Art as Prayer II

lotus-painting.jpgI have been giving some thought to what I would paint for the Ching Ming Festival show … and out of nowhere it seems that God had something else in mind to show me. 

For a long time I have been concerned with trying to figure out what I am to be doing with my art.  So often, I think I felt the need to justify myself as an artist who has a full-time job doing something that is not art-related at all.  A job that I am actually good at.  A job that sometimes makes me feel like I am not a “real” artist.  So the way I justify myself is by making sure that I show in galleries.  I use the gallery as a sort of “quality control” mechanism for my art.  I tell myself that if I can show in the places where “real artists” show their work, then I must be “good enough.”

But the truth is … going down this road has been an unquenchable thirst for more and more.  First, I needed to get into a gallery … but then I wanted to be on their website … and then have my work in advertisements and postcards and, and, and …

… and it was never enough.  I always was searching for that next big thing to boost my ego, to validate me in my own eyes, to tell me that I was “good enough.”

So in this economy, especially in Michigan as we are at about 10% unemployment, the bottom has fallen out of the art market.  Well established art galleries that never struggled are struggling.  I don’t know how many will be left in a year.  So … if I need to be validated by being in a gallery, but the galleries are struggling, what does that mean?  That I am not worth-while?  That the quality of my work suffers?  That I lose heart?

No, I need to find another reason to paint, to get back to what I originally loved about making art. 

It struck me in church this past Sunday while I drew in my sketchbook that maybe what God made me to do with my art was not to be primarily a gallery artist.  Maybe the reason that I can support myself financially allows me the cash and freedom to perceive God’s artistic whispers.  Maybe the longing that God has put in my heart – to help people experience the presence of God through art – maybe the answer for me is to pray for people through the language of paint, giving them the finished product as a reminder that God cares for them.  This would be more in line with the way my 4-year-old creates art for me every day, the way my father used to make furniture for people without charging a fee, the way my mother used to give piano lessons for people in exchange for cassaroles.  Paintings are something extravagent, and especially my recent “Breath Prayer” series painted in gold … but God always is showering us with extravagent gifts.  This would be an echo, a shadow, of the kinds of gifts that God gives us through grace.

So … I was moved to make a pianting for a woman in her early 30’s who has had cancer 2x.  I want to give her something to remind her that God is walking with her, her husband, and their two little ones.  I want to make a painting of a woman holding a lotus blossom, the flower that ascends from the muck at the bottom of a lake to burst into blossom above the surface of the water.  This “most Chinese” of flowers is a symbol of renewal, the way that God is remaking each of us, and her in a very real way, into something of beauty.