By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO (ANS — November 26, 2017) — The New Mexico Museum of Art celebrated its 100th anniversary on Saturday, November 25. As part of the celebration, Santa Fe was aglow with art activities. For our part, my wife Melanie and I hosted an artist friend Jeff Lefever in the City Different, taking in the merriment. We toured the new exhibit (which is excellent), talked with characters dressed as artists represented in the exhibit (such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Diego Rivera, and Frida Kahlo), and listened to live music. It was a lovely time.
After the festivity, we toured various galleries in the area. Of particular interest was meeting Charlotte Jackson from Charlotte Jackson Fine Art. Not only did Ms. Jackson give us an hour of her time, but also gifted us books and told us marvelous stories about some of the artists she represents (Frederick Hammersley, Ed Moses, Charles Arnoldi, and Paul Sarkisian among them). She also allowed us to see some of her personal collection of artwork, including a work by James Turrell . When I jokingly told her I’m a groupie of both Frederick Hammersley and James Turrell, she smiled in appreciation of shared artistic interests. Both Jeff and I told Charlotte we’d gladly wear a shirt with her face on it, becoming a groupie of Charlotte Jackson as well. Meeting Charlotte was the cherry on top of the arts-infused afternoon.
But why would a city dedicate so much time to art? Does art matter? I believe it does. And here’s why.
Art matters for two overarching reasons: theologically and anthropomorphically, or divinely and humanly.
Let’s tackle the theological elements first.
It’s been said many times that God is the Great Artist, the Master Creator. And it’s true.
But what exactly does this mean? Is God a beret-wearing, easel-carrying, kindly gentleman painting all he can see? Of course not. But found within God’s person and character is the essence of creativity: the very basis of imaginative and inspired acts, including form, balance, harmony, color, symmetry, and subject—all the things that make up art. Put another way, all artistic endeavors are manifest in God’s nature. I’m reaching here, but much like God is love, God is art-like, at least the metaphysical aspects of His being: the quintessence of imagination, inspiration, and ingenuity. God by His nature is ultimate creativity. God and art are inter-related because God is equal to His nature.
In Exodus, God tells Moses, “I am that I am.” Here, God states that He is the center — the beginning — of all being, including beauty, truth, and goodness. It is God’s nature to create. Therefore, God arouses and motivates creativity in the world. He is not only the Great Artist, but also the object of our desire; the initiator of the process of art; and by His very nature defines for us beauty and creativity.
In the first chapter of Genesis — where we catch a glimpse of God’s nature — we discover: “In the beginning God created the heavens and earth” (v. 1). The Hebrew word for create is bara, which means to shape, fashion, form, or create. In verse 7, we see the word made; the Hebrew word is asah, which means do or make. God both creates and makes.
In both instances we find God is active artistically. So it precedes that from God’s creative self stems all creative activity. In a way, the two components, the creative and the act of creativity are co-substantial, of one being.
But God is not the same as His creation: Art/creation is not God. Rather, art/creation proceeds from God and reflects His nature. Just as all love isn’t God, creation or art isn’t God. But both love and art find their meaning and essence in God; God is the Necessary Being for both.
Now, to the second reason art matters: anthropomorphically. Art matters to people because it relates to us as creative beings, documenting our existence on planet earth; allowing us to state philosophical and aesthetic claims; and fulfilling our fervor to form and fashion, a fusion of our mind, body and soul.
In the book The Answers Are Inside the Mountains poet William Stafford states, “Art will, if pursued for itself and not for adventitious reasons or by spurious ways, bring into sustained realization the self.” . Put another way, art helps us understand what it means to be human.
Later in the same book, Stafford states, “Art is the heaven of experience.” If you combine these two statements, you come up with a working understanding of art operating in humanity: Art — through our shared experience as humans — helps us realize our self, our place as individuals within the world.
Further, Stafford makes the case that art is a sacrament. Stafford writes, “Art has its sacramental aspect. The source of art’s central effect is one with religion’s and those of other soul endeavors: the discovery of the essential self and the cultivation of its felt, positive impulses.”
I like that: “a sacramental aspect.” A sacrament is something that is done with a significant, spiritual meaning, giving due honor to the object, be it God or otherwise. Art is a sacrament—not in the traditional Christian definition (baptism, communion, etc.), but in the understanding of giving to God what He has ultimately given to us. Art is an offering, a gift given based upon a gift received.
A way to think through the sacramental aspect of art takes me back to a visit I took to Chicago, Illinois. Sitting in Millennium Park — just north of the Art Institute — is a popular sculpture made by British artist Anish Kapoor entitled Cloud Gate, affectionately known as “The Bean.”
Cloud Gate is a large metallic sculpture that reflects the cityscape and people who walk up to it. It is shaped in a bean-like form, covered in stainless steel. It’s common to see hundreds of people surrounding “The Bean,” snapping photos of the sculpture. But while taking pictures of Cloud Gate, they are also capturing the city and themselves in its reflection. Cloud Gate allows the viewer and the surrounding area to be a part of the art. In this case, the nature of the Cloud Gate extends beyond itself to the people and landscape.
Cloud Gate is much like the sacramental aspects of art. Though the people or the cityscape of Chicago reflected in Cloud Gate are not Cloud Gate themselves (the actual object), they are—in a way—part of the piece, a reflection found on—and in—the sculpture. People are intertwined, co-substantial, and merged into the larger narrative of what Cloud Gate represents. When people approach Cloud Gate they give of themselves by being included in the art.
Cloud Gate is also a helpful analogy highlighting God’s influence within the artistic process. All art is a reflection of God’s creative nature; God is the originator of art. And because of His creative nature, God allows the reflection of His nature to proceed from Himself, analogous to the reflections with Cloud Gate. This reflection affects and influences those who stand within His presence as manifest through His creation. In turn, people are found inhabited and influenced by God’s nature through common grace, becoming partakers in God’s divine artistic language, and thereby responding to the reflection by engaging in creative production. This divine/human interaction has sacramental components — the offering of art through a creative process, reflecting the nature of God on earth.
And because of this sacramental, divine/human interaction, art matters.
It’s fitting that a city would celebrate art. In doing so — whether they recognize it or not — they are celebrating the God who invented and inspires creativity. So let the commemorations continue!
2. Stafford, William, The Answer Are Inside the Mountains. University of Michigan Press, 2003.
Photo captions: 1) New Mexico Museum of Art. 2) Charlotte Jackson. 3) Frederick Hammersley with book by Charlotte Jackson. 4) William Stafford. 5) Cloud Gate. 6) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, artist, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA), Veritas Evangelical Seminary (MA), and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon
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