Truth, Beauty, and Freedom

Summer is here, and with it comes a different pace of life for a few months, some rest- for students anyway, camps, vacations and the like, and with these wonderful summer activities comes a greater sense of freedom. I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom over the past year. Perhaps it’s because my children are getting older and I am able to enjoy more freedom as a result, or perhaps it is the political season we are in. It is an election year, and candidates throw out the word freedom the way a fly-fisherman casts his line to reel in a rainbow trout.

Politicians will tell you that freedom is something that must be protected and preserved as if it’s a thing that must be held onto very tightly. Freedom is a precious thing, and it makes sense that we would want to hold onto that which is precious to us. In a world in which terrorists attack innocent people in Paris, or Belgium, or California, or even Orlando, we start to feel our freedom slipping away. With each assault, we feel less safe, and more anxious. Fear takes the place of freedom, and when we become fearful, we retreat and we isolate ourselves even further.

In the days following the Paris attacks last Fall, I read a blog post that was very powerful. The title of the post was “How Paris Grieves” and the gist of it was that rather than stay indoors and hide in fear because of what had just happened, the Parisians felt that the best way to respond to the violence was by celebrating life- going out to the cafes, the museums, and attending concerts- by doing this, they would “perform a radical act of enjoying beauty in the face of oppression,” and in doing so, they were being active agents of peace. They consider Beauty to be the opposite of violence, so when they “celebrate the Arts, Sciences, and Humanities, they stand in direct defiance to those who seek violence, oppression, and injustice.” What a beautiful way to express the power of the Arts to heal hurting people.

Three summers ago, my family went on a trip to Italy with the Ft. Worth Youth Orchestra. I have been to Europe several times, but I had never been to Italy and as a musician, it was certainly something I had always wanted to do. We saw many beautiful pieces of art, but the most powerful thing for me was Michelangelo’s David. The David stands 17 ft. tall and was carved out of a single piece of marble. It is considered to be the most perfectly crafted piece of sculpture in the history of man. It’s so beautiful, it almost transcends the senses- you can’t take it all in and process how beautiful it is- pictures can’t do it justice. It is simply breathtaking.

Michelangelo’s David

Michelangelo’s David

Michelangelo’s skill as a sculptor has never been equaled and scholars don’t really know how he sculpted, because he wouldn’t allow people to observe him as he worked. What we do know is that the artist is quoted as saying that “every block of stone has a sculpture inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Another less reliable quote is that when asked about how he crafted the David, the artist simply said, “you just chip away everything that doesn’t look like David.” In other words, his technique consisted of chipping away anything that was unnecessary- freeing the figure from the rock, as it were.

So what do post-modern problems of preserving freedom and responding to terrorism, have to do with a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture and Arts education? Well, first of all, as a teacher of the Arts, it is my job to help students develop their craft. I am not saying that the students I teach are blocks of stone exactly, but, in most cases, they come to me and my staff without much form and it’s our job to help them develop the gifts and talents God has given them and to help shape them into the artists they will become with the ability to make their own artistic choices. The interesting paradox about refining your craft as an artist is that the development your technique requires you to build skills while at the same time, learn to strip away what is unnecessary.

The artistic process requires asking the question- What are the elements in what I am trying to create that are getting in the way of the beauty of the Art? What do I need to let go of? For a singer, usually it is some kind of tension- in the body, the breath, etc.… I like to use the analogy of an onion. As a singer strips away the tension, it’s like taking off the outer layers of the onion, until finally we get to the true beauty of the voice God created.

For the actor- it is about being truthful- truth for the character and reality for the actor. When an actor tries to manufacture a feeling, it comes off as fake and doesn’t speak to the audience. But, if the actor approaches the scene with honesty and really feels it, the audience will too. However, allowing yourself to be that vulnerable in front of an audience requires you to free yourself from judgement- that little voice inside your head that keeps you in a state of self-consciousness.

And, for the writer and the visual artist- it is often about editing- allowing your creativity to wander and explore for a time, but then deciding what NOT to include. Often, those decisions are the most powerful ones. More isn’t always better, sometimes it’s just more.

So, in reality, freedom is not really about holding on, protecting and preserving something, it’s about letting go- it’s the absence of being tied up, locked, or bound by something. Michelangelo freed David from the massive piece of marble he was locked inside. He got rid of every piece of marble that wasn’t necessary to make the David the most beautiful sculpture on the planet. And, that is what our Heavenly Father does in each one of us as well, if we let Him.

As we walk with Him, He chips away at the stuff in us that gets in the way of our relationship with Him and those around us, and He shapes us into what He created each one of us to be. Each person is unique, each gift is unique, and each purpose He has for us is unique. True freedom as a believer in Christ comes when you walk with Him without fear, trusting Him completely. You are not bound, holding on to anger, or guilt, or insecurity, or pride, or fear, or past sin, but you let go of all that and allow the blood of Jesus to cleanse you, and the love of God to fill you.

As Christian artists, we have a unique perspective, because finding freedom in Christ and your craft go hand in hand. The more we trust Him, the more we can be secure in the talent he gave us, and the more clearly we see His direction. We, as teachers, have the joy and privilege to help students along on that journey toward artistic and spiritual freedom and each student has his/her own unique journey to walk.

Each year, we graduate a group of seniors who will forever be a part of the fabric of our school and of our lives as their teachers because of the Art we have made together. Even if they choose not to major in the Arts, I encourage them to keep pursuing their artistic passions and developing their craft. Staying connected to the Arts not only will make them happier human beings, but they too will perform the radical act of enjoying beauty in a world that can be a dark place sometimes.

I will close with this quote from the famous choreographer, Martha Graham- “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it…”

So, to all my fellow artists and teachers out there- continue on, finding freedom in your craft, and freedom in your walk with the Lord, secure in His goodness, expressing yourselves as only you can. In a world of Kardashians, …. be YOU, because YOU are enough and you serve a Mighty God!

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