A giggly, 18-year old girl waits in line at the State Fair to meet a not-so-very-famous musician. She is delighted to be here on the occasion of his solitary minute of fame, lit up with the small glory of his sudden, flaring importance. She finds herself in line, among many others, waiting to draw near and possibly fawn over him. She practices what she will say. It might be “hello,” or if inspiration strikes, possibly something even more clever. (This line is moving fast. If it slows down, the people at the back might have to settle for meeting a has-been, or a nearly-was.) She settles on “hello.” It somehow never occurs to her to say anything about his art. Perhaps she isn’t even in line for his art. More likely, it’s his personality and fame that make her stand in line.
That was me.
Fast-forward twenty years. I still giggle sometimes, but I can’t remember the fella’s name who sang at the State Fair. Really. But there’s a lingering question that remains from that experience and from many others along the way:
How do I approach an artist and rightly receive his art?
On a recent rip to a museum, I stood in awe before the work of Van Gogh, because it happened naturally and I knew it to be the right thing to do. But, that’s different. Dead artists seem to command a different response. As much soul as they still have (all of it), and have left for us to see, we approach them differently.
My question is about embodied souls who offer a bit of themselves through their art –accessible enough for me to criticize, or analyze, or love. How do I rightly receive that? What about the art produced by the four little souls under my care at home? I do parent four little artists. (The six-month old is mostly-aspiring.) What do I say when they hand me a drawing of a snowy owl, a hand-made bracelet, or a LEGO creation? The music of Mozart is easily admired, but I want to know how to respond to my daughter as she pours out her heart on the piano (especially since she is her own worst critic).
How do I approach artists and receive their work? My heart is hungry to learn this lesson well. It feels crucial. Here’s where I am so far.
I want to receive art, both from the bright lights of our era and the little lights in my home, with humanity and honesty.
I don’t want to merely respond to the somewhat-sketchy drawing of an owl only, but also to the little artist who drew it. In The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning said, “Quite simply, our deep gratitude to Jesus Christ is manifested…in our deep and delicate respect for one another.” Artistry cannot be objectified as something entirely separate from the person, not if it’s good and thoughtful work. Scribbles are scribbles, after all, but the pouring out of a person’s heart should not be taken lightly. The gift reflects and reveals the giver. And the giver reflects the Giver, in both image and art.
The music pours forth from the musician, not the piano. The pen is an empty tool without the hand of the writer –without the heart of the writer.
I intend to look that little artist in the eye, really see her, and take note of her creation. Fireworks and fanfare are not required. Humanity should be.
And honesty. That too is necessary.
I tire quickly of empty compliments paid to me in the monopoly money of flattery and the fool’s gold of pretended manners. I’m certain my kids do as well. Truthful feedback is the best feedback. I don’t swell with words of praise every time my daughter picks up her violin. But when I hear improvement, I take note. If I see her playing intently, I take note. When she plays for the joy of her baby brother, I take note. And, I share my response in a meaningful way. I might then light a few small fireworks.
I’ll try to save the big fireworks for big accomplishments. I want my child to hear a difference between the praises I offer day-to-day and those she will hear at her yearly recital. But I want to keep it honest. “You make me proud to be your Mom. It’s not only because you perform well, but because I enjoy seeing you express yourself joyfully! You have a gift to give. Thank you for giving it.”
So, how do I receive and critique my little artists? For now, I’m armed with humanity, honesty, and a healthy supply of sparklers.