Sacrifice and the Christian Artist

What does sacrifice mean to a Christian Artist?

Before His Ascension into heaven, Jesus gave His followers a new commandment, to love one another as He has loved us. No longer are we called to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, now we are to love each other as Christ loves us. This is the defining mark of the Christian, the love we have for one another.

Christ-like love always involves a cross, a sacrifice, that’s what makes it Christ-like. So one characteristic of a Christian Artist is his love for God which motivates him to put his gifts and talents at the service of the community. The Christian artist does not engage in “art for art’s sake,” his art serves his community. This may involve sacrifice.

But the world at large would have us see differently. The spirit of the age does not value self- sacrifice for the sake of others. Rather it encourages self-indulgence. Artists are taught that their art, their gift, is personal. It is for them to use as they see fit,  for self indulgence, self expression, and self discovery. Art, the world would have us believe, is whatever the artist says it is.

And sacrifice? The spirit of the age would have us believe that sacrifice is what the artist does for the sake of his art, not for other people. An artist will sacrifice stability, income, comfort, acceptance, all for the sake of indulging his creative muse.

But that is not why we are here, it is not our purpose in life. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1Corinthians12:7) All of our gifts are given to us to help each other. It is better said that our gifts are given to the world through us.

In an earlier post I referenced a story by JRR Tolkien about an artist, a painter, and what it has to tell us about our love for each other:

“In January of 1945 J.R.R. Tolkien published a short story titled ‘Leaf by Niggle.’ It is a symbolic story about our purpose in life.

In the story, Niggle is an artist who lives in a community that does not place a great value on art. So Niggle paints mostly for himself.

One day he is inspired to begin a painting of a vast tree. He becomes obsessed with the work and abandons all his other projects to focus on the tree, the forest in the background, and the mountains in the distance. The works is intense as Niggle is intent on getting every detail right.
But he is constantly called way from his work by his neighbor Parish, an elderly man who seems to need constant aid with this or that chore. In addition Niggle has his own errands to run and all of this takes time away from the painting that he feels is imperative for him to finish.

At one point in the story helping Parish means giving up some of the supplies that Niggle needs for his painting in order to make some temporary repairs on Parish’s house. He refuses to do so for he feels his work is more important and after all he is a painter not a builder.

Shortly after this an authority shows up and reminds Niggle of a simple truth, ‘houses come first. That is the law.’ Or we might restate it as “people before paintings.”

What follows is a wonderful reflection on love of neighbor, community, and the importance of the gifts God has given us.”

And so we may be called upon to sacrifice, to sacrifice our own wants and desires, for the good of the many.

The Christian Artist does not indulge in bizarre whims that are unintelligible to the viewer, under the pretext that all art is subjective; it is not. He may be forced to turn away from certain subjects or turn down profitable opportunities because they do not reflect that Christ-like love. He may even at times have to sacrifice his art for the sake of others. The Christian Artist uses his gifts, all of his gifts, to lift the hearts and minds of people to God. That may be through his art, or simply by laying down his brush or pen to lend a helping hand.

Love for God, which we demonstrate by how we love our neighbor, is the defining characteristic of all Christians and shapes all that we do.

“For you, brothers, have been called to liberty. Only you must not make liberty into an occasion for the flesh, but instead, serve one another through the charity of the Spirit.” Galatians 5:13

Pax

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