A few years ago I was back in Australia, my passport country, for a short whirlwind of visiting and support raising. Sydney was my final stop – here I would renew visas and visit embassies before flying out again. Although the embassy I needed didn’t open until later, I made my way early into the city, thankful and eager for some downtime, a rare luxury on these trips. My wanderings brought me down to the Museum of Contemporary Art at Circular Quay, and I relished the opportunity to take my time and engage with the art.
Inside, the modern and clean architecture of the building perfectly complemented the exhibit there at the time. High, stark white walls and ceilings provided the backdrop for the sharp-edged white of the artwork, creating a sense of cold, aggressive and stunning intention. After the warmth and life of my host country, the effect hit me hard. The gallery was distant and other. I felt like an outsider.
I was contemplating this as I rounded a corner and stumbled upon a small gathering. The room was completely white and empty of any adornments, lit so that even the shadows were few. In its centre stood a woman in a simple red dress, a single rose clutched in her hands. Her eyes closed, she opened her mouth and sang. I know opera enough to recognise her talent and to say with confidence that she was surely a performer at the nearby Opera House, but not nearly enough to know the song or its meaning. I can tell you that as her song washed over us the room itself seemed to hold its breath and the tiny audience were no longer strangers but bound together in the spell. Not once did she move or open her eyes, but as her voice rose and fell, she poured out emotion—passion and love and loss and a resilient, triumphant, soaring hope. I was caught off guard as tears pricked my eyes, but a quick glance around the gathered audience and a tissue offered from a woman nearby confirmed that we were all experiencing the same thing. Although few of us understood the words or the context of the song, we knew the emotions it expressed and we were moved by it. The woman in the red dress had captured something that spoke to the deep of our hearts.
The song ended and she opened her eyes, a whisper of a smile playing on her lips as she met our gaze one by one, unhurried, lingering. Then, with a slight inclination of her head, she turned and walked away. In her absence, the spell broke and we roused ourselves, looking around sheepishly, embarrassed, drifting away. Strangers again.
The memory of that day has stayed clear in my mind, even years later. The exhibit, the architecture, the woman and her song, all were expressions of art and creativity which evoked emotional responses. They forced me out of myself and my world to encounter new ideas, new aspects of what it is to be human. They widened my mind and my experiences.
As I reflect on that day, I also remember the sea-green of the water and the way the sunlight glittered across it. I remember the delicate winter flowers and the rustling of the wind in the trees and the diversity of the people and cultures moving around me. As I took it all in, and as I think on it now, I am reminded of the stunning and beautiful fact that God is The Creator, and in our creative endeavours and expressions, we image Him (Genesis 1:1, Genesis 1:27). Though I’m sure it wasn’t intended, the sense of loneliness and distance I felt in the exhibit point to the truth that those emotions are never my ultimate reality because Christ Jesus took that place for me when He bore my sins (Romans 8:1, 2 Corinthians 5:21). Although it wasn’t intended, the hope stirred in the song was a shadow and a marker for the hope we have in our Creator, who calls each one of us who is in Christ His masterpiece, His treasured possession, His beloved child (Ephesians 2:10, Deuteronomy 7:6). The Creator who promises that He will continue to make of us a work of art until the day of completion (Philippians 1:6).
Engaging with creativity and art, whether our own or that of others, is a deeply personal and intimate thing. It reveals and sometimes confronts. And when I let it, it is truth-telling, as it points me, in different ways, back to The Creator.
How does engaging with art and creativity, either your own or someone else’s, point you towards our Creator God?