By Mary E. Morgan
What an interesting and thought-provoking question. My initial response is a mixed bag of emotionally charged answers—especially as I watch the daily news—convinced the answer is a hard “NO,” in view of the steady stream of chaos and mayhem. Then, as the newscast winds to its conclusion, with the good-news human interest story for the day, I reconsider the capacity for human kindness, and somehow my faith in our ability to overcome differences, angst, rage, and violence is restored. Until the next day, when the cycle repeats itself.
So what is the answer? How do we cope and how do we change human nature? As an artist, I am eager to respond to life’s events in a way that encourages hope in others, helps us all cope. I’ll admit that the making itself is also therapeutic for me, allowing in the temporary mental release a moment of enjoyment.
The opening ritual varies from artist to artist and, for me, even from one session to the next, but one thing is a constant: the settling-in process; this generally takes a bit of time and some quiet space. Sometimes I research a favorite artist, stare at my own work for a bit, or just start mixing paint. After I settle in, the piece reveals itself as my subconscious and God’s spirit work together on the decision-making process. This is where my sense of hope emerges—anticipation of what’s in store, yet to be unveiled. It reminds me of Kandinsky’s comment that “the artist must not only train his eye but his soul.” Maybe the question should be “am I there yet?” because it has taken me years get to the point of feeling God’s pleasure in the process of creating. I may not be there yet, but I see progress, and making progress is always a good thing.
Going deeper, I ask what the answer would be to helping us all “get there.” Reflecting back on my early recollections of memorizing Scripture, I’m reminded of the instruction to “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other” (Ephesians 4:32). I am always awed by Paul’s simple directive to the Ephesian church. What if Christians actually behaved like this? What if artists supported one another like this? The verse prior to this says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, and slander, along with every form of malice.” We must be changed from the inside out. Kindness, compassion, and forgiveness are byproducts of this change, but they must also be cultivated to help shape us into the humans we are intended to be.
To me it seems the impediment to us arriving at our “destination,” at least in part, is competition—that and our overwhelming desire for recognition in order to prove that we are good enough. Though not in itself a bad thing, when competition begins to steal my joy, my resources, my focus, or my self-esteem, then I need to release it and ask God to change the desires of my heart, re-committing myself to doing everything “in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God” (Col. 3:17). Ultimately this brings my life, work, and art back into focus, back to an eternal perspective. Here’s the short list of things I do to redirect my focus: be kind; renew my mind; pray; be peaceful, joyful, and present in the world; affirm God as Creator, Redeemer, Lord, and King.
Although I sadly admit that we, as Christians and as Christian artists, are still not “there yet,” as I mentioned earlier, I see progress. . . . and making progress is a good thing.
Mary E. Morgan is an artist and 30-year veteran teacher with experience at all instructional levels. Her major concentrations are in acrylic, oil, and watercolor painting on canvas, wood, or paper. Her work has been exhibited throughout her home state of Texas and as far away as Istanbul. For more, see maryemorgan.com.