He peered into nothing but saw everything. Leathered hands turn over each other, stained by the hues of his craft. Beads of sweat chase along the hard-earned wrinkles on his forehead. Viewing that which is not yet visible is a process he developed over a long lifetime of passionate dedication. Other artists can only marvel at this majestic virtuoso. The depth of his work encompasses all others in shadow.
His eyes sparkle as the vision finds completion in his mind. A tear runs down a weathered cheek. This work will be a culmination of all that preceded it. It is to be his David, his Mona Lisa, his Sistine Chapel but greater than them all. The master had spent his life refining and pushing the bounds of all genres of artistry. An excitement fills his soul as creation commences.
Clay spins within a soft touch. Chisels and rasps grind gracefully through granite, marble and limestone. Brushes glide in rhythmic motion like a conductor’s baton. The skill and scale of the sculpting and painting was masterful. Days, months, and even years passed while he ceaselessly devoted himself to a project much larger and more detailed than any he had previously undertook. Each individual work related to all the other pieces. Light danced around the angles and hues with astounding beauty. While form was beginning to show, the process was just commencing. This work was to be more than static image and form…no matter how much life could be shadowed through them. It had to display true life, true dynamic. The individual masterpieces that he had laboriously created would be demoted to canvas. And so the creator continued.
The collision of history, present and future was a desired and necessary dimension. He sacrificed some of his previous pieces to make them new again in this one. Out of death sprang forth new life. Inspired by the stroke of old life in new, he ran to his courtyard and started moving as many plants as he could into the staging area. He pruned, shaped, and arranged until natural greens, blues, reds, yellows, whites, and browns began to fill the piece with cultivated vitality.
Performance art would bring consciousness to everything he hoped to create. He announced a huge casting call and many actors showed up. To their amazement, all who auditioned were accepted to be a part of the piece. They all looked confused when they were simply instructed to come back on the day of the opening. Reluctantly, they left with no direction nor with so much as a script.
Finally, the day of unveiling arrived. The actors returned with flooding questions. The only words the artist offered were “bring life to my creation”. Uneasily, they took their place and began to interact with and within the exhibit. Each did so within their own interpretation of the artist’s words. Some were quite awkward, others angry, and still others completely comfortable within the freedom of personal expression.
With anxious anticipation the artist opened the doors, and the audience was warmly welcomed. To their surprise, they were invited into the exhibit and given that same instruction to “bring life to my creation”. Their mixed response resembled that of the actors; with some choosing observation over participation. Some of the actors were offended by the audience participation, even complaining to the artist. A few hours passed and dynamics of the living piece start to emerge: arguments arose, there was laughter, a sculpture was accidentally injured by a participant. A man and a woman out on their first date kissed while an elderly married couple quietly held hands. Some were just happy to be there, and others demanded attention with flamboyant artistic expressions, most of less than a professional nature.
Some art critics had also come to the opening; they chose to observe. Anticipation for the exhibit was high; the artist’s reputation had preceded him. They whispered assessments, and it became apparent that they were not impressed. It wasn’t the quality of the work that offended them. A close study of any of the sculptures and paintings revealed skill beyond that of which any of them had ever encountered. The critics found it quite vulgar to allow squabbling actors and unsightly visitors to take prevalent places on stage.
Their attention was soon drawn to a painting at the center of the stage. From a vertical descending scan the viewer would first find the peaks of majestic mountains that would then fall into a tree line, but then it just ended…blank canvas in the bottom half. They wondered why the obviously talented and reputed artist would make such a glaring mistake. There was a few jars of paint and a bright orange brush below the easel. The critics watched in horror as a child, who had recently escaped his parents’ sight, took up the brush and started painting stick figures in the valleys of those majestic mountains. It was fairly clear the stick figures were of the boy, his parents, and a crude image of the family dog. Clearly, they judged, this was a tragic flaw in choice of venue and presentation. They walked further along the edge of the exhibit picking out imperfections that were judged to demean the piece. Some of the plant life that was included had browned leaves and wilting flowers. Some were even shockingly dead. As they explored, they found more unfinished paintings and sculptures. In their opinion, the whole presentation just did not live up to the expectation of perfection that had come to be expected from this artist.
The parents of the vandal child had finally noticed what their son had done and rushed with great repentance to the artist. He smiled at them and knelt down beside the child. He embraced the boy and spoke with great warmth in his voice, “You have truly brought life to my creation. No person can be upset with you for continuing to be a part of what I have started. Your painting is beautiful.”
The creator then rose to his feet as his voice filled the room, “I want you all to look at this child. Many of you have judged him for what he painted on that canvas. You assumed it was wrong because it lacked the perfection you expect from my creation. You should know that my masterpiece was never about perfection. It is about this boy, and it is about all of you. It is about the lives you live: your talents, your struggles, your failures, and your victories. It is about my love for all of your stories, even when they are messy, and the love that you should have for each other. This boy has understood the purpose of my art more than the experts and critics among us. So now I say again to you all, I wish for you to bring life to my creation.”
When he had finished speaking, the crowd began to participate in the exhibit with a greater freedom than is typical for an art show. Some had meaningful discussions about the stick family that lived in the shadow of a great mountain. Many of the unfinished sculptures and paintings now had new, all-be-it amateurish, artists adding their visions to the canvas and stone. Many of the critics remained at the fringes, but others broke their judgmental gaze long enough to find freedom among the images and personalities of the exhibit.
The boy and the creator sat on a bench near the middle of the piece. As life weaved in unpredictable lines around them the man leaned over with a smile and said, with joy in his voice, “It is good.”
There has been quite a bit of discussion within communities of faith lately regarding the physical reality of hell, eternal conscious torment as punishment for unbelief, the rapture, and the destruction/end of the world. This post was originally going to discuss a metaphor related to one of those issues. After giving some thought to my presentation I came to the conclusion that you can’t discuss the end until after you have discussed the beginning. This is a picture of what I envision when I ponder this world and what we are doing here.
Let me know what you think of the allegory. Can you identify with this story? Would you change some elements of the story? Would you tell a totally different story? If we see the beginning like this does it change how we might view the end?