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Art Theory

 

One time, I took an art theory class. We read many many theories written through the ages all trying to answer the question: “what is art?” At the end of the class, we were prompted to write our own theories. This is mine.

Art as Imitation of the Creator

            The basis of my art theory comes from what I believe about God. God is the ultimate goodness, beauty, and creator. God created all things and is therefore the first and greatest artist. All artists have been inspired by nature (“creation” and “nature” will be used interchangeably) in some way and everyone has felt the rush of emotion and awe known as an aesthetic experience from watching a sunrise or seeing the view from the top of a mountain. Scenes of nature are one of the few things that are universally agreed to be beautiful. The “first art” of creation is what inspires artists to create and point out or mimic the beauty that they see. God created humans in his image (Gen. 1:27), this means that appreciation of beauty and the ability to create and respond to art, are gifts given to humans alone. Animals do not have these abilities because they are not created in the image of God with souls and deep emotions, which lead to artistic expression. Art is unique from other types of human creation in that its purpose is to express emotion and exhibit beauty rather than be tools or inventions for practical every day use, although some tools can be turned into art through decoration. This paper will discuss what I believe are the necessary conditions for art:

  1. Art is composed by a human
  2. Art elicits an aesthetic experience
  3. Art reveals beauty
  4. Art is inspired by creation
  5. Art expresses an emotion of the artist
  6. Art requires altering materials to create something new
  7. Art is made with technical skill

Art is composed by a human
This statement is important to understand because it leads to all the others. Whether it is dance, music, theater or visual art; all art is “put together” by a human or collective humans. As mentioned earlier, God created man in his own image or likeness. This is what sets us apart from animals. Humans have souls, emotions, and reasoning abilities that animals do not. Creativity is a big part of God’s character, as the first thing we see him do in scripture is create the universe. When he created everything, it was good, beautiful and perfect. Naturally, being created in his image, we also possess the desire and ability to create beautiful things and to appreciate beauty. This being said, zoo animals walking around in paint is not art. If a human uses an animal to be an instrument in her or his own creative process, it can be labeled art because the human had an idea or emotion and chose to express it through the animal’s markings. In both these situations, the animal was not inspired paint out his emotions. Animals do not invent, create or participate in activities that do not benefit their immediate survival. Therefore, only humans created in the image of the creator God have the desire and capacity to create art.

Art elicits an aesthetic experience
An aesthetic experience is something that is only brought upon by art and creation. This is the reaction that one feels when being mesmerized by an incredible painting or struck by awe when seeing a vibrant sunrise. This “wow” reaction comes from the visual or musical stimuli entering the viewer or listener’s senses. Humans are able enjoy this response to art because God created us with a desire for beauty and an appreciation for goodness so that we can see him through it. An aesthetic experience differentiates art from other types of “made” things that comply with necessary conditions 6 and 7. Things like spoons, couches, or lamps do not cause this response because they are designed to fulfill a need of every day life and are mass-produced for efficiency. Of course, all of these things can be transformed into art through decoration and intentional use of design elements but when only practicality is considered, common objects do not spark wonder in the viewer or user. Emotions that are commonly thought of when discussing beauty, are happiness, love, joy, peace, amazement, and wonder. Aesthetic experiences and beauty go hand in hand which leads to the next point:

Art reveals beauty
One of the many privileges of being an artist is pointing out to others what is beautiful. Whether it is recreating something known to be beautiful such as painting a landscape; or causing the viewer to see something formally considered ugly in a new way such as the work of Andres Serrano (among many); or even displaying found objects in a way that brings attention to their inherent beauty–artists present the world with what is beautiful. To call an art piece successful and for it to last through history, viewers must want to look at it. Because beauty encompasses positive feelings, viewers desire to return to the source of beauty again and again. An impression of goodness lasts longer than one of negativity because the viewer chooses to recall the experience rather than suppress it. Art that causes the viewer to cringe or turn away in uncomfortably may be successful in conveying a message or making the viewer think but it is not true art. They will not last once they have served their purpose of getting their point across. It is true that people have differing opinions of what is beautiful but these opinions are often not far apart and the emotions that accompany beauty are universal. The ultimate and irrefutable example of beauty is found in God’s creation.

