For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by art. The idea of taking a blank canvas and filling it with imagery that, if done well, can make viewers feel something – be it through recalling past experiences, evoking new emotions, inspiring hearts with hope, or even motivating people to take action – is of great intrigue to me. Through this act of creating, it is almost as if I am connecting with something bigger than myself; it is as if the nature of a creative divine essence echoes through my desire to put paintbrushes to paper.
Of course, I did not think about art in this way when I was a kid. Art was just my natural reaction to filling voids in my day. I would let my pencil wander as the teacher explained something to the class and, before I knew it, I would have a flood of doodles spilling across my math homework. Or in church, once the preacher started hammering away at some alliterated bullet points to distract my parents, I would loosen my clip-on tie and sketch hastily on the pew’s attendance cards, trying to finish my works of art before the “invitation song” required me to snap back to attention.
It wasn’t until I grew older that I realized that the world of art extended far beyond the margins of the loose-leaf pages in my trapper-keeper. I discovered that there were thousands of other artists out there; there had been many before me, and many more will come after I am gone. I humbly learned to recognize that there were many artists who were much better than I am, and that my favorite styles and subjects were not always the favorites of everyone else. I know now that art means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
And yet this does not trouble me, as an artist, at all.
Instead, it gives me cause to celebrate. It is an incredible thought that so many people have struggled to produce meaningful pieces of art in order to present something beautiful to our world. In this, they make the world better – even if the work is never critically acclaimed or sold at a great price. They make the world better simply because they contributed something representative of and subjective to a part of their individual life stories to the greater community of human history.
In a sense, then, we are all artists.
Maybe the only thing that you can draw is a stick figure, but in a larger context you are still an artist. Your life story paints a picture that uniquely contributes to your community in some way. All of your actions and words matter because they are brushstrokes on the canvas of humanity. Your life matters and imprints your story on the world in some way, whether you realize it or not – but I am not writing this for the purpose of a self-esteem boost to anyone. I am writing this because we need to realize that the human community stretches beyond our individual lives – your life, my life – and that there are beautiful stories around the world being added to the canvas that we have not even seen yet, and that
we need to open our eyes
to the full tapestry of the humankind’s masterpiece and shine a light to the rest of the world on those lesser-known brushstrokes. It is great to try and find personal meaning and beauty in our own life stories, but my hope is that we would also begin to hold up the beauty in the stories of the women in Rwanda as they seek to better their villages by selling their crafts, or the stories of those working in Guatemala to build houses for widows in need. In part, this is what Plywood People is trying to do, and I think that this is a great thing. But if we are all truly contributors of blessing through story to our world, then this revolution of beautiful community will extend into our day-to-day lives. We will celebrate the diversity of good things happening around us, promote the stories of all men and women, and look for ways to add something every day to the greater narrative of life.
What that practically looks like will be different for every person. Maybe, for some, it will mean sponsoring a child; for others, giving regularly to a charity, helping someone in need, or comforting someone caught in the tension of sorrow and despair. But for others it could just mean baking some killer brownies for the kids on the block. Whatever good you can find to do, do it. And whatever good that you see others doing, find ways to help them continue in it.
And in this we will awaken a movement of global compassion, justice, and hope.
In this, we will create an image of beauty to hold up to the world and inspire change for the better.