‘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.