I’m not sure what art is. Or what it isn’t. What I mean is that I am not sure there is a universally agreed upon definition of it; if there is one, I’m certain it’s only the really smart people who know it. Sure, you could find it in Webster’s, but that’s not the point. The point is, that to define art (to define anything, for that matter) implies that one must try to explain it. And to explain something requires that we maintain a certain distance from it in order to observe and analyze it, so that we can understand it logically. This in and of itself is not a bad thing.
But most artists I know don’t speak much of wanting their work to be explained (although they don’t mind it being understood). I find that they are most pleased when whoever encounters their creation—sculpture, film, painting, music—are moved by it, even in ways that perhaps they don’t understand. And this is what got me to thinking about how it is that art is such a potentially powerful medium for healing.
Much of our wounded selves are well defended by all the logical, linear dialogue we have going on in our heads and with each other. “I’ll never be able to do that.” “I’m not thin enough.” “My boss is impossible!” “My marriage will never change.” But we are not just defended by words. It turns out that humans tend to “think” in pictures, sensations, and feelings, even more powerfully and efficiently than we do with language. Thus, when the gospel confronts our shame with “Neither do I condemn you”, or “I will never leave you or forsake you.”, those words can end up remaining merely…words. It is not until we get to our images, feelings, and sensations that real change is mobilized. Which is where the art of healing comes in.If you spend time with Mark Rothko’s No. 61 you might be tempted to quickly begin to ask yourself “What’s it mean?” or even muse, “I don’t get it.” However, if you remain with the painting long enough, you may come to find yourself feeling things and sensing things, perhaps that you cannot explain, but that may connect you to additional feelings and eventually even thoughts about your life that you have buried under a great deal of life’s rubble. Likewise, Matthew Perryman Jones’ song O Theo will touch those images, sensations, and feelings established to protect us from God and each other and give them the opportunity to flexibly change by catching us off guard. In this way good artistry bypasses both the ramparts of both our logical, left-brain circuits as well as those in the right hemisphere that we have constructed to defend against not only our own memories but also the painful, healing assault of Jesus’ intimacy. God uses good art not so much for us to analyze it remotely, but rather to encounter us in the depths of our being. For he has no intention of keeping his distance or leaving us unhealed.
This week, where will you go not so much to encounter good art, but to be encountered by it? Where will you go for healing? Your brain can’t wait to find out.