It Was Good — One
"An Architecture of Living Stones" / "God is Good Like No Other"
Introduction & Chapter No. 1
Good -- what a strangely simple yet complex word. I have often been surprised by how distorted this word can become — many of us ( myself included ) tend to use the word throughout our vocabulary quite frequently. It's an automatic word, something that is in fact quite difficult to define. We know what is "good", yet maybe we don't fully understand it. So what then, is the true definition of good?. In our new text "It was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God" we are confronted with this question simply from the title alone. "It was Good..." doesn't that sound all to familiar? It reminds me of what Jesus said on the cross "it is finished". So does "good" in turn mean a resolution of sorts? A conclusion, a satisfaction, contentment? Just like when I asked myself "what is truth?" while reading Grace & Necessity, a multitude of questions came to mind surrounding this new posed question of "what is good?"
"Good" to someone can mean a cup of coffee, a sunny day, a hug. "Good" to others might refer to morality, purity, cleanliness, the like. "Good" for quite a few means a complete embodiment of the word, a lifestyle, a striving for a "good" life. "Good" is a word we say much too often in response to "how is your day going?". "Good" is a measure by which people judge their wellbeing. "Good" is often a surface level descriptor, a cop out, an escape from the reality in which we live "Good" is something many people can't handle. "Good" is something that the majority tends to strive for, but very few actually achieve. "Good" is achievable.. or is it? "Good" is God's very nature. "Good" is good.
I believe I touched on it briefly in a previous post, but I find myself struggling with 'impact' through the work I make. It is in fact something I very much strive for, but that right there might be my downfall. As I write this, I'm noticing that this thought is more of a realization -- the fact being that I do try too hard to make impact. You can't necessarily "create" impact, the impact comes from something beyond what you make. The "good" in the piece will show purely because it is "good". I recognize this now, although I still very much struggle with it. A question for the reader : why do we as humans continually spiral into an obsession with wanting to make things "great", "spectacular", or "shocking"? This may be too loaded of a question for now, but thought I would ask it anyway. I do believe our next chapter gets into it, when beauty is brought into the picture.
This is where I would like you, as the reader to be completely honest with me, do you believe self-portraits to be "good"? Let me explain further... since the beginning of the Summer I have been fascinated by how artists can create self-portraits in an impactful yet highly personal way. No, I'm not talking about tasteful selfies, I'm talking about self-portraits that are used both for personal growth as well as to impact others, for socio-political reasons, to challenge norms. Where before, a part of me used to see self-portraits as 'vain' or a form of self-absorption, I now see them in a different light. Ryan James Caruthers inspires me so much -- I included a few images from his "Tryouts" series below. "Tryouts" was a series focused around the altered view our society has on masculinity, showcasing self-portraits through different athletic situations. Ryan's body is not the body of an athlete, so the paradox is quite evident. I find them to be extremely impactful and beautifully eerie. What I love most about Caruther's work is the fact that he wasn't afraid to put himself out there -- as a male dealing with anorexia, he was able to be comfortable with showing it. His work was even published in TIME Magazine, impressive for a young artist. This series pushed me to create my own self-portrait series, but is now making me question.. is it good? Is the desire for personal growth overshadowing the impact in which they ( hopefully ) will make? Oh boy.
Over the Summer I decided to challenge myself in creating a series called 'Archetypes' where I made a different self-portrait for thirty days. It was quite an incredible experience for me personally, and my reasoning for it is as follows:
"The simple act of having to "make" something for a consecutive period of time is a daunting task in and of itself, yet one that I have found to be necessary in overcoming one's insecurities. The following is a series based mostly out of my own struggle with identity & approval. The challenge? Create a different self-portrait every single day for a month. This challenge wasn't formed out of a need to "find myself" or discover a different persona in which I was not previously familiar. Rather, it was a way for me to be more comfortable & vulnerable with sharing these versatile characters with the world."
Do you believe this series to be impactful? I had many friends come up to me when I was in the thick of creating self-portraits saying that they were really intrigued by what I was doing, but I haven't thought to ask people after my series ended. Social Media is simply the worst when it comes to gaging impact, it's so skewed. I hope it was inspiring to some, and in my mind was a "good" experience, yet a quote from the text stuck out to me when thinking it over & made me wonder if self-portraits violate the notion presented:
" 'Is the Self automatically interesting in art?' Robert Hughes asked, answering himself in the negative with the observation that twentieth-century culture is obsessively preoccupied with the "merely personal," which smothers the conceptual dignity of art with 'every kind of petty documentation, psychic laundry list, an autistic gesture.' In the end, Christians must be conversant on both sides of the issue — traditional as well as contemporary — to make a difference in the practice of art, which mandate various levels of engagement."
A NEW SERIES
Since self-portraits intrigue me so, I decided to run with it once again. This new 30 day challenge, 'Mindsight' was inspired by my LIBA class. We are currently reading the book 'Mindsight' by Dr. Daniel Siegel, who coined the term and describes is as "our human capacity to perceive the mind of the self and others". One chapter focuses on how most of the time our "negative" emotions aren't actually bad, they're in fact "good", but it's how we translate them and how we control them that leads to them being bad. I wanted to showcase this rather "dark" side of our emotions. "Fear" doesn't always mean that anxiety will come, it can be used to be cautious, to be aware, but when we let fear overwhelm us it becomes toxic. This series is taking me back to what Flannery O'Connor says about truth.. it's oftentimes ugly and discomforting. And I'm sure these self-portraits will continue to get more & more uncomfortable.
Side note : I keep becoming more and more pleasantly surprised at how classes this year seem to be integrating with one other. How the content of one class inspires me to reflect on the reading of another class, or how the reading in one class inspires an entire series, or how class discussions bounce off one another without knowing it. It's quite wonderful ... and good.