I bring you, a bit late, the last post in this series for now. Previously, I reflected on art beginning with the origin and creation of art itself; this week, I focused on the artist and moved from greater communities to smaller ones. Today, I round it out--at least for now--with a further reflection on artists and the great threat that follows them throughout their lives. We artists are horrible people. We are at once exceptionally proud of the work we produce, secretly, in our deepest selves, and at the same time completely disbelieving that anyone would ever see any value in it, so we are self-depricating with those who are close to us, sometimes self-agrandizing with those who aren't. We can make idols of being known, as if being known will help heal the deep wound for the world we carry within us. But it won't. No person can heal that wound, that wound which has no complete healing in this world.
But this is not the only idol we make.
There is also the temptation to be clever for the sake of it. An artist by nature lives on the fringe of things. Profanity and sex are welcome allies in communicating the depths of human emotion, so why should they not show up in short stories or in plays or in any kind of art? Madeleine L'Engle said she lived her art by this rule: is it something we want the children to see? Children can handle the harsh realities of this world, that wicked things happen, that sex can be very good or exceptionally abused. This is not a question designed to shelter but to demand better from the artist in the first place. Have we made an idol of our cleverness, our turn of phrase? Are we producing what we want the children to see?
With this too comes the idol of acceptance, the deep want to be known, as regarded above, but with the added force and pressure of desiring to be approved. This is a great idol, for it seems harmless. Should we not want to be found favorable? Yes, unless this has become our litmus test. If the truth or good of our art is bound up in what people think, than so too our self-worth, so too our salvation is bound. We forsake the cross of Christ and cling, instead, to an unfit, false hope.
And what of the opposite? Rejection can be an idol too. See how I take on the cross as Christ did, see how I am scourged and scorned. This is a form of pride, of being part of the outcast, as if the outcast were the desire. But are we not told in the Gospels and in the Scriptures that it is for the sake of Christ that we are outcast, not for the sake of ourselves. If our art is rejected because it glorifies God, so be it. If our art is made for the purpose of rejection, God's glory is not with it, this is an idol.
But art, simply art itself, can be an idol for the artist. Not that idols are inherently made, that is, the golden calf is not on its own an idol. It's a thing. It takes people to bow down to it to make it an idol. The artist can view art itself, though, as a kind of savior. If only people would see things this way or perceive the world in this fashion, then they would understand and all would be made well. The only true salvation is through Christ. When an artist stops making art for the sake of being, in some way, a sign back to the Creator, then they no longer make art for themselves, they make idols.
Idols that have mouths, but speak not, ears, but hear not.