
Some of the most valuable characteristics of an art education are the affects it has on academic achievement, social and emotional development, and civic engagement. Art teaches students to work collaboratively, to problem solve, and to learn the link between individual effort and quality of the result. These skills and attitudes are vital for success in the 21st century workplace. Research has also indicated that an arts education “enhances student’s respect for the cultures, belief systems, and values of their fellow learners” (MENC: The National Association for Music Education). All of these things are what we want, not just for our children, but for the children of this world. And, especially now, we want to teach them to love each other, to respect all people-groups, and to understand all parts of history.
I believe every child is born with creative ability—or in the words of Pablo Picasso, “every child is born an artist,” – and it is up to us not to stifle that creativity and to provide the necessary training and teaching to foster that ability. Art has been a crucial part of my walk with Jesus. It has been an avenue through which he has taught me (and continues to teach me) that he shines through my imperfections and through the messy process that is life. He continues to remind me, tenderly, that He is faithful. And in those moments where I forget or become hardened, I come back to art and he shows me again.
The words of the Bible were written down by men, but inspired by God. These men were used as vessels to complete God’s will. While not authoritative like Scripture, I believe that sometimes, when an artist takes pen to paper or paintbrush to canvas, God does the very same thing and influences the final product for his own will. And this is the same with all forms of art.
This is why I value art. This is why I want to prepare my students with the tools they need to confidently approach a project and create something that only their hands can create. That they can feel proud to show off. And isn’t that the most beautiful thing? That God uses us at all? He allows us to impact this world for Him – so why not impact it through art?
By Mary Chayse Bullard,Visual Arts instructor at Alamance Fine Arts Academy