Tuesday, September 18, 2007

An Artful Look

My eldest daughter came running into the room, clutching a coil of rope. "Mommy, mommy! Michaela and I can’t agree on what to build. I want to do a suspension bridge. She just wants to make something pretty!"

"Why can’t you do both?" I said. "Useful things can also be artful." She tilted her head, kind of flicked her eyes heavenward and ran out, presumably to present this novel idea.

It is the age-old question of form versus function. Must the two be incompatible? Can we even separate them? Should we?

Betty Spackman, in her book A Profound Weakness, discusses the bias against form and form education (art, if you will). She says…

Today, in North America alone millions of people…are illiterate and depend on the spoken word and on images for communication. The need for pictures to explain text has helped to perpetuate the belief that it is the uneducated, poor and weak…who need images. Perhaps this is one of the main reasons why art is still considered an extracurricular activity, rather than as something essential to cognitive development. Images, therefore, belong to children. They are floss; they are fiction. We can get along without art— and if we can do without art we can do without artists. With this attitude… there has been little prospect for the last hundred years of convincing churches and schools (and, in particular, Christian schools) that they should support the arts. p.30

I try to picture a world without God's art. A flower that would be all function, no form. A web that would be all function, no form. A blankness, a sameness. A visual incoherence. And it escapes me.

You could say that God’s art suggests God's existence to me, with the same weight that the intricate form of all things suggests God's existence to me. And if God bothered to paint, to sculpt, to suspend the universe with delicate artistry, then we too might flick our eyes heavenward to consider the incontrovertible place of art…then run out, our shadows unwinding like rope behind us, to tell the world.

Glass Dollhouse Series photo by Gail Nadeau. (Dollhouse and sculpture also by Gail Nadeau.) Used with permission.

Seedlings Invitation: If you write a post related to this post and Link It Back Here, let me know and I'll link to yours.

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Blogger Mark Goodyear said...

When God creates people in his image, the only thing we've seen him do up to that point is create. For me that suggests that creative work is fundamentally what makes us like God.

So I say, Let there be another blog post. (Should it be useful? should it be pretty? can it be both?) Whatever it is, I offer it--and all my work--as a living sacrifice.

Hmm. Now that I've written that it seems kind of preachy. Oh well. I hope your kids' art was less so.

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think we can separate art and creativity from everything else. Everywhere around us are examples of both form and function. Food that comes in a variety of tastes, colors, textures and aromas. Nature in all of its splendor. Even things like relationships, business negotiations or medical procedures (or. . .) require a certain amount of art and creativity.

5:33 PM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

L.L., These thoughts on art and creativity remind me of the beauty that is all around us, even in a sin-cursed existence.

I think good art with the beauty and creativity that goes along with it, are just part of being human and made in the image of God.

We need to appreciate this for the gift from God that it is. Art when done right and well can be appealing to nearly everyone, and this can help us celebrate existence as the gift from God that it is, along with celebrating all the other good gifts that come from God.

I too like art, and I think of paintings that reflect something of this fallen world, its falleness, as well as the wonder of it.

6:24 PM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

All this talk of art and beauty has inspired me. I'm gonna go home now and edge the lawn real nice. It may not be creative, but it sure is pretty. And I think it edifies my neighbors like this post has edified me.

6:35 PM  
Blogger Maria said...

The interesting thing about most flowers is the way form is married to function -- they are shaped, colored and scented specifically to attract whatever creature is best shaped to pollinate them. You could say their beauty to us is a secondary effect, but I wonder if part of what attracts us that they do indeed work so well.

11:38 PM  
Blogger Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

I'm with SP - creation is art - "nature in all of its splendor"

somedays, just looking around at the trees and grass and sun (amazing at 6am'ish when you're driving due east) is what keeps me hoping that He will create something new and beautiful in me

so very much looking forward to your book coming out - however, at some point, I will want to have my copy personally signed by the author!

12:14 AM  
Blogger Lynet said...

Sherlock Holmes shares your idea that God's art -- in a rose, for instance -- points to God Himself. But you do know, don't you, that the bright colours of flowers attract bees to pollenate them, and the symmetries of plants often reflect the simplest way for them to grow. I bet the shape of the spiderweb adds to its strength (as well as being easy enough for the spider to build). There is incredible mathematics behind the patterns we see in nature which often suggests an explanation for why they are the way they are.

So yeah, you could say that maybe God set mathematics (or us) up so that the functional would also be something we would perceive as beautiful. Or maybe the universe is just an incredibly marvellous accident, worthy of awe by its very existence.

12:29 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

All I want to say right now is that this post made me happy.

1:06 AM  
Blogger christianne said...

Ooh, you are so clever to "rope" this post back around to flicking our eyes heavenward before running out of the room to tell our friend of this novel idea!

Mark's comment made me think of Dorothy Sayers's "Mind of the Maker." Lynet's comment made me think that perhaps mathematics is both intrinsically functional AND intrinsically beautiful.

5:33 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Mark... no, not preachy. And even if it was, you know I'd accept it as the thought of your heart at the moment! Another blog post. You mean here? Indeed, I may take more time with Spackman's art thoughts. I find her insights and ways of expression most provocative.

Spaghettie... yes. And there seems, though, to be a range of creativity and art that we can and do recognize, so that we have judgments about what is beautiful and what is not. (Me serving food from a pot for instance, not viewed so prettily!)

Ted... I was so glad you made that final observation. Art that reflects fallenness is also quite wondrous. Perhaps it is a form of grace.

Craver... the Lawn Art Guy. I like that.

Maria... oh, quite. Which suggests that the two qualities may indeed be inseparable in creation. Though I'm not so sure we humans get it quite as right. I'm reminded of my daughter's comment about our new public library in this town. "It's a nice design but it belongs in Florida!" Good function, good form, not quite fitting for this particular environment.

