The Love of God in Art

Recently, as I was trying to get a handle on the concept of the “love of money” being the “root of all evil,” I naturally turned to these Scriptures:

For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. – 1 Timothy 6:7-10

As I was pondering how common it is for people to be lured into money worship in our society, and to place the love of money before the love of God, it suddenly dawned on me that I know plenty of “starving Artists” who place the love of Art before the love of God, and even before the love of money — otherwise they wouldn’t be starving.  This bothered me for a bit.  Where in the Bible is this dynamic addressed?  On the one hand, it seems rather noble to let yourself starve for the sake of something you love.  On the other hand, one doesn’t generally accomplish great things on an empty stomach; and no having starved to death accomplishes anything at all. 

Then it dawned on me that the Bible does indeed address this dynamic.  For the Artist intent on creating some great work of Art is in essence no different  from an architect building a house, or a homemaker creating a home, or any other person trying to achieve the completion of a project through which one hopes to find fulfillment in life. 

By wisdom a house is built,
    and through understanding it is established;
 through knowledge its rooms are filled
    with rare and beautiful treasures. 

– Proverbs 24:3-4

There is a right way and a wrong way to go about anything.  The right way is the wise way; and it is not wise to prioritize the creation over the basic needs of the person attempting to create it.  In Art, this would be true of a piece of any content, whether its purpose is to glorify God or not.  If the Artist intends to glorify God, then it is also unwise to prioritize the creation over the Creator.

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. – Psalm 127:1

Whatever it is that I am personally trying to accomplish, I would be wise to hearken to the words of Jesus:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. – Matthew 7:24-27

Why build my house on the shifting sand, only to watch it collapse come rainfall?  Far better to build my house on the Rock — and the Rock is Christ.  

 

The Artist as Public Servant

I’ve been thinking lately about the popular concept of “people-pleasing” and how it relates to my lifelong function as an entertainer and a songwriter.   It seems to me that. as a musician and composer, I am naturally concerned with reaching the largest possible audience.  I measure the success of my compositions and performances based on how widely they are acclaimed.  This is only natural, and in this respect I don’t differ widely from any other Artist.

However, there is something amiss in this standard.  Although there are many who differ with my view, I am one who holds that there is an absolutely objective standard whereby all Art may be judged.  The success of an artistic enterprise is not merely a matter of personal taste.  There is a God up in heaven whose artistry is superior to that of any human Artist.  Whether we are concerned with the Performing Arts as I am, or with Fine Art as others are, or any other form of creative endeavor; surely His assessment as to the quality of Art is perfect and divine.  People may argue till kingdom come as to whether it was Leonardo, van Gogh, or Picasso who produced the finest Art; but were God to intervene and state his most righteous piece on the matter, no one on earth would dare to contest it.

While I may have put much thought into the matter, all the thinking in the world cannot come close to approaching God’s thoughts on the subject.  While I may attempt day by day to hone my craft to impeccability, none of my efforts could ever be on a par with the God’s most effortless perfection.  Could I have orchestrated the music of bluebird, hummingbird, or even mocking bird?  Could I have sculpted the Pinnacles, or Mount Everest, or even Vesuvius upon eruption?  Or have painted the many masterful sunsets we all have beheld in awe?  Certainly not.  No mortal could come near to the manifestation of such marvels.

So, while this is the standard to which I aspire, how is it that I would still be concerned with pleasing the multitudes?  Especially when one considers how much disagreement there is among them?   I believe the words of St. Paul impart, in part, the answer:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.  1 Cornithians 9:19

Paul was of course referring, not to personal artistic triumph, but to the far more important matter of eternal salvation from judgment.  But there is an analogy here, also aptly illustrated in the words of Jesus:

Whoever wants to be first must be least of all and the servant of all.  – Mark 9:35

It frees me from stubborn adherence to an unapproachable standard to consider my artistry as something like a public service.  If someone for example says that a certain passage sounds “harsh,” I can serve them by making the passage softer, without in any way affecting the rest of the piece.  If another person says the passage is too weak, I can strengthen it.  While it is true that not everyone will be pleased, I can at least consider that each criticism reflects an aspect of a common standard, and in taking in them all, I stand a better chance of serving the multitudes, rather than of forcing my own impossible standard upon them. 

To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. – 1 Corinthians 9:22

To the modern mind, this might seem like the ultimate in personal compromise.  However, there is a liberation here on a spiritual level that is able to inform my Art.  Rather than contend with a God whose standard is unattainable, I will consider that in serving others, I am serving God. handel-hudson-faberAn example of a composer who served both God and others is George Frideric Handel.

It is said that the response to the Opening of Handel’s Messiah was so overwhelming that political enemies actually hugged each other in the foyer after the performance, and even made gestures toward resolving their differences.   That would certainly be an example of a composer being of service to humanity.  To be of optimum service to humanity is to be of show the greatest love; and to show the greatest love is the highest service of God. 

Urban Pathos

On general spiritual principle, I promised myself I wouldn’t work on Sundays.  If I succeed in resisting the almost irresistible temptation once more, this Sunday will be the third day in a row when I haven’t worked on my music.

The previous week had been terrible.  I worked on the project all day that Sunday, thinking I was “behind” — as if, at this point, I had any deadline to meet other than death itself.  Then I easily lost two full days during the week over a personal situation that had me too distracted to focus on my work.  I connected the two: my working on the day when I wasn’t supposed to work; and my not being able to work on the days when I was supposed to work.

But that’s silly, really.  It’s superstitious.    When a person decides to take a full day off each week, isn’t it supposed to give him an opportunity to conserve his energy, so as to start out afresh each week, and possibly even get more accomplished in the long run?  I need to remember that spirituality is not about superstition. It’s not even about “religion,” for that matter. It’s about each person cultivating healthy and beneficial, purposeful patterns of life practice. Each one developing what works best for the particular individual — but bearing some general guidelines in common — such as not working seven days a week, 24/7/365 like a workaholic.

Frank Zappa was a workaholic.  They say he never took a break.  Whether one likes his music or not (I personally do not), it has to be admitted that he was extremely prolific.  But where did it get him?   To an early grave is where.  The prolific Frank Zappa died an untimely death of prostate cancer at the age of only 52.

zappa
Zappa

Still, I was just paranoid enough that if I didn’t meet my project goal that week by finishing the Urban Pathos sequence, the temptation to work on Sunday would be irresistible. It would keep nagging at me until I wrapped it up. So, as a result, I stayed up till 2:45 in the morning cranking it out like a madman, never taking breaks. By the time I finally turned in, I figured it for done, but everything sounded like crap. Then of course I woke up in a total fog before church. Didn’t get a chance to listen to it till after church, but when I did, it sounded surprisingly all right to me. Not as strong as my Royal Rhapsody, but strong enough to move on.

 Urban Pathos

Copyright © 2016 by Andrew Michael Pope. 
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