“The more I think it over, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.” — Vincent Van Gogh
Quick, think of your stereotype of an artist. Did you picture someone isolated, temperamental, aloof or demanding of perfection? Someone slightly out of touch with “normal” life? I have to admit, that’s what first comes to mind for me. But such typecasting can be inaccurate or unfair, and this is a good example.
It’s true that many artists often appear noticeably different, and by the very nature of their work, they must spend huge chunks of time in solitude. But perhaps our ideas of artists, and of what constitutes art, are too narrow.
Think of the joy that art brings to our lives. Think of the close observation that must be necessary for capturing that undefined quality in a piece that instantly resonates inside us with both familiarity and surprise. Dedicating one’s life to such diligence and attention is no small feat, and that’s not even considering the endless hours required to become proficient at rendering that vision into music, painting, dance or drama. It’s hard to imagine producing art without affection and benevolent intention, but if it can be done at all, work produced with contempt toward others is unlikely to live in people’s hearts the way great works have done throughout history.
Maybe more important, think of all the artists that surround you every day, and include yourself in that number. Most of us spend a good portion of our day helping, serving or otherwise interacting with people, directly or indirectly. Over time, we usually become fairly good at one or more of the things it takes to keep the world turning. It’s not that I would equate baking a cake, stitching a quilt or writing a letter with the masterpieces produced by those rare individuals with exceptional gifts. But artistry is a way of life that involves process more than product, and striving for artistry in daily living is a worthy goal.
We don’t have to be phenomenally talented to be creative and unique in what we do. Indeed, as Van Gogh implies, the more we love, the more likely we will approach even our mundane tasks with the same loyal diligence as the great masters applied to their creation. Could it be that artistry seems elite and unavailable to us simply because we mistakenly see it that way? Might it transform our results, as well as our moods, to approach our everyday tasks with enthusiasm and originality?
For those of us who revere God as the greatest Creator of all eternity, Van Gogh’s quote makes perfect sense, because “God is love.” Through that lens, the beauty of the natural world becomes a divine love letter, a daily reminder that God is present in our lives, and speaks with an eloquence that transcends our ability to fully understand. And our own yearning to create is a logical facet of being created in God’s image.
Artistry starts with paying attention. I’ve found that paying attention to people almost always changes how I see them, and even when it takes time and effort, I typically end up feeling more sympathy and affection for them than I do when I rush past them, too busy to see who they are.
Next time I feel really fed up with the details and detours that fill my days, I’m going to try to re-focus on the people for whom I am doing what I do, including myself. If Van Gogh is right about this — and I really believe he is — there will be more color in my hours; more beauty in the play of light and shadows.
Let’s think of today as our canvas. How can we paint our love into the endless large and small strokes it will take to finish this day well?