Sometimes art school makes me cocky. Sometimes it makes me envious. I am being constantly praised and criticized for my work, my abilities, my style, my judgement. It’s quite personal. And I make it very personal. I take full ownership of my successes and my failures, and doing so inflates my ego and crushes my soul in a really exhausting and stupid cycle.
And then there’s coat-of-many-colors Joseph, who was pretty much one of the most successful guys in history. Totally rags to riches. But he never took credit for any of his success. Verse after verse, the Lord “enabled” Joesph to do everything he did, and Joe knew it. He professed it loudly.
And also that guy Bezalel from Exodus. God literally filled him with the knowledge to work with materials and create art for the tabernacle. Are you hearing this? God GAVE. BEZALEL. THE. ABILITY. to make the art that HE (GOD) ENVISIONED.
JS Bach ended his musical scores with the initials SDG. Soli Deo Gloria. He understood a truth that modernity has tried to suppress: “I play the notes as they are written but it is God who makes the music.”
Madeline L’Engle believes that all good art is Christian art, regardless of the artist. I can’t remember how she defines “good” art—I’m sure it would offend you—but I like thinking of art in this way, as being a gift from God and not ourselves. We are vessels and art is like scripture: God-breathed. Therefore obviously, we cannot worship the human artist because the artist is merely a scribe—like that chick in class who copies down what the professor is saying but doesn’t actually comprehend it.
I watched Spiderman on Thursday. Tony Stark tries to take away Spidey’s supersuit, and Spidey freaks out and screams, “I am nothing without that suit!” And Tony says that if he is nothing without the suit, then he doesn’t deserve it. But the truth is all of us are nothing without our superpowers; we don’t deserve them, but we still have them. We could lose them in a moment, but we act like we own them. And when the Lord does take them, we lose our sense of identity and meaning and significance in the world, and we are forced to reluctantly accept how little our efforts matter and how great God is and how polite it was for him to help us out in the first place. That’s called grace, although I’ve never favored that word. I heard it so much and it always seemed to only apply to criminals and female Christian authors. But that’s what it is: God’s politeness for making you anything more than a tiny little speck of dust.
I am glad that I am not a speck of dust, and I am glad that the Lord has enabled me to make art. I don’t give him much credit, especially within these halls, but these little crosses are a reminder, a kick in the butt or a slap in the face or whatever to not worship myself when a prof gives me a compliment or hate on myself when my grades get low. My superpowers truly are supernatural, and they’re not even mine. And you have them too, but you can’t take credit for them either. It’s a really weird way of thinking, and I’m not really good at it like Joe was. But I hope someday it becomes natural for me to point away from myself, and to really mean it.