Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Need for Nature

I spent the better part of today driving through Dartmouth, Massachusetts in the Padanarum bay area where my grandparents used to live. What struck me most about the area was its pristine beauty. I love Southeastern Massachusetts and its colonial/seaside/cape coddy look. There are rolling fields with grey shingled colonial style houses, there is the lovely Padanarum bay with its grassy salt marshes and deep, blue skies dotted with white fluffy clouds, and there is the sandy-growing rose bushes that I have only ever seen in this area. All of this, along with the lovely fall air makes one breath a little deeper and easier as if the earth itself is telling you, "everything is going to be alright."

As an artist, I adore creating. I believe it is one of humanities greatest traits.We inherited this ability from our Father when, in Genesis 1:27 he said we were made in His image. When I stop to think where I get my inspiration for creating art, I really don't have to think very hard...from creation itself. After spending quality time in God's creation I feel refreshed, replenished, full of vigor, excited, rested, hopeful and ready to tackle almost anything that will come my way. Creation helps me create and I would bet it is the same for many artists. If we look throughout history, most of what we see in the visual arts (up until the last 50-100 years) are pastorals and religious paintings. The subject of many artists was faith and creation. But why? Why does creation speak so powerfully?

First, I believe that any work that is the handiwork of God speaks to all humans. Because, whether we believe in God or not, we are all still His children. I have never heard a person utter, "Well, THAT is a lousy looking sunset." I don't think we would have it in us to even suggest such a claim, because every person knows that a sunset is beautiful and the sunset is beautiful because God, Himself painted it.

Second, being creators ourselves, we are interested in creation. Creation fascinates us, we can't get enough of it. If it didn't fascinate us, camping would never have been invented, or hiking, or vacations to Lake Louise in Banff, or strolling through the Redwoods, or houses by the sea, or mountain lodges, or scenic overlooks on highways, and the list keeps on going. Humans put art in their houses, make artistic choices about their interior design, exterior design, landscaping and then the value of the house goes up when it is a waterfront home or in the mountains. Why is land so expensive...the more you want to get, the more its going to cost you. I guess you could argue that there are so many people, the more land you have, the less land the rest of us has, but we know that isn't true, at least in America. Much of the west is still untamed and there is PLENTY of space out there. Ultimately, it's because nature is valuable.

Third, being made in the image of the Great Creator, we value beauty. God made gold to admire and fruit in the Garden that was both good to eat AND beautiful to look at. Let's face it, God could have made a drab, utilitarian world and it would have worked just fine...but he didn't! God loves beauty and beauty is the visual form of love. He wants us to be pleased with what we see in this world AND he wants what we see to point back to Him. Beauty does just that. Beauty is indescribable except for that word that describes it...beautiful. We are so enamored because when we see something beautiful, our lives feel more completed by it. Love does the same thing. If there is one thing I believe it is that the heartbeat of the bible is that God loves us and he wants us to love Him back. Love takes many forms, and beauty, I believe, is one of those forms.

I have an issue with cities. I am both enamored with them and disgusted with them at the same time. I find it amazing that THAT many people can live together...in relative harmony...in one place. I am blown away by the marvels of architecture within cities. I am amazed how a city incorporates nature into its urban jungle. I love the buzz of a city at Christmas. I love Times Square and the lights of Broadway. But I also find cities to be a bit cold, that relative harmony I spoke of is just that...relative, many times it is people barely tolerating each other in order to keep civility. Cities are made of concrete and steel and plastic and glass. Not high on my beauty scale. Cities are so loud, you can't think. The light pollution drowns out the stars at night. After these two lists, you can see my conundrum.

I find artistry that comes out of the city to be a bit cynical as of late. Great art has come out of cities but more and more cynicism, propaganda, social agendas, and other modern topics are bleeding into art. I suppose there is no problem with this, somebody has to create it, but I am interested in art that is revelatory, transformative and redemptive. My favorite art touches the divine and strikes a deep chord in my soul. My favorite art deals with the big picture and not the moment-to-moment issues...it doesn't ignore those issues, it just frames them in the eternal.

What is amazing to me is that many of our fine artistic universities and establishments are found in cities. This shocks me a bit because as an artist and knowing a bit about artists, I am not sure how they draw their inspiration. I would assume one would draw inspiration from other artistic works, relationships and vacations to more serene and beautiful places. Many of the older actors I know don't live in NYC proper any more but have chosen to live in southern Connecticut or upstate New York and commute in and maybe that is because they have learned a little bit about artistry and the city versus nature. Perhaps the reason there is such a cynical feel to a lot of art is that people have locked themselves in a concrete cave and then tried to deal with things eternal which just end up turning into things that matter to and happen in the City proper.  Only God knows.

I believe that if artists spent more time in nature and less time in the subway, their art might look a bit different and their perspective on life might change. Don't get me wrong, many fine artists and fine art comes from the city...some of our best...I believe it must truly be God inspired because nature is hard to find in downtown NYC... unless you live near central park. Either way, I believe that spending time in nature is good for the soul of every human and good for the inspiration of every artist.

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