During my time away from the normal routines and responsibilities of ministry, I have been giving my left-brain a little rest and fired up the creative engine of my right-brain in a fun little project. Before I show off my project below, let’s rouse my left-brain for a brief cultural analysis.
For a number of complicated reasons, I think our Western society and especially the United States of America has tended to favor enterprising, pragmatic Left-brained people. We value most people and professions who serve a concrete need, get results, move the societal machine forward — and the faster and cheaper the better. Doctors and CEOs. Movers and shakers. Leaders and laborers.
Where do the Right-brained creators and artists fit into this cold and calculating machine? (Let’s leave aside Hollywood elites and pop stars for now; I‘m thinking of ordinary folks.) We call them “starving artists” because often our most creative geniuses just don’t advance the bottom-line or meet a concrete need. We don’t hesitate to call the plumber to unclog our drain and we pay them their due. On the other hand, we don’t usually look at a blank wall in our family room, feel the “need” to fill it with beauty, and call up and commission a local artist.
Travel the world, and time travel to other periods, and you’ll see cultures that built ornate buildings and lavish fountains and incredibly detailed and impractical mosaic tiled floors. Granted, throughout history artists have often been employed and appreciated most by the wealthy upper classes with the time and leisure for such indulgences. But even so, why do we label such art as indulgent?
And what of the need to create hardwired into each human being, and a special endowment and gift in many slogging their way, half fulfilled, soul withering away in a world worshiping at the altar of efficiency and pragmatism? While political strategists may quip, “It’s the economy, stupid!”, the Creator of the Universe might counter, “It’s the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, fool!” that our souls are designed to run after and the fuel we are
engineered sculpted to run on.
Believe it or not, human beings, made in the imago Dei, are meant for more than better infrastructure and lower taxes. Aesthetics that set hearts ablaze and get souls singing a new song are just as (or more) vital to human flourishing than the athletics that feed a multi-billion dollar industry.
All that to say I have a soft spot for all the right-brained artists trying to find their way in our world, and I feel like a bit of a unicorn who has been blessed (and cursed) with both strong left-brain propensities (scholar, intellectual, theologian) and right-brain gifts, longings and frustrations (musician, writer, photography – see below).
We’re finishing off our basement and I decided to surprise Keri with a secret family photo project to decorate our new walls. I took some favorite photos from our world travels and family road trips, and with the magic of some digital photo effects and cheap frames on Amazon, I gave Keri the following prints on her birthday. And to prove I’m practicing what I preach on a kind of old world aesthetic, here are some shots of my new bookcases featuring my old book collection. (There may or may not be a bookshelf door into a secret room.)
I have several more prints not shown here, but you get the picture – literally. So, let’s raise our glass this summer to all the starving artists out there. Appreciate them! Stop and smell the roses, or appreciate the shape of one growing in the garden. If you right-brain is withering or in hiding, come out and keep creating! Even if its a weekend hobby or sabbatical indulgence. You were made for it, and you bring beauty into what is often a cold and all too conventional world.
It’s often our under-appreciated art that outlives us, an unexpected treasure our grandkids find in an old box and proudly display. One thing is certain: they won’t be displaying our activities calendar or framing a printout of our retirement account.
Pursue the Good, the True and the Beautiful these days.
PS: For another personal reflection on right vs. left brain, see my piece comparing musical artists to the pastoral vocation of being a “soul artisan” here.