An Artist and a Minister

Featuring Tom Kraeuter Posted on January 23, 2010

Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully... (Psalm 33:3).

Not long ago, my wife and I visited the St. Louis Art Museum. It was an impromptu outing with my favorite person, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time together. However, I must admit that I was bit taken aback by some of the “art” objects at the museum. One was a blank white canvas, about eight feet square, with a straight red line that was maybe 18 inches across running from top to bottom. Nothing else. In another room there was a “sculpture” that was simply old car parts stuck together in no particular order and forming no particular shape. I could go on, but I don’t want to bore you with the details.

Let me explain why I was amazed at finding these things at the art museum. You see, from the beginning of time, art has been revered because it is not something that just anyone can do. Real art takes both ability and the discipline to develop that ability. Natural inclination as well as work are both necessary ingredients.
Go buy yourself a canvas, some oil paints and some brushes and try to make a copy of Davinci’s Mona Lisa. Betcha can’t! Or try picking up a violin and playing like Itzak Perleman. It’s just not going to happen. How come?  Because those artists are not only gifted, but they spent years working on their abilities. Perleman didn’t just decide one day, “Hey, I think I’ll try playing the fiddle today. I wonder if I could do it?” No, he expended the necessary effort to learn the instrument and still works diligently at it daily. Although apparently naturally gifted, his abilities have undergone years of honing to get them to the point of being the master violinist he is today.

Not just anyone can create true art. That’s why we all are so enamored when we encounter the real thing. “Wow! That’s amazing!” is our initial thought. Whether it is an exquisite sculpture, a beautifully hand-woven oriental rug, or a highly-trained vocalist, our reaction is, “I would love to be able to do that.” However, we are keenly aware that it took that person a long time to get to be so good at it. We are impressed that someone would be so gifted and also disciplined enough to develop that gift. That is not something just the average guy on the street can do. That is true art.

So now you understand why I found some of those “art” pieces objectionable. Not that they were evil or anti-Christian. They just weren’t art. If my ten-year old son could create that piece with no lessons and no real effort, it is clearly not really art. Painting a straight line down a piece of canvas is hardly a major achievement. (I’m no painter, and I could probably have done a wavy line and given it a bit more character!) Throwing together some old parts from an automobile does not take any particular discipline. I would suggest that, more likely than not, the person who would create such “art” is unwilling to pay the price of true discipline to create real art. Perhaps their attitude is, “What is the least amount of effort I can get by with and still have someone think my work is worthwhile?”
I’ve seen people involved in church worship ministries who appear to have a similar attitude. “It’s only church. It doesn’t need to be that good.” Many church instrumentalists only ever play their instrument at the worship ministry rehearsal or for actual services. How do they ever expect to become more accomplished on their instrument?

My mom is a quilter. Quilts of various sizes adorn the walls of her home. She has made quilts for just about everyone in our entire extended family and many people outside of our family. She has been quilting for years. Recently, she won an award for a wall hanging quilt she had designed and made. A contest was held in the local quilting group. Many people entered their small quilts, but mom’s won. I think in part it’s because she’s been at it for a very long time, but also because she spends time working on quilts almost every day. The first quilt she made years ago probably would not have won an award. However, because she has worked at her skills for years, she is now reaping some rewards.

What about you? Are you regularly working at your abilities. Are you endeavoring to “play skillfully” as Psalm 33 says we should?

Don’t just have a “this-is-adequate” mentality. Do the best you can to honor God with your abilities.