In 2012, my wife and I attended a gospel-and-arts conference improbably named “Hutchmoot.” While there, I was struck by the absence of an attitude I’ve experienced nearly everywhere else.
At length, this attitude goes something like, “We carry the world’s best music everywhere we go. We download the great books at will, and read them on our pocket computers. Why would you write or sing, without world-class abilities? And why should we care if you do?”
In short, it amounts to, “Leave art to the professionals.”
By contrast, the people at Hutchmoot seemed to believe everyone should make as much art as they wished – as if, together, our contributions make a mosaic of glory, each tile contributing no matter how bright its color.
I’ve been mulling this conflict of ideas ever since and, along the way, I’ve realized that children naturally ascribe to the second view.
You’ve probably heard this said by someone more famous, but I’ll say it again myself (see what I’m doing here?): The younger children are, the less self-concious they are about crafts and creativity.
When younger, our girls were constantly singing; not proper songs, but stream-of-conciousness lyrics with iffy melodies mashed together on the spot, oblivious to any audience. The craziest smudges of brown, green, and orange were stuck to refrigerator and walls. And they mad-libbed “stories” in which the ridiculous gave way to the absurd until the whole thing collapsed into the nonsensical.
Our girls are 8 and 6 years old now, and their little brother is taking over the activities I’ve described. But as their tastes have naturally become more discriminating, the girls have become more sensitive to criticism.
The joy of childlike creativity is resiliant. Still, we have seen them affected by positive or negative themes in our responses. We’ve found that our challenge isn’t to teach them creativity – it’s to defend them against voices (particularly ours) that would dim their joy. We now try to restrict artistic criticism to teaching times, and to spend the bulk of our lives just working together.
We periodically remind our kids (and ourselves) that building beauty is a way we particpate in God’s work among us. Why would we write or sing, without world-class abilities? Surely, working alongside the Great Creative should be reason and joy enough.
“God,” said Pascal, “instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.” But not only prayer; whenever we act at all He lends us that dignity. It is not really stranger, nor less strange, that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so.”
— CS Lewis, The World’s Last Night and Other Essays