My son William is a cinephile who enjoys all the classics and most notable filmmakers. He’s more than an avid consumer of cinema, he’s an aspiring director. We took quarantine time as an opportunity to make a small feature written and directed by him and starring — unfortunately — myself. I say unfortunately only because I’m a vain person who hates to be confronted with the harsh reality of their looks. Nevertheless, William’s film ‘Isolation’ is brilliant. My heart swelled dreaming dreams for him. I imagine every father is thrilled seeing his son pursue similar interests.
Then I panicked after the first showing of his project. He edited his movie six hours straight until he jumped from the seat and nearly danced a jig. I watched him pace as the film upload inched along toward 100%. My wife, his brother (the assistant director), and I sat on the couch and let our big screen wash us in that ethereal silver light. Then I saw it, a look on his face in reaction to his creation, and my heart sank. His vision didn’t match his product.
As TV light cast shadows on William’s face, I saw the phantom that’s haunted my life at every turn. High expectations followed by sobering results.
In the beginning, the phantom masquerades as an angel of hope. You become that kid who expects to hit a home run every at-bat. You daydream about your passion leading you to the heights of success that documentaries are made of. Then the angel’s light switches from white to red as you make your way into the world. Injury crushes your first dreams, but you dare to dream others. You get a degree you never got to use. You write five novels no one reads. You sell mufflers during the day and lay awake at night trying to reconcile what you see as a life of failure with all that God has blessed you with.
My phantom is my inescapable self-criticism. I’d rather it torment me than my family, though. Now it seems my Son is bating it, too. He’s taking the artist’s path. His dreams can either lead to spectacular achievement, or…not.
I view the world from the position of ‘not’ and wonder if I can cushion the blow for him without dulling his ambitions. Thankfully, I realize that’s not really my job. I’m here to love, support, and provide temporal and spiritual guidance. Dreams, though, they aren’t my department. Dreams and hopes are of God and He is the guidance counselor. So, what has He taught me about the perils of art-making?
Existence is a work of art. It has no purpose except to please God. It is a thing of beauty made by the highest possible talent who not only masters all aspects of possible technique, He truly invented the rules by which all possible mediums and the methods operate. Imagine a painter so particular and talented that they not only create their own paints and canvases but also create the very substance and scientific laws that allow for color or form to exist at all. So perfect is God’s art is that even most of those who deny Him are still devoted to His creation in some capacity. Yet, there are others who focus on narrow aspects of creation and criticize it to the point of discrediting the creator. Imagine your creation becoming your worst critic.
We — His children — who have inherited His love of creation are called artists. Like any parent pleased to see his children exhibiting an interest to learn his passion, He allows us to take part in His Art making. Contrary to popular misconception, the Bible and the word of God was not miraculously sent down to us in completed form all at once. The authors of the Bible were divinely inspired, true, but each was commissioned to imbue his own artistry into the scriptures. Consider the Psalms compared to the Gospel of John. Both Holy, both beautiful, but both as unique as their author. God chooses art to communicate The Good News. Try to imagine one aspect of our spiritual experience without Art influencing it? Music, painting, sculptor, architecture, performance, literature — these are clothes that adorn the bride of Christ. He allows us to be the tailors.
Art demands interpretation and interpretation allows for a personal connection to the word of God. For example, I have always loved to view the parable of the talents as exactly that — about talent. I see this as God telling us that we must take whatever special gift He’s given us and put it to use. Those who were willing to risk much were rewarded for their faith and industry. The servant who withheld his talent was rebuked:
“And cast that useless servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Mtt 25:30)”
I interpret this servant to be my phantom. For other artists, the servant might be doubt. This is the servant who is not willing to risk failure. This is the servant who is not willing to risk rejection. God never promises us worldly success, however. God is perfectly honest about those who would hope to create art that glorifies (or at least does not deny) Him.
“Remember my saying that I told you: The servant is not greater than his Lord. If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also…(Jn 15:20)”
Many artists also experience the stifling indifference from the people they expected love from most:
“And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor, except in his country, and in his own house, and among his own kindred.’ (Mk 6:4)”
He who created all, rejected by His creation. He who raised the dead, cast out demons, fed the masses, walked on water, and was transfigured before His closest Apostles — He was abandoned and betrayed by those closest to Him.
So, what good does the adulation of the crowds do us? Any Artist who proceeds with dreams of being praised for their talents by the masses had better take heed from their Savior.
During the stations of the cross, we contemplate the three times Christ fell as He struggled down the Via Dolorosa on the way to Golgotha. Every time He fell, He thought of you, and got back up. He didn’t have to be crucified to save us, as better theologians than I have explained, He chose this fate. Blessings and glory to Him — I praise you, Lord — because I could never love or worship a deity who would not subject himself to the same suffering and indignity we may experience. I can swear allegiance to no leader who will not go where he asks his soldiers to go. He orchestrated the highest example of self-giving love, one that is recalled and commemorated in millions of pieces of art worldwide. On the cross, the master artist crafted salvation — a work greater than any imaginable — and much of the world rejects it. They scorn it, scoff at it, shower it in the spittle of hate-filled words. The Romans and Pharisees thought the crucifixion would be the moment that would prove Christ as an ultimate failure and a false prophet. But it is not the subject who controls the paintbrush.
Hemingway once said that writing is easy, all you have to do is sit at the typewriter and bleed. Christ sweat blood at the Garden of Gethsemane.
Art is a struggle. Great art is often born out of intense personal and physical pain. Our Lord’s masterpiece begins in a bloody tragedy, the second act is a triumph, and the third act is still to come.
It’s that third act that gives me the hope to continue creating. Here am I a lowly artist hanging my head in shame because my every word is not met with thunderous applause — am I greater than my Master? When I lay awake wondering what the point of all my efforts are, I recall that there truly is only one audience I need to please — the Father, the Son, and The Holy Spirit. If God the Father as is pleased seeing his children take after him in the realm of art as I am seeing my own son create — then I never need to consider myself a failure. And so, I can also look to my burgeoning artist and say confidently, “Make movies, my boy. Revel in the gifts God gave you and become a light unto others.”
And so I proudly present, my son’s first serious artistic work.