Art vs. Ugly


I listen to Cold Play reluctantly.  The haunting beauty of “For some reason I can’t explain, I know St. Peter won’t call my name,” compels me to explain this listening to myself.

It’s as though against all evidence, as he sees it, he’s determined to create beauty in the face of hopelessness.

I admire this.  Often “artists” express their angst at ugliness via more ugliness.  The true artist, however, shows us the beauty of God, even if he professes unbelief, or at least extreme uncertainty of God’s existence.

The existence of music, such as that of Cold Play, is proof of God.  Proof of Love, Mystery, Enchantment.  Our hearts yearn for the truth of the unseen, the “unprovable.”  We long to be enchanted.  As Thomas Moore says in The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, “”Enchantment invites us to pause and be arrested by whatever is before us.”

Last night I was arrested by God’s pencil drawings.  The evening clouds were charcoal lines and swirls, as lovely as though spirits had left ballerina leaps and twirls.  Leafless aspen were grey lace against a pale silver sky, and I was reminded that even to those of us who love all things bright and beautiful, there is beauty in the quieter, the more still, the subtle.  There is a cry for resurrection in the cold and the not quite yet dead.

Would the aspen leaf out again in spring if we didn’t expect and decree and celebrate their doing so?  The calculating mind says, “Yes, of course.  Don’t be ridiculous.  It’s their nature.”

But I say they will do so because it’s God’s nature.  Doesn’t God want to be seen and heard and heralded and rejoiced over?  Doesn’t God want to bless us?  And if we are His, don’t we want to bless the world, to beautify it?

There is art in listening attentively to a child’s meandering story, and in such “mundane” activities as lovingly dusting wooden furniture, or making a cup of tea for a lover.  All of life is, or can be, art.

God has put in every one of us that desire and ability to show Him to the world.  But when we focus on the ugly, when we create more of the same – music without melody, fiction without romance, paintings with polluted colors and lines, words without sweetness – we are saying that ugly is truth.

Ugly is a lie.  Let’s not tell it.


The “Art” of Home Education


“What should I do with him today?” Hannah asked this morning, regarding her babysitting charge.  “I’ll think on that,” I said, knowing Hannah was talking as much to herself as to me, and would as usual come up with something on her own.

Still, I pondered her question because I said I would, and then later called her.  “I know what you can do.  Google a recipe for finger paints, then let him do something like the horse Seth did with finger paints when he was about that age.”

“Oh, God,” Seth moaned in the background (he now thinks that marvelous painting is awful).  “Thanks, Mom, that’s what I’ll do!” was Hannah’s more gratifying response.

It doesn’t matter what Seth thinks about that painting, or that he doesn’t understand why his dragon water color has a place of honor (more on that place later) or that Benjamin wishes heartily that I take down his crayon drawing of his battle horse, “Ready”, or that Hannah disagrees entirely with my assessment that her quilt horse pencil drawing is pure joy (I even have candles to match it).  Rebekah’s most prized artwork (in my view) is her picture of me (I have a crown on my head and a hugely smiling, bright red mouth and am wearing a low-necked turquoise dress), and she’s the only child who never complains about it being on the wall for all the world to see.


Yes, there was plenty of art that never made the frame, never graced our walls, some of it long gone, others in folders stored away.  And I do have artwork that was done by “professionals”.  But none of it has ever elicited the interest, the smiles, even the joy brought by the works of my children.  ‘Real” art has never made John say, as he did about Seth’s 4-year-old finger-painted horse, “Don’t ever take that down.  It makes me smile every time I look at it.”  Me, too.  Even now.

Hannah, in entertaining her charge last week, sculpted a cat for me, as he created for his mom.  Hannah wrapped her creation carefully in toilet paper, sat down beside me on the couch when she got home, and said, “I know you are the one person who will appreciate this.”  She unwrapped the cat, and just as she knew I would be, I was delighted.  The cat (not named yet, am waiting to get to know him/her) sits in a place of honor on my dresser.


As to Seth’s dragon painting’s place of honor, it sits in front of the TV, effectively hiding the hideous thing from view.  TV can be the greatest enemy of creativity, of family life, of art appreciation.


In all our travels the kids have never been allowed to watch movies or play video games rather than enjoying the scenery (they can read if they like).  Nature’s art speaks to our hearts whether we’re on the Oregon coast or at the highest spot we can climb to in Rocky Mountain National Park, or amid the Sugar Maples during Fall in the Ozarks, or on a desolate stretch of desert highway.  Appreciation and understanding of God, that’s what art can give us.  Real art.  Art from the heart.


Exhortation of creativity is one of the hallmarks of good home education.  Good home education produces children who are highly individual, and yet uniquely qualified to contribute to the greater good. Such as in creating artworks that are also mementos.  Such as taking the time to ponder what will bring joy to the heart of a child when babysitting.

A little child will lead you.  When Seth first tried to draw dragons, I bought a little book entitled, “How to Draw a Dragon” (or something like that).  When Rebekah wasn’t all that keen on drawing, I bought books on how to draw horses (she was very keen on horses).  Hannah’s interest in water colors was fueled by a local water color class.  For Benjamin, I simply kept plenty of pencils, pens, and paper on hand, as his art was mostly props for his writing.  If he was creating a battle scene, he would go outside, build a city, enact the battle with the wooden sword and shield John made one year for his birthday, come back inside and sketch out further details, and return to his writing (fantastic writing by the way).  My small contribution was making a hauberk, helping John with the finishing touches on the shield, and saying, “Absolutely!!!” when John asked if I thought he should add a battle axe to the weaponry.


Home education, done in love’s rhythms and graces, can make learning an enchantment of  color and light and joy.  An art, in other words.