I’ve amassed quite an extensive private art collection. Most are original abstract works featuring a meditative interplay of color and texture. In preparation for my move next month, I’ve realized just how many paintings I have–maybe too many. Not only have I been taking them down from the walls in almost every room, but I’ve also been removing them from the recesses of closets, from under beds, and from behind dressers. And there are more in boxes in the garage. When they’re all gathered, scores of paintings will be ready for their transfer to the next private gallery. That’s a lot of creativity that’s remained hidden within the confines of my own living space.
But before you get the impression that I have my own personal Museum of Modern Art, you need to know that these works of mostly questionable quality and unimpressive provenance are all quite amateur paintings by one particular artist…me. And aside from the rare few that have been sold or given as gifts, most of the paintings I’ve created haven’t been seen by too many people.
But when we hide our creativity in our own private collections, it has little chance to add color and texture to the world around us.
We each have some artistic ability, the potential to create beauty. We each have gifts that might offer delight to people or simply bring happiness to someone’s life. But if we just hide our creativity away, we’ve robbed the world of a joy that we are uniquely suited to give.
Sure, some hobbies, like my painting, are more about quiet meditation and contemplation, but this reflection isn’t really about my splashes of color on canvas, is it? It’s about how we are each artists with abilities to add to the beauty of creation. You may be one of those who can write, compose, paint, sculpt, sing, or offer some particular artistic or technical talent. But even more importantly, your art is the ability to do things like listen, help, teach, care, give, advocate, or understand. You can paint the world in colors and textures unique to your personality. Whatever you’re good at, whatever you enjoy, whatever you have, whatever position you occupy, whatever vocation you practice: these are the brushes and hues you have been given to create beauty in the world. You are an artist, and your canvas is the place you inhabit and the time you have. Your purpose is to create and, through your creativity, to transform the world.
I’m not fond of mixing metaphors, but I’d be negligent if I didn’t throw in some words that every now and again show up in my sermons and talks. In his “Preface to Leaves of Grass,” Walt Whitman writes about the character of a poet. The whole piece is well worth reading, but this excerpt beautifully expresses what it means not only to be an artist in the world, but to be art itself, and since I’ve also written lines upon lines of mediocre poems that have remained hidden on scraps of paper, it seems relevant:
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.
You are an artist, and the life you live is the art you create. So don’t hide your paintings (or your poems) in your own private collection. Make them public. Share them generously. Let your creativity loose in the world. Let it color people’s lives with love and texture people’s circumstances with joy.