Beauty in a Time of Dryness

What is the value of art? What does a flourish of the brush matter in the grand scheme of things? How does a choice between crimson and poppy red hold up against the high-tower choices that could end world hunger?

Yesterday I had the pleasure of touring a diverse group through Jennifer Berkenbosch’s Cultivar – the current exhibit on display in our new Bleeding Heart Art Space. This collective included Anglican leadership from Edmonton and parts of Africa, as well as indigenous brothers and sisters with painful personal histories. The group was assembled to reimagine the servant role of the Church in a diverse context. Alberta Avenue is certainly that. 

As I listened to difficult residential school stories, I doubted the value that Bleeding Heart Art Space can bring to a deeply broken world. As I heard of the hundreds of meals served each week by PrayerWorks at St. Faith’s Anglican Church, I questioned whether the service we provide in our Art Space is anywhere near as valuable.

My doubts melted away as the gallery door opened and our guests poured in. There were audible gasps. More like sighs of pleasure or peace, perhaps. The Space felt immediately soothing. Sacred, even. No one spoke as each person circled the room to bask in the bright colours and tactile textures of Berkenbosch’s beautiful canvases.

In that moment I was reminded of the power art holds, beyond words, to move the spirit. To speak, as our manifesto proclaims that art does. I was reminded that beauty matters a great deal, especially in difficult times. Beauty heals like ‘a river in a time of dryness’ to quote U2’s Bono in ‘All I Want Is You’.

These are dry times. Summer slips away faster than you can catch it – a dime down the drain. The sky hangs damp and icy today. Across the globe, powerful little men toy with the world’s future like it’s a game of chicken. Hurricanes have ravaged large parts of our earth. Families will suffer the effects for years to come. Terrorists won’t let London sleep. 

This planet can get so ugly. So broken. So disordered. So many of our mirrors are shattered.

There is order in beauty. A divine order, I believe, but whatever your theology you can feel it. The affirmation of disparate parts falling into place. 

Jennifer Berkenbosch’s Cultivar matters because the world needs beauty today. We need to be reminded that there is goodness. There is a solid bed beneath this wild river. 

Cultivar does not offer an easy beauty, mind you. These are not merely ‘pretty pictures’. Bekenbosch’s work reminds us that beauty is hard-won and complicated. Each canvas holds mystery, overlaid with wax, then scratched and gauged to create depth. These bear the beauty of scars. Cultivated beauty. Return to each piece and find some new surprise as chaos falls into harmony. 

It is a joy to visit Cultivar and our guests felt that joy yesterday–that spiritual lift. I had plenty to say about why Bleeding Heart Art Space exists–why we do what we do and why we matter. Likely, I had too much to say–too many words when Jennifer Berkenbosch has done the work already. 

A favourite publication of ours, Image Journal, like to quote Dostoyevsky remarking that ‘beauty will save the world’. Perhaps this is what they have in mind. 

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