‘Criticize by creating’ - Michelangelo
My kids attend an arts core school. This means the arts are woven into all of their learning. It also means they are exposed to a lot of great work.
My kids know far more than I do about art history. My son has told me many stories about Chagal and Van Gogh. As they learn about these artists, they move beyond looking at and talking about their work. They actually create art in response to it.
The instruction, ‘paint like Van Gogh’ is not daunting to elementary school kids. It is liberating. The walls of my back stairwell are a testament to the creativity great works of art can inspire. There have been works in the style of Mondrian and Joan Mirò and Picasso and many others. Just looking at our ‘gallery' this morning I am reminded of the generative power of art.
Great art does something. It leads to action, and often to more great art. It makes our world a bigger, more beautiful place.
Moving us beyond feeling, art can lead us toward three actions. In response to a work of creation, we can consume, we can criticize or we can create something ourselves.
What does a work of art do to you? How do you respond to worthy work?
Are you a consumer? Are you a critic? Are you a creator?
Which response excites you most? Which word elicits a little leap from your soul? Which response will lead us to a better world?
A World of Consumers
Consumption is not a wrong response to art. There are times when we just need to ‘veg’ – to relax and laugh or cry or feel inspired. But consumption tends to leave us where we started, rather than lift us up and out. Consumption of art and media is okay, and perhaps the necessary entry point, but it is not generative. It does not make the world a greater place.
In a consumer culture, the creative impulse must be shaken awake. With our art, as with everything else, we have all too often become mere consumers.
Think of your plans for this evening. Errands done and kids in bed, will you consume, or create? Most of us are happy to be fed the creativity of others, plunked down in front of our TVs. But there was a time, I am told, when we would gather around the family piano and sing the evening away. It’s hard to imagine a time or place where creativity was as prevalent as consumption.
My wife and I are attempting to add an art making night to our rotation of evening activities. It is hard, and has not become a habit yet. Like anything worthwhile, there seems to be an invisible wall of resistance to scale. But the few nights we have sat across the table from each other, working away on our own little projects, have felt so good. Creation does some deeper work in us that consumption cannot reach.
Reading good books could be seen as mere consumption, but I don’t think so. I think the very magic of books is their ability to awaken our own image-making powers and invite our minds to fill in the details. Books calls us into creation as we read. This is why reading a book is less rewarding after seeing the movie. My Frodo is now Peter Jackson’s Frodo. My Aslan now sounds like Liam Neeson.
Of course, any work in any media can lead us to an imaginative space, but the more we are handed, the less spacious the work becomes. The less room we have to create ourselves. To move from consumers to creators takes an act of will.
Unfortunately, we all too often turn our will in another direction, towards finding faults. Everyone is a critic.
A World of Critics
Just like consumption, criticism is far from evil. It is necessary. Critique has its place. It helps others enter into an artwork and at its best it helps artists become stronger.
Excellent criticism is itself creative work, but all too often our criticisms degenerate into shallow and cynical attacks. A quick skim of YouTube video comments will reveal the worst of these. I find little value there.
Michaelango famously invited us to, ‘criticize by creating'. How I would love to see that advice followed.
You do not like the art? Create a better alternative.
You do not like the world? Create a better alternative.
The Bleeding Heart Art Space is not a refuge for cynics and the disenfranchised. At least not a place where we can stay in those shadows safely. This Space is for hope, and hope births the creation of the New. We are not content to pick at what is wrong with everyone else. We are those who create, and risk our hearts in the process.
There are many who can see the problems. There are few who can offer solutions.
A World of Creators
The third response, to create something new, is most exciting to me. It is the only generative response. It is the response that enlarges our world.
The Bleeding Heart Manifesto encourages us to ‘create in response to creation’. There is a recognition here that our greatest works are only a ripple from the deep-end-cannonball of God’s creation. To create is to be 'made in the image of God’.
This creative impulse is my favourite reaction to art. I get so inspired by the artist’s gift that I immediately want to create something. My own gift is fanned into flame. As author Lewis Hyde puts it, the gift keeps moving.
As a songwriter, this happens with great music. When I was fifteen, Hayden’s Everything I Long For drove me to record hours of music on a tape-deck four-track recorder in my bedroom, especially when I found out that Hayden recorded that album in a similar way. Last year, when I heard the song Lost In the Light by Bahamas, I finally broke down and bought a Danelectro guitar. I just had to make that sound. Watching the guitar documentary This Might Get Loud, I actually had to stop three quarters through to go and plug my amplifier in and make some noise. My consumption was actually interrupted by creativity. Some impulse was rising up in me – some primal dance to the beat of a great work. Toes tapping, I had to respond.
I may well feel this way at the Royal Bison Craft & Art Fair this weekend, where local creatives are experimenting. Some piece will set off sparks for my own experimentation when I get home. Last time this happened I ended up buying a screen printing kit. Perhaps great art is dangerous for my wallet.
Great creations are hospitable. They do not put up walls to remind us how inferior we are to their makers. They invite us in to play.
There is something in creativity that takes us back to the deep childhood well of possibility. There was a time we would see something great and think to ourselves, however foolishly, “I can do that!” Now, most times, we don’t even have the luxury of squashing those thoughts under the weight of fear and disillusionment. They simply do not come to mind.
But sometimes, when I see a painting or hear a song or read a poem, I still believe in myself. I find permission somewhere to go and make something new.
Creation itself works this way. Genesis tells of a Creator so potent that light and life dripped from his tongue. He simply spoke and the world could not help but explode into being. He speaks still, I believe. And soon in that speaking He invites us to speak as well–to harmonize with his creation melody. To name the animals.
The creative spirit is contagious. It is generous. It begets and begets. A stranger to scarcity, creativity is abundant.
But creativity is hard. Creativity is incredibly vulnerable. It leaves us open to our consumers and our critics. Criticism and consumption are the easier responses. They are most certainly safer.
In a world where problems and faults are clear, my prayer is for creative solutions. My prayer is for a new world – a 'Kingdom come’ of faith, hope and love.
The Creator is singing that new world into being. Let us move beyond mere consumption and criticism to take our rightful place as co-creators.
Let us make something new!