A Highrocker's Reflection on Faith and Art in Honor of Artspeak, Written in the Winter of 2014
“Artwork is never finished. Only abandoned,” said Leonardo da Vinci.
As the story goes, da Vinci himself viewed his art as constant work in progress, long after the rest of us might call it finished. Somehow I can’t picture that great renaissance man tirelessly perfecting Mona Lisa or tinkering with the Last Supper into the night.
Still. If, as he claims, he did continue to augment and add to and perfect his pieces, he was far from alone in doing so. Claude Monet was notorious for brushing new strokes onto long dried paintings, continuously re-rouging his portraits of Camille, embellishing highlights onto waterlilies and haystacks until he was nearly blind. Donatello abandoned his Paduan bronzes long before they were officially finished, deserting the statues while rough-cut and raw, and whether or not he’d set out to at the start, he claimed he’d invented a new technique. Non Finito, he called it. “Unfinished.”
As a pastor, I can relate. Sort of. I’m no great master artist by any stretch of the imagination, but for me there is always more to add to a sermon, more to clarify or illustrate or embellish or cut. Preachers do not always preach because our sermons are finished. Often, we preach because time’s up…it’s Sunday.
Last week, as I was working on a sermon that I preached Non Finito, my friend, George, was in our church office, preparing to paint. From my desk, I could see the giant canvas he’d set up on the giant easel in the corner of the room. Taped to the corner of the canvas was a whimsical photograph of George’s wife, Amy, just after waking up. Still in her nightgown, she peers out the window as morning light starts to peep through.
I've been watching the progress of the piece as George has been sketching Amy’s portrait on canvas, plotting a painting that is still being imagined. First an outline. Next some details. Curtains. A basket. A pile of books. All I can see so far is a sketch, a promise, the bare bones blueprint of what’s to come. George has an image in his mind that I don’t yet, and while he’s working, our office has its own Non Finito.
I know George’s other work. He’s painted golden mermaids and modeled mobiles. He’s captured breathtaking cathedral doors on canvas that I literally want to walk through. And I know George. He’s one of the most genuine and thoughtful artists I know; he lives a passionate and artistic life in color, always exploring new ways to create and learn and grow into his gifts.
I don’t know yet how George will turn this sketch into a brilliant painting, how he’ll use lines and colors to tell us a story, to inspire wonder and celebrate beauty. I can only anticipate what it will look like in the end, how I’ll respond or where I’ll be moved. But I do know the artist. I know what he can do. And I am confident that like all his others, this painting too, will be well worth the wait.
We live in a world that is still Non Finito, a sketch of what it’s meant to be. All we have seen are the bare bones blueprints, reminders and promises of what’s yet to be. But in the meantime, our world needs a lot of work. Our world is still full of greed and shame, of genocide and poverty and deep depression, and human beings sell human beings for their own power or pleasure right in our own backyards. As I look around at the way things are, I can’t always see how it will turn out beautiful in the end.
But I know the Artist, and God does not abandon his artwork. As people, we are invited to participate in what God is doing, to add light and color and shape right beside him, like Michaelangelo’s minions painting the Sistine Chapel under his direction.
And so, on Friday, March 20th, in response to that invitation, Highrock North Shore will host our third annual ArtSpeak, an art show and concert in Salem Old Town Hall. Local artists, both from within and beyond our church community will come together for a celebration of creativity and life and light in a bare bones world that God is still working on. And at the end of the night, we’ll auction off the artwork and give all the proceeds to the Amirah House, a safe house for survivors of human trafficking right here on the North Shore.
The Apostle Paul wrote that “what no eye has seen and no ear has heard and no human mind conceived, oh what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). And it’s true. We can only imagine what it will all look like in the end. But we know the Artist. And we can be confident that God’s world Finito will be well worth the wait. For now, we’re helping to fill in the color. Join us.