Dear Julie, May God the Creator enliven the creative spirit she has blessed you with!
You are an artist. You have a gift …perhaps a vocation. It is not an easy calling. People may see your work as not important, an indulgence. You have been shaped by the Hebraic tradition prevalent in Scripture; by the Greek philosophy which pervades the Western world; and by the Catholic spirituality, rich in symbolism, which have named your world so far. Soon, you will have to name your own ability, your own expression, your own God. Others may not wish to experience our creative God at a deeper level. You will feel challenged. It is part of the journey. Never feel alone. God is with you always.
Just look at the book of Exodus. We hear how Moses was told of the calling and empowering of artists on Mount Sinai (Exodus 31:1-11). Further on, we read how God established some principles for the arts (Exodus 35:30 – 36:2). These principles were very important for the Israelites as they built the Tabernacle. They shaped the way the Israelites used (and continue to use) art in their lives. These same principles are valid for you today, as you find ways to express your relationship with the divine.
Art is within God's will. The Tabernacle, designed to give God glory, was to involve 'artistic designs'. It is important to note that the Israelites took very seriously God's commands not to worship idols. The ancient Hebrews found ways of making art without making likenesses. They developed an art form that is non-representational. Pottery, ensigns, coins and other artifacts are adorned with geometric designs, floral patterns and symbols, such as the Menorah. Calligraphy also became an art form. Jewish scribes copied out and illuminated the Torah in a beautiful way so as to give glory to God.
Art is to be valued for its own sake, for its beauty. Try to build up a picture of the Ark of the Covenant as described in Exodus. It is almost impossible! Instead, each aspect of the construction, as detailed, gives glory to God. Decorations on pillars. Exquisite embroideries. Rich tapestries. Each element directs our heart and our soul to God. The externals help us to catch a glimpse of the essence of God. So it is with you and I.
Being an artist is a vocation from God. God called Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur. “It was personal, a special calling – the Lord called Bezalel by name. This suggests that a person may be called by God to be an artist.” Veith, 1991, p.107 Is God calling you, Julie? That is for you to discern, a part of your journey, as it is a part of mine.
Artistic ability is God's gift. Your artistic ability is not something you were just born with. God has stirred up your heart to do her work, just as she encouraged “every able man whose heart stirred him up to do the work” of building the Tabernacle.
“He has filled him with the Spirit of God.” (Exodus 35:31)
This Spirit was revealed at your Baptism. Strengthened at your Confirmation. Renewed every time you receive the Body and Blood of Christ. The Spirit of God empowers you“to devise artistic designs” and to express the Word of God.
“He has filled them … with ability”. (Exodus 36:1)
Don't you stand just stand in awe sometimes when you see a great piece of art; handle an exquisite piece of jewellery; watch a potter create out of clay; or hear a choir sing? I just have to praise God for giving such abilities to human beings. And I give God thanks as I watch (and nurture) your abilities.
“He has filled them … with intelligence.” (Exodus 35:31)
Being an artist requires that we use our whole body, mind, emotion and heart. God has given you the intelligence to problem-solve; study patterns; experiment; and ask questions. Don't ever stop. There is no end to learning about the wonders of this world.
“He has filled them with …knowledge”. (Exodus 35:31)
Bezalel had to recognise acacia wood, know how to cast bronze and gold. He had to know his subjects –both natural (such as the structure of pomegranates) and the supernatural (the meaning of the mercy seat in the Ark of the Covenant). Remain open to knowledge. Read books on anything and everything. Experience life. Cultivate the imagination.
“He has filled them with … all craftsmanship”. (Exodus 35:31)
You will need to master your craft, Julie. Often in scripture, artistic craftsmanship is used as an analogy of the relationship between God and women and men, such as the potter and the clay. As you master technique, reflect on what you are experiencing of God's love for you.
“And he has inspired him to teach.” (Exodus 35:34)
You have natural talent, Julie. It will come to fruition through working with good teachers. God will develop the gifts of ability, intelligence, knowledge and craftsmanship in those God has chosen to be artists. God does this through teachers. You are already passing on your skills to others … thank you. Teaching, then, is by God's design, part of the artistic vocation.
“ … no human words or art forms can contain or exhaust the mystery of God's love, but … all words and art forms can be used to praise God ...”Liturgy Documents, 1991, p. 321)
Isn't it wonderful that God is calling you to get to know her in such a special way? You are in hallowed company, Julie. There is great sacrifice which all artists must make for their gifts to flourish and be available to us– Kiri practising scales; Beethoven straining to hear his notes; Vincent in his madness, struggling to birth their genius. Such interesting, inspiring journeys. God is calling ... will you journey with the divine?
BIBLIOGRAPHY Liturgy Documents, A Parish Resource LTP, 1991 Mazar, Peter To Crown the Year LTP, 1995 Sacred Scripture Christian Community Bible Claretian Publications, 1997 Veith, Gene State of the Arts Crossway Books, 1991