Out On a Limn

“True enough” says Maxfield Parrish when told that only God can make a tree. He then adds “but I’d like to see Him paint one.”

I would like to add that order, design and overall creativity—from its earliest nodes and impulses, to the finished product—comes from God, too.

Sure, our brains process the images our eyes take in (after turning it right-side up) and somewhere in the recesses of our minds, and hearts, the creative impulse turns reality into our version of it. This is the wonder of whatever art it is you do. You see the world unlike anyone else. But the bedrock? When we endeavor to create, we are taking after God. The God who made us. And at this level, it’s vital that the Christian substantiate his or her inner eye on the tenets of Jesus.

What do you want your art to do? Your (visual) art, writing, music, will follow your heart’s intent. If you want to write a song to show off your chops, fine. But if inside, you haven’t surrendered your talent to the Lord for Him to build it up at His leading, then no matter how you shred, those who aren’t already inclined, won’t be drawn to worship God. The same goes for the author who looks to implant in another’s head, the image in their own. Words will do that—if you write, you know this. The connotations and implications are literally painting a picture. Love? Peace? Integrity? Even shades of gray, when rendered from a renewed mind, will cause the reader to think along lines which have been laid out by Jesus. We literally wear our hearts on our sleeve when we create. And this is why we need an audience. We might like what we’ve done, but most (if not all) creative types must have outside validation. We literally step out on a limb, only to find it sawn off while we hover, buoyed by another’s admiration and adulation. It’s a dangerous place to be when we’re not anchored in God.

Whatever your particular ratio of practice to perseverance to creativity, the whole disposing thereof should be saturated with Jesus. Our gifts are meant to draw people in and enshroud them in His love.

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Finishing Touches

“The great enemy of the life of faith in God is not sin, but the good which is not good enough. The good is always the enemy of the best.” Oswald Chambers (emphasis mine)

or:

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Voltaire

Which one is it? Probably something in between. I don’t think that any one situation calls for one overarching statement over another, but let’s see.

It’s hard to know when to quit on a project that’s good enough. Artists, writers, musicians. Creative types of every stripe have to deal with this gnawing feeling that says the work is not finished. Never good enough. It influences and infects everyone who wants to make something and show it off to the world at large. Everyone, that is, except for God. This is a wonderful complex to analyze from a dispassionate perspective, if possible.

“And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:30, emphasis mine) “Very good” as in perfect? “Very good” as in good enough? That’s about right. I mean, if it’s good enough for God, it must be…good enough.

So you want to create. That’s a given. You have this nigh intangible feeling, this impulse on your insides that drives you to put pen to paper, words and structure to music, or render visually what you see with your mind’s eye. Wonderful. Notice how that gift is self-perpetuating. It’s something that you work at to—not perfect (that’s too simple a qualifier)—but exercise and polish and refine. In this way, as Voltaire expressed, perfection is indeed the enemy of the good. Perfection is always on the horizon and always something that will drive us like a carrot on a stick if we’re not content to be good enough. This, I think, is the idea behind his statement.

Voltaire was one of the key figures of the Enlightenment. While some of the ideas expressed therein were only practical, the main idea was that man was good without God. The very idea of God was shown to be (looked at as) non-essential, oppresive and detrimental. Far from the perfect and exacting-but-loving person He is. God requires holiness. He requires perfection. But thankfully (and this is from faith) Jesus is the one who gave us His perfection for the things that His Father (“and your[s]” John 20:17) requires. Does this make sense? Things like sinlessness and the heart attitude (let alone spiritual re-creation) that allows us to be “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Things of perfection that we have no chance in hell of ever attaining. God provided us with the finishing touches on our spiritual life by having His Son take the blame for our sin. And we sin more than we know. There are always ways that we can be refining and detailing our spiritual walk. Take heart. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Even the flaws that we can’t see as yet. God will wash us clean of everything that isn’t in keeping with His holiness. Again, it’s a process. One that began when you accepted Jesus.

“Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:9)

Now, in things of creativity, how good is “good enough”—for us? When we put first things first, the contentment we need to maintain our sanity in light of a driving creative force is supplied by God. Yes, we want to show off our art (whatever it may be), but there’s a satisfaction that comes from the process. We’ll know when it’s done. If it’s not “perfect” but “good enough”, that’s good enough. Put it out there then start on something else.

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Michaelangelo