January 9, 2006

Finding Art in the Most Unexpected Places

Filed under: Art and About the Everyday — admin @ 9:41 pm

One of life’s simple pleasures for me is when art and/or creative expression pop up at unexpected times and in unexpected places. I’ve been collecting some of the best examples in my life over the last few years, and people have sent me stories about run-ins with art that they experienced. These anecdotes go to show that that at any given moment, the arts can enhance our lives.

For instance, in San Diego, there is a Labor and Delivery nurse who plays “Happy Birthday” on her violin for all babies born during her shift. She doesn’t play the violin very well, but what a special way to greet an infant with welcoming music. Any of us who deliver a baby or find ourselves in the delivery room at that big moment could easily sing “Happy Birthday” to the newborns in our lives. It’s so simple, it’s a wonder it’s not already a long-held tradition in our culture. Maybe we could make it one.

Three days before Christmas, I was in line at the post office at lunchtime with my two-year old daughter. There was the expected and requisite line. My daughter was well-behaved and we were making steady progress toward the front when the man in front of us commented on the wait. Then he reached into his pocket, pulled out a red balloon and proceeded to sculpt a mouse for my daughter. Watching my daughter’s face go from surprise to delight no doubt mirrored my own reaction. A few minutes later, the stranger performed the same merrymaking trick for the next child to join the line. It was a happy holiday indeed!

In the category of “Why didn’t I think of that?” artist Susan List told me about a gig where she was hired to paint at a couple’s wedding reception. Susan does plein air painting, meaning she has the skills to compose and complete a painting on site, which she did during the course of the event. She said her painting process entertained guests and the newlyweds got a unique record of their wedding day. Hiring an artist to paint during the wedding day was the couple’s idea and what a brilliant idea it was! Every couple wants their wedding to be unique and individualized. What better way than to commission an original piece of artwork created amidst the emotion and energy of that special day? It’s almost enough to make me want to do my wedding over again.

Sometimes we find art in places where it shouldn’t be all that unexpected but alas, it is. Mel Ahlborn, President of the Episcopal Church & Visual Arts, sent me a link to an article in the Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne, Indiana. It discusses churches which are exhibiting sacred and non-religious art to “highlight the spirit of creativity, rather than focus only on what is expressly sacred or artists who are specifically Christians.” The article cites Christians in the Visual Arts, a non-profit organization that works to inspire and encourage artists to engage the secular culture with art that speaks to the transcendent without being overly religious. CIVA also strives to honor art, whether made by Christians or not, that depicts the world and life with veracity and beauty. As one CIVA board member states, “The church needs both kinds of art and should encourage Christian artists who make each.” I think this should be a no-brainer for any religious or spiritual group, but a story like this wouldn’t be in a newspaper if it was common.

I’m not supposed to be writing about this last one, but I can’t help myself. I’ll be appropriately vague to protect the identity of the person whom I am describing because I promised this person that I would not write a column about what he or she did. However, at a holiday event, this person presented me and several others with hand-crafted holiday decorations that this person made. This person adamantly denied any prior inclination toward being artsy and craftsy, but this person had decided to try some creative expression this holiday season. This person “blamed” my column for making her do this. All of this was reported with a big smile. Obviously, the experience was not too painful. There was nothing more special under my tree on Christmas morning than the multi-symbolic gift this person gave me.

The moral of these stories? There is no better time and place for the arts in our lives than this time and place.

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