The Heart of Art

When my friend Pastor Benjamin in Munich, Germany posted this photo on Facebook by photographer Joel Robison, I connected with it immediately. It speaks volumes about imagination and, I believe, cuts to the heart of the creative process. Look at its imagery. Joel has taken a simple photo of himself posing in front of a blank wall and superimposed a photo of a bird in flight and shadows of a man with a sword and a mighty dragon. My simple description doesn’t do his artwork justice. It has to be seen to be understood. The frame captures an invisible world in shadow, a world much different than the one we can plainly see with our eyes. Our world is boredom. The wall’s world, however, is exciting.

I really like this scene. What Joel has done is capture the creative process in one single frame. An artist takes the real world, the everyday world, and transforms it into something different. For painters, it is taking a blank canvas or piece of pottery and adding colors and lines, creating images of people or animals or patterns. For a musician, it involves taking a piano and its 88 keys and sequencing the notes with touch and emotion to create something new. For a writer, it involves taking blank pages and filling them with vivid descriptions, engaging dialogue, and plot. To our “real world” eyes a rotting wood cabin in the overgrown woods is an eyesore that should probably be torn down for safety’s sake. But to our “artistic” eyes the rotting cabin was once the enchanted lodge of a newlywed couple, made of logs hewed by the husband’s own two hands and filled with the wife’s love… until tragedy struck and the wife mysteriously died and the husband became a hermit who can only be seen once a year — on her birthday… and so on. Imagination turns a crappy cabin into a mystery novel. It is more than what we see. It is the invisible world.

When an artist goes about the process of creating, he or she is taking the invisible world and making it visible. Even a street performer engaged in a one-act play on the streets of Edinburgh is making an invisible world visible through acting (and maybe props). In this way, art is incarnational. After all, Jesus is the image of the invisible God who took on flesh, isn’t He? Why? So we might see the Father, among other reasons.

As a young boy I used to dream vivid dreams — usually in the daytime. My overactive imagination took everyday objects and created dynamic fantasy worlds. Ask my sisters. I loved to build cities and vehicles and buildings with Lego’s and, not stopping, created imaginary scenarios for my little Lego characters. I named individual ones and created back-stories. Yes, I was weird. As a elementary student, I would make up mystery stories and fantasy bits when writing school projects (much to my teacher’s irritation, no doubt). I had a limited vocabulary back then but that didn’t stop me from dreaming.

About five years ago I decided to write a song about dreaming and creating and crafted it from the perspective of an older man towards his young nephew or maybe his toddler son. The lesson of the song was that the heart of imagination is one of freedom. A soul freed from bondage is free to dream on a sandy beach and imagine what lies beyond the horizon. And enjoy it. I’ve posted the lyrics below. They dovetail with Joel Robison’s photo above.

There’s a book waiting to be written about art, imagination and dreams, and maybe one day the Lord will allow me to be the one to write it. I certainly have a lot to say!

Sweet Dreams

Standing on the beach I watch the tide roll out
Sending the boats out to sea
And I wonder, young man, how you’re doing right now
Chasing your heart’s deepest dream

Cause right here on the shore, it is such a bore
I’d rather be out on the sea
Sailing away to some far away land
There’s adventure just waiting for me!
So drift off away to a far away land
Of paupers and prophets and kings
May God ever hold you in the palm of His hand
And fill your young mind with sweet dreams
In every boy’s mind there’s a treasure to find
Of stories too good to believe
Of heroes and giants, villains and kings
Who play out a swashbuckling scene

Maybe there are pirates! Maybe a storm!
Maybe a princess in need!
I’m never gonna know if I never go
To follow my heart’s deepest dream!
And I pray that you know what it means to find love
And love what it means to be free…