Musings on Art & Inspiration at 1 a.m.


Making art is an irrational urge, at least it has been for me.  It isn’t calm or collected.  It is never convenient.  It doesn’t respect my schedule or my deadlines.  It, like the wind of John chapter 3 comes and goes as it wishes. 

The inspiration for it seems itself to like the risk and danger of coming to me at the most inopportune of times.  It prefers 3 a.m. to noontime.  It prefers the highway over my desk. 

It’s very fickle and doesn’t seem to be patient.  It doesn’t like to be upstaged by more pressing matters.  If the inspiration senses that I have something more important to attend to, it leaves without a trace.  It doesn’t say goodbye.  It simply lifts off like Mary Poppins with her umbrella and leaves me there in the dry ordinary crust of another Monday morning. 

Still this irrational urge, this compulsion, this calling, if you will doesn’t ever go away.  God help us if it ever does.  The same thing that makes you an artist is what makes you a lover.  You sacrifice logical ends for that which has no logical end, no promise of return, or completion, just a scrap, some thread of promise, some faint whisper, some defiance against the naysayers, a thin crack of light in the doorway.  

The artist is a servant, a humble or maybe not so humble conduit through which just one more glimpse of truth, of beauty or goodness or the lack thereof, may be witnessed.  The artist, or rather the art, brings us one step closer to medicating that existential chaos swirling about us.  It inches us closer to obtaining a vague sense of centering, ordering or equilibrium. 

The good artist is a good servant who takes the pen to the car, who shuffles their tired feet from the comfort of 3 a.m. who keeps the recorder close at hand, waiting, waiting like a bird watcher or a hunter, in patient silence and the grueling endurance of the small and the trivial.   There she is waiting for something to emerge, to show itself, to give us a picture, another metaphor, a clue, or some distressed analogy that will clarify all that art inadvertently points to; the Eternal, Transcendent and yet Incarnate reality beyond ourselves.  Oh, how some of the most unconscious works describe this all the better through effortless and rogue complexions.  The more we strive, the less we achieve.  All the more elusive becomes our fluttering muse, wisping away from our anxious pursuits like that little white butterfly you chased in childhood from flower to flower through your mother’s garden. 

Talking about creativity is like talking about love.  The words are decrepit, feeble at best, the scent of a bakery but never the taste of the bread, never the felt warmth of the loaf in your hands.  Only words that fail to bridge the chasm between idea and experience, a broken signpost pointing, this is the way. 

Who could tell you what its like to be in love?  Only you could know yourself.  Who knows the Spirit of God within except the Spirit of God himself?  And so he comes to live in us, to give us the experience of knowing him. Yet and still the mystery remains, veiled and teasing us forward toward intimacy and understanding.  So it is with art.  It encompasses, it embodies, it lives its life through us, just as the great Creator’s art lives with a freewill of its own.  So our works outlive and live out of us going beyond the tiny meanings we ascribe to them in our making.  Woe to those works if they do not go well beyond us in their meanings and their strange proclivity to affect, change and influence beyond our intentionality.  Woe to us for assigning them such a restricted jurisdiction. 

All art must go beyond that which we ourselves are able to see only in part.  There has to be the intermingling of perspective completely other than our own, the exposure to filters, interpretations and foreign modes of relation.  Art has to be allowed to breathe on its own.  It has to have its own experience, lest we suffocate it, relocate it to the prison of our own little world.  There it remains tucked neatly away in our file cabinet alphabetically arranged. We can find it there obediently stationary at any given moment. But it is not breathing. 

We cannot keep our art to ourselves or else it dies.  It must be given.  What is not given dies at the hands of that which birthed it.  Art must be allowed to grow and leave the comfort and nurturing solace of our familiarity.  As all things do, it must leave its home. We cannot constrain it to exist inside of our own meanings, our own desires or calculated plans for what we seek it to accomplish.  We must sit back and watch it fly, satisfied with our contribution to its existence.  We must allow its course of action to bewilder and astonish us as greatly as the musing that so captivated us to begin with. 

There are too many definitions and too little time for us to achieve an understanding through words.  Art is never understood by the content, no more than you can define a word by itself.  Can you tell me what fire means by telling me it means fire?  No, you cannot define something by itself.  The word implodes and destroys all hope for achieving meaning.  Art has to point beyond itself.  Art that does not point beyond itself, art that does not shine as a beacon, a portent of something of greater worth than itself, is not truly art.  At least it is not art serving its purpose. 

Art that is self contained and self defined is not art.  It is propaganda.  But art that is freely allowed to live and breathe and have its being within the great chaos from which all of God’s art is originally born, this art will live to serve, and thrive within this great sea of humanity.  It will serve to shape and guide us to our desired havens like that ancient star on the night of the savior’s birth. 

Only love can sustain art.  Only love can keep us crazy enough to keep going where there is no rational reason or reward for us to keep going.  Only love can keep us hoping against all hope, believing against all belief and straining to see the unseen, trusting its substance to be more substantial than what we find in the cool, collected moments of trivial and banal existence. 

Art is the desperate thrust toward transcendence; an act of faith for the godless and godly alike.  Art is the string threading the needle, believing the space between has meaning within its own emptiness.  Art reaches forward and not backwards toward its origins, believing that sooner or later the circle will catch up to itself and beginning and end will kiss, showing the eternal is here in our midst all along. 

Art has nothing to prove.  Art is what it is.  Art will be what it will be.  It reminds us there is something beyond the matter that expresses it.  Elusive as it is for us to chase it down, art is the butterfly net of transcendent reality.  It is the photography of the Spirit and shows us a glimpse of the invisible that is here in our midst.  Clothed with the tongue of imagination, art is the language of the Spirit of God.