Art is inspired by creation
Because creation was originally perfect in beauty and was created from a perfect being with none of the flaws of human skill, it is the ultimate inspiration of all art. Everything humans have learned about aesthetics: color, shape, value, etc. comes from what we have observed in nature. The reason that all people can appreciate art whether or not they have been exposed or have had formal training is because creation is the example available to all. By walking outside, one is exposed to art. This explains why a person deserted on an island alone may attempt to decorate his living space or arrange rocks and found objects into sculptures. He does not need to be taught that creating and beauty bring life; he can see examples all around him and being a created work of art himself, it is in his nature. Sometimes artists wish to recreate the emotions they felt from interacting with some part of creation. Sometimes artists want to recreate the colors or shapes they have seen in nature. Sometimes artists choose to use materials found in nature to explore their properties and turn them into new things. Sometimes artists simply pick up a piece of nature and put it on display so that everyone can learn to appreciate it the same way that artist did when seeing it. All of these are forms of being inspired by creation and every art piece’s inspiration traces back to the beauty of creation.

Art expresses an emotion of the artist
Without emotion, art has no impact. Without impact, or an aesthetic response, it is not art. If no emotion is put into a piece, no emotion will be drawn from it. Emotionless art is formulated and calculated.

For example, when I was taking a painting class a couple years ago, I was told to paint the still life that was set up in front of me. This could have been an opportunity to create art had I felt any kind of emotion about the still life. If I was upset at the assignment and painted out my anger or if I found joy in the shadows and highlights and wanted to honor them, or maybe if I was excited to experiment with color and see what the medium of oils had to offer me—these would all be the starting line to the creative process of art. Instead, I had no interest in the assignment. I focused on completing the bare minimum. Putting the paint on canvas and getting the assignment over with to get a grade was my only motivation. The result was homework to practice mixing color and using a brush on canvas. It was not a work of art.

Emotion is the spark that ignites inspiration. Art with no emotion is empty and meaningless. It has nothing to offer. Emotion is what separates a masterpiece from an everyday spoon. Emotion is the fuel of the artist. Because emotion is so intangible and mysterious, art is often the only way to express it. Art and emotion are both gifts that balance each other out. Art harnesses incomprehensible emotions and turns them into something manageable and understandable. Because art is a tool for emotional output, emotion is required to create art.

Art requires altering materials to create something new
This point is the most basic recognized idea of art. Art must involve creation and creation involves change. The definition of creation is “the action or process of bringing something into existence.” This change that brings something into existence can be as complex as throwing clay on a wheel to design an intricate structure or as simple as moving rocks into a specific formation. God created the universe out of nothing. Everything was his original and new idea. To imitate our creator, we take the materials that he provided for us and practice our innate desire to create by reinterpreting them and transforming them to reflect our interpretation. Even if what is created is a replica of something else, it is still a transformation of the original materials. I believe that this point is the reason a lot of artists become egotistical and arrogant. Bringing something into existence is a way to glorify God by imitating his character but it can also make the artist believe he or she is a god her/his self. It is quite an honor to be given the ability to bring completely new things into being but if not respected and if glory is not given where it is due, it can turn into a power trip for the artist.

 Art is made with technical skill
Though everyone can appreciate beauty and art, and has the ability to create and express their feelings, true art displays technical skill. Revealing beauty requires knowledge of materials and mastery of technique. Poor craftsmanship, bad acting, and singing off-key do not exhibit beauty. In Exodus 31, the Lord fills two specific men with the spirit of God in “all kinds of craftsmanship to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood.” (NIV) God gives these men the skills to create art for his tabernacle. Most cultures agree that God or the gods will be pleased with beautiful art that is well done. In this instance, God wanted his tabernacle to be beautiful so that it would reflect his character and proclaim his glory. Skilled craftsmen were required for this to be accomplished. Some people are more talented than others from birth but artistic skill can be learned. Practice and knowledge of materials are necessary for quality craftsmanship, which allows for beauty to be fully realized and art created in the truest sense of the word.

