How Does Our Life Define Art?

For as long as human beings have been creating art, we have been debating, defining and redefining it’s connection to life. Does life define art, or does art define life? This question has been posed a thousand times and in a thousand different ways.  Is art a means of expression, a way of sharing one’s own personal truths with the world, or both? Or perhaps it is larger than that; a way of life in and of itself that can devour all other devotions and responsibilities if those who dedicate themselves to it are not careful.  Maybe art and its relationship with the human experience is a concept too broad and complex to be pinned down by any one definition, and is therefore best left to be interpreted by individuals as they see fit.

Any one of these answers could be correct, and yet it seems as though Christians are subject to a higher calling in their artistic endeavors.  God Himself was a creator, after all- if we are expected to emulate Him in all things, then of course our art is a part of it.

Exodus 35:1-5 states that when it came time to build a temple God filled humanity with “ability and intelligence… to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, [and] in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood.”

While architectural design, masonry, and carpentry are not the sorts of things the modern person generally considers art, in the context of this verse they certainly prove that God does not grant talent without purpose. He wants artists to use their gifts both to bring glory to Him and to better humanity as a whole… and this can only be achieved when an individual’s art is balanced and influenced by their life, by their unique experiences and existence upon this earth.

Personally, I’ve always had a bit of a problem with the “tortured artist” archetype; with the idea of a person so set on bringing beauty into the world that they can neither recognize nor appreciate the majesty that already surrounds them on a daily basis.  In a similar vein, I resent the stereotype of artists, particularly writers- as sullen, isolated creatures who must separate themselves from the rest of humanity, in order to be effective in their craft. I’ve witnessed more than a few friends fall prey to that sort of lifestyle, and it rarely leads to anything other than dull art and frustrated, burnt out artists. Whether it be a painting, a novel, or even a comic strip, a piece of art cannot help but reflect the beliefs, history, and mental state of its creator.  How can dynamic, inspirational work be produced by people who live narrow, uninspired lives?

The literature that impacts readers and changes lives is, more often than not, rooted in relationships and conversations; in fleeting moments of tremendous meaning.  The same can be said for film, television, and any form of visual art. Writers are often advised to draw from their own passions and experiences when plotting a new piece, to “stick to what they know,” because maintaining some emotional attachment to the topic at hand allows them to comprehend and deal with it in a far more nuanced manner.  This cannot be accomplished if the writer spends all of his or her time slaving away over his or her work, forgetting to journey out into the world; to embrace change and pain and love and heartbreak.

Art; good, real, meaningful art, cannot exist without life.  While creation is an integral part of existence, human beings were not designed to dedicate themselves to a single pursuit without ever pausing to enjoy the thousand gifts and joys God has granted them on this earth.  The question really is not “ life or art?” or “art or life?” It is how to best strike a balance between the two, and how we cause use our gifts to better ourselves and other people as well.

By Dana Taylor