Susan... you've got me thinking. There may be some way in which our redemptive change is linked to a spirituality that includes both form and function. This is just a wisp of a thought here, so don't ask!

Lynet... isn't that funny. Last night I was thinking of you and of mathematics and how you would see them as intrinsically beautiful. I thought also (sorry for the upcoming spelling?) of Fibonacci numbers. I find symmetry to be astonishingly beautiful, even as it reflects the most efficient form. (Though I have to question the mathematics involved in those penguins who have to stand with their eggs and roll them around for goodness knows how long, all the while facing terrible wintry Antarctic conditions!)

Heather... expressions of joy always welcome!

Christianne... I think I have a thing for full-circle writing. I find it very satisfying. Though it's hard to be subtle (sorry!).

9:06 AM  
Blogger Every Square Inch said...

Great post, LL.

Isn't creating (art and other forms), a way we imitate God? There's an intrinsic joy that comes with creating that I think points to who God is, and how he created us. That's why aesthetics, and not just functionality, is important.

11:02 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

LL - This subject is at least part of what I was talking about when I mentioned a "parallel universe value system." The visual arts, performing arts, music, poetry are all expressions of the spirit. As such, they are of less value in a "materialist/earthly/fleshly/mechanical" value system. Yes, of course there is some cross over value to this value system, but they are much more highly valued as expressions of the spirit in a "spiritual" value system. I can't imagine life without them either.

8:13 PM  
Blogger Lloyd Irving Bradbury said...

i will use this in my lectury at libaray

3:28 PM  
Blogger Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

ummh - form follows function?

for me, though, it's deeper than that. the blue ridge mountains for example are a part of my soul. there is something about seeing them, driving through them, on the way "home" that fills me with a deep sense of peace and hope and creates a longing that I cannot explain logically, I just know that it is there. They make me want to be HOME where things are right, a place where rocks and trees sing their songs in harmony.

4:28 PM  
Blogger Martin Stickland said...

Nice piccies LL, What a clever little sausage your friend is making the dolls houses etc!

5:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post made me think of my home, which right now feels very useful and not very artful. I keep thinking I need to hang some curtains and pictures and throw some color on the walls to spruce this place up. And those things would definitely be welcome here.

But when I think of the functionality of this little place called home, I see that it has a beauty already. The stacks of books and the drying dishes and the piles of laundry neatly folded and waiting to be put away have a sense of beauty all their own.

If I choose to see them that way.

6:15 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Beauty is a reflection of God.

10:14 AM  
Blogger Real Live Preacher said...

This doesn't hold true for everyone - some seem to be determined to remain in ignorance and darkness. But truly, why learn to read if there is nothing beautiful to read?

I think of Abraham Lincoln, walking a few miles for a copy of Pilgrim's Progress. He wanted the art of it. He was willing to walk to get it.

So much of what is written is not artistic. Not really worth it.

12:40 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Every Square... I paused when I heard the word imitate (no problem, words are always making me pause!)... and suddenly wondered if we imitate God or if this is truly a part of our essence when we make art. And I must agree that there's this joy that comes from creating. I wonder if the animals feel such joy, like when a beaver makes a dam, or if it's just mindless work.

Kim... I think I hear you saying that art has a spiritual nature. And it makes me wonder too how we understand the term spiritual. Kind of interesting to me.

Lloyd... what a wonderful thought. Best wishes for your lecture!

Halfmom... oh, the poet in you speaks! This is a new side I'm delighted that you shared here.

Martin... thanks! Yes, she is a very talented artist. And the doll's house is no ordinary place. It is filled with emotions and visions that most dollhouses quietly put aside in favor of frills and velvet.

Charity... so order has a sort of beauty? I think that's what you're saying, which connects back to Lynet's thoughts.

Eve... your thought... it is probably a more radical thought than first meets the eye.

RLP... to walk for beauty. Now there's a lovely picture. I agree with you about the writing observation. It inspires me to take the extra step to express things beautifully. (which takes more time, more effort, more openness to the way things really are)

5:12 PM  
Blogger Lloyd Irving Bradbury said...

form and function are mates

10:22 PM  
Blogger Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

hah - how little you know me - I'm a real softy with an artists heart - I'm just pretending to be a logical scientist because its the only thing I know how to do (pretend) well enough to get paid for it!!

11:06 PM  
Blogger kirsten said...

Like Heather, this post just makes me happy to read it. :o)

It just makes me think too, that we often create false dichotomies: we get in the habit of looking at things as "either/or" when really, they could be "both/and".

9:31 PM  
Blogger Shona Cole said...

I enjoyed this post and all those comments. What a great community you have here (I think I said that on my last visit a while back :).

I am a firm believer that art and creativity are part of what was meant when written that we were made in His image. I think a veil is lifting from the eyes of Christians who are seeing this too, there is a definite movement of Christians getting back into art (photography, film, painting, writing). I see it on the internet and in my real life. The church I attend has started an arts ministry. While we realize that it may not become huge (or accomplished) in our generation, we, as home schoolers, are choosing to train our kids to see art as part of life, both in the doing and the appreciating. It is all very exciting.

10:04 PM  
Blogger bluemountainmama said...

this brought to mind an awesome church that some friends of mine started back in NC.... they celebrate and incorporate the arts into every aspect of it.

and it also makes me think of the middle ages, where art went along with the church....if you think of all the paintings, sculptures, and cathedrals with painted ceilings from that time. i wonder at what point the church separated itself from the arts?

i am embarassed by a lot of today's 'christian' music, literature, and such. i find no redeeming or artistic value in most of it. shouldn't christians be some of the most creative and inspired people out there when you think that we have the spirit of the ultimate Creator working in us?

3:55 PM  

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