Conclusion
When first considering my theory of art, I tried to decipher what art is as society has defined it today. I realized soon that it would be impossible to discover what art truly is by looking at how it is defined by society at large since it is constantly changing. Instead, I decided to start with what I know is true and begin from there. I know that God is the first artist and gave us the desire to make art. Therefore, he should be the one to define art. I took what I know of God and what emotions I have experienced myself when creating art and built my theory around those things. I do not think that art should be censored because I know that everyone has a different opinion of art and I think that all these opinions should be respected. The risk that my theory presents is that it is fairly narrow and could cause judgmental responses to art that does not comply with my conditions. However, every theory presents this risk and I choose to hold my theory of art close to me. Meaning, I will create art that lines up with my theory and not judge others for creating art that lines up with their own theory. I may not agree that their piece ought to be called art or believe it is a successful piece but I can appreciate their intentions and effort and value it as a creative endeavor of a fellow human that I respect.

 

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Wonder Woman Potential

Usually when I go to the movies, especially the drive in, I anticipate tearing the production apart. I like to complain about the lack of people of color, the objectification of women, and plot holes. It really makes the experience enjoyable for me.

Needless to say, I had extremely low expectations for the scantly clad Wonder Woman. I’ve never read the comic and I had no idea who she was really besides her appearance as a gladiator cheerleader.

The movie begins and so do my scoffs. A bunch of gorgeous ladies are prancing around. Of course the main 2 mentors are white and look exactly the same with their long blonde hair.

Then the handsome white man comes and is saved by naïve goddess girl.
It’s cool that the girl does the saving I guess.

Then there is a battle in which none of the Germans stop to ask

“Why is there a magical island full of gorgeous female gladiator cheerleaders?”

“Doesn’t matter, lets just kill them before they are able to threaten our masculinity!”

 

The scoffing continues

Then the moment that really got me:

“It’s Ares that’s causing the war, mom! That’s what we have spent all eternity training for! Let’s go kill him!”

Mom says, “Nooo, too scary.”

Ahem. Ok mom.

Let’s review: Zeus created you for the sole purpose of defeating Ares. That is literally your only purpose. What are you going to do on your little island if you don’t go? Keep training? For what? You can’t even procreate!

I was appalled at her stupidity.

 

As the movie went on and Sami fell asleep so I had no one to scoff with,

My critiques turned on themselves.

Instead of being annoyed at Diana’s naïveté and oblivion to the customs of England, I started to identify.

By the time Diana ran into the battlefield to rescue the town, I was riveted.

 

It dawned on me. This is the story of a Christ follower!

I began to look for truth in the story rather than lies and re-evaluated the beginning.

The scene that first turned me off to the movie is what ended up starting the brain train that carried me to a place of absolutely loving it.

 

Let me explain,

I was created for a very specific purpose: to glorify God and spread his love so that others can know Him and be free from Satan’s hold just as the Amazons are meant to free the world from Ares.

If I choose not to use my God given gifts to spread God’s love with the world, then I am just as useless as the Amazons who stayed behind. A lot of times our friends or parents tell us not to pursue Jesus to the hard and dangerous places. It is not because they are stupid (as I accused the Amazons of being) but they have lost sight of our purpose of existing and want to protect us.

Diana is convicted of being called to end the war and is determined to leave despite her mother’s protests.

As Diana enters the world of humans we see her innocence with men, her compassion for those in need, her fearlessness to speak out against violence, and her supernatural strength. Even what she wears is chosen specifically for the task at hand, not for fashion or beauty. (Though why the artist decided this should be a tiny metal dress is open for debate)

All of these things allow her to save the world because she knows the truth of what is really going on and she is not distracted from her mission.

She knows that she has been trained well. She knows that there is a spiritual battle behind it all. She knows that she will defeat the enemy in the end because that is her purpose. She knows that mere mortals cannot harm her.

Even when no one believes where she came from or who sent her, she holds to her convictions.

Even when she learns how messed up/sinful mankind is, she chooses to serve them anyway because you know what?

“It’s not about deserving, it’s about what you believe, and I believe in love. “

 

Oh man I could go on about the truth of that statement for days and days.

 

I have been created for a specific purpose.

I have been filled with the spirit and trained with spiritual disciplines in community.

I know that the real battle is not against flesh and blood.

I know that the victory has already been won.

 

Through these truths
Jesus has given me Wonder Woman potential.
I just need to own it.

 

 

The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?
Psalm 118:6

giving up on being good

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I’ve been living my life according to certain lists: what I can and cannot do. Based on what I think I’m good at.

