It was quite a few years ago now. A friend was describing to me an interview she had been listening to. It was about Pablo Picasso. As it turns out, he wasn’t a very good person by even a modest standard. His granddaughter wrote this about him: “He drove everyone who got near him to despair and engulfed them. No one in my family ever managed to escape from the stranglehold of this genius.”
And yet, he was a very talented artist. This raises the question – should an artist’s personal integrity have any bearing on his or her art and how we evaluate it?
I think there’s question to be asked behind this question. Although Picasso was a world-class painter, there was a greater and more primary art that he ignored. From a Christian perspective, every person’s life from start to finish is its own work of art: that means your own life is a work of art too. You are like a lump of clay being turned and shaped on a potter’s wheel. Yet, human life is a strange form of art because the artistic product is also the artist. You are the clay and the hands shaping it.
Everything you do every day is shaping you into something new. Perhaps today you practice being more patient with an annoying family member of coworker. Perhaps you try to be grateful for your life rather than taking it for granted. Perhaps you try to learn how to show the people around you appreciation. Perhaps you decide to stop drinking so much.
The goal of this art is to shape yourself to be like God – to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle, and to have self-control. To have the mind of Christ, who as the true human is the model for your own unique life as you shape yourself to be truly human, by doing nothing from selfish ambition but humbly regarding others as better than yourself. To love God with your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.
As you paint yourself with these qualities, you are painting a picture of God in the world. And you’ll find that as you do so, it’s not just by your own hands but by God’s hands working through yours, shaping you into something beautiful.
St Ephrem the Syrian expresses this idea in an old hymn that he wrote over a millennium and a half ago: It goes like this:
For this is the Good One, Who could have forced us to please Him, Without any trouble to Himself, but instead He toiled by every means So that we might act pleasingly to Him of our free will That we might depict our beauty With the colors that our own free will had gathered; Whereas, if he had adorned us, then we would have resembled A portrait someone else had painted, adorning it with his own colors.
Everyone is being shaped into a work of art. There is no choice there; that’s just what life is. The question is, what do you want to be shaped into, an image of God – or something else entirely?