“Can you navigate for me?”
“No, but Helen can!”

“Can you take a picture of us?”
“Mmm, Sami can!”

When my roommates sing together it is so beautiful.
“Beth, do you want to sing with us?”
yes yes I really do
“No, it’s ok”

This system never used to bother me. As long as I knew what I was not good at, I could stay away from those things. Stay away from judgment, embarrassment, and failure.

There are times when I venture into the Not Good list. When I’m feeling bold and adventurous. But I will make sure everyone knows I already know I’m not good at that. You don’t have to tell me.

We can’t be good at everything right?
I should just focus on what I know I’m good at.

This is what I told Helen when I explained my hesitations with trying to get better at writing.

Is it worth it? I’m only ok at it.
I want to be a good teacher. I should focus on that.
I gave up trying to be a good artist.
I can’t be good at everything.

This made sense to me
But Helen starts crying

“It makes me sad to hear you say you’ve given up on being a good artist.
I look at the things you make and they are really wonderful.”
She says through tears

Now I’m crying too
About all the brutal critiques
About all the comparison

I gave up because I wasn’t as good as them
But they don’t think they are good enough either.

I was just never cut out to be a professional artist.
I knew I’d never get hired over them.

 

What I did everything for the glory of God?

I can’t even imagine what that would look like.

What if I only cared what He thought?

I can’t even imagine how freeing that would be.

 

Instead, I stick with what I’m Good at,
seek validation for what I’m Ok at,
and avoid what I’m Not Good at as much as possible

 

It’s time to stop living in the lists.

I was not created to compare myself to others in order to decide what I can and cannot do.

God calls us to do things that we think we cannot do.

Extraordinary, unimaginable things.

He calls us to be bold all the time.

Without disclaimers.

 

Maybe I’m not very good at that
Or anything else

But Jesus is the best at that
And everything else

My Father is the best at everything
So I don’t have to be

the day Mo made a fort

One day, Mo was home alone and reaaally bored. He knew the girls weren’t coming home for awhile so he decided to make a list of things he could do to past the time

  1. Finger painting
  2. Draw with sidewalk chalk
  3. Play with legos
  4. Make a fort
  5. Write notes to the girls

Writing the list took a lot of brain power out of Mo so he ended up falling asleep after number 5. When he woke up he looked at his list with new eyes.

Hmmm I don’t have fingers.

I ate all the chalk yesterday.

Legos sounds fun!

So does a fort!

And I would like to make something for my favorite people!

I KNOW. I’LL BUILD A FORT OUT OF LEGOS FOR THE GIRLS TO PLAY IN WHEN THEY GET HOME.

Smiling smugly to himself for being such a super genius, Mo pulled out the legos and started building. He built and built, sometimes pausing to reevaluate, sometimes drawing architectural sketches, tearing down, starting over, until FINALLY 3 hours later, he was DONE.

THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING FORT. MY FRIENDS WILL BE SO HAPPY.

Mo gave a contented sigh and settled down in excitement waiting for the door to open and the shouts of glee to commence when his fort was discovered in the living room.

 

A few minutes later he heard a jingle of keys.

OH BOY OH BOY

The knob turned and Alia walked into the room.

Mo held his breath.

 

He watched as Alia hung up her keys, glanced over at Mo

Oh hey Mo!

And walked back into her room, closing the door behind her.

 

Mo was devastated. Alia didn’t say anything about the fort he had labored over for so many hours for her and the roomies?!

He cried and cried and cried

Soaking the floor with his tears.

 

Sami came home to a balling caterpillar and wet floor.

Mo! What’s wrong?? ALIA! MO IS CRYING!

Alia came running out

What is the matter Mo??

Y-y-you didn’t say anythiiingg

About the HUGE AMAZING f-f-fort I made for you guuyss!

 

Alia and Sami looked at each other.

Aw Mo, I’m sorry!

Sami said

….

What fort?

 

Mo rolled over and there it was

A pile of 5 legos.

 

It took me hours and hours and I made it for you because I love you so much and I wanted to surprise you and I was hoping we could sleep in it tonight!

Alia and Sami couldn’t hold it in any longer

They laughed and laughed and laughed

And tackled Mo for a big hug