Our First Podcast Episode Coming Soon!

I recently sat down with musical artist Robert Cullen to discuss his album Other Cities as well as other artsy fartsy stuff. He’s a swell guy and very thoughtful.

We’re in the process of editing the audio now, so in lieu of posting an article today we’re going to keep working on it. We’re excited to show you what we recorded!

Stay in touch,

Dan

The Smell of Burning

Simon pushed himself. He pushed himself down the stairs. He didn’t know it yet but he subconsciously tried to kill himself.

He awoke to the beeping of the oven timer. He had tried to make a pizza from scratch. Peppers, Onions, and Olive oil base covered in a bed of Provolone cheese.

He felt his head. He moaned. He tried to lift himself. He failed.

He laid there thinking. What happened before this?

He thought of his pet goldfish; how silly it is. He thought of how his pizza will probably burn now. He thought of his job; how he never imagined being a public accountant. He thought of his wife.

His wife.

He thought of her brown hair, her green eyes, curvy shape. He thought of their history. First date at that restaurant he can’t ever remember the name of with great cajun fries, the first time they kissed by the lake late one night, their wedding day and how awful the cake was. Their cramped first apartment. He thought of her laugh, her eyes, tears in her eyes, they stream. Why was she crying?

He kept thinking.

He mustered air in and out of his raspy lungs.

He thought of the tears she shed when they had their first child.

“I have a child.” he thought.

He thought of how she cried when this child went to school for the first time. How she cried when this child gave her a surprise birthday macaroni necklace with flowers from the garden. He thought of the days she cried when this child said “I don’t love you.” He thought of how she cried when this child left their home for good. He thought of her eyes.

The oven stopped beeping.

Knives stabbed his nervous system as he tried to push with his legs.

He thought of the vacations they took. How the child smiled when they got ice cream and made jokes. He thought of how the child felt alone when they moved. He thought of his wife’s eyes. How they cried when he refused. He thought of how he always made excuses about money, time, and energy. He thought of how she never listened to him. One was enough.

“Idiot.” He thought.

One of his eyes was blurry when he opened it. His face felt numb.

He thought of his wife’s eyes, looking downward, arms crossed. He thought of her sitting on a sofa, not saying a word. He thought of how he berrated and yelled because she would not.

He thought of his wife’s eyes, full of tears, in a courtroom. He thought of how odd it is that someone else had to speak for her in front of a judge. He thought of how much it hurt his child.

He could smell smoke.

He thought of how he can’t move. How the pizza could burn, and perhaps catch fire. How no one could help him.

He thought of his ex-wife’s eyes. How they don’t cry anymore. He thought of how he never sees his child anymore. He thought of how he never has conversations anymore. He thought of how he never feels warm in his bed anymore. He thought of how he doesn’t dance anymore. He thought of how he he misses the clothes she would strew about. He won’t see that anymore.

He thought of how he wishes he didn’t have an ex-wife. He thought of how he never wanted an ex-wife. He thought of his wife’s eyes, bright and beautifully green, smiling.

He feels a sharp pain in his left arm. His breathing strained.

“Where is she?”

He thought of how he hurt her. How he always used his words to stab her heart. He thought of how she never pleased him sexually. He thought how he would think of ways to cut her with as little words as possible. He thought of how terrible he was to do that. He thought of how he so desperately wants to go back in time.

The smoke alarm sounds.

He grasps his shoulder. He strains his eyes. He thinks he sees something.

He can’t quite make it out. It’s a figure moving towards him. He thinks they’re clothed in black. He thinks of how strange it is. He thinks of how he didn’t imagine death looking like this. He thinks of how he certainly never thought an angel, or demon would escort him either.

“Simon?”
“Yes?”
“Are you okay?”
“No.”

He blinks a few times. His vision returns. This figure has a bulge on their abdomen.

He blinks a few more times.

“Did you burn the pizza?”
“Yes.”

His vision becomes clear. He looks at the figure, clearly a woman. A pregnant woman.

“Did you hit your head?”
“I don’t know.”

He blinks, and looks into the eyes of this pregnant woman. The beautifully deep concerned green eyes of the woman.

“Do you know what happened?”

The ease of breathing returns, and feeling in his legs return.
He props himself up with the help of the woman, he looks up at her and says,

“I thought… you were gone.”

But she wasn’t. Neither was he.

Mad Men and the Anti-Hero – Why Christians Can Love Donald Draper

There is no other show that does what it does better than AMC’s Mad Men. And amongst all the wonderfully painted characters in the show, the lead character shines brightest: Sterling Cooper’s creative director, Donald Draper. His talented work and insight into human behavior coupled with his own domestic and psychological demons creates the most interesting dichotomy on television.

However, in my own circle of friends, many haven’t watched the Mad Men series under the objection that the lead character is an alcoholic serial adulterer. He’s too brash, too harsh, too unlikeable (what!?), and/or too hedonistic. (See the past two posts to get a our opinions on why these are bad reasons not to see a piece: Part 1 here and Part 2 here.) They don’t like him. He makes them feel… icky. 

But here’s the thing: I don’t believe people can’t watch characters like Don Draper. They do it all the time. What’s uncomfortable for them is that Don Draper is the protagonist. He’s supposed to be the good guy, but he’s a bad guy. They’re used to someone like him being the villain.  How could they root for someone like him? How could we wish good upon someone who unapologetically cheats on his wife?

Enter the anti-hero.  It’s been a sexy fad for hollywood recently (See Breaking Bad, Dexter, House of Cards, and Game of Thrones) and the audiences seem drawn to these shows.  In this archetype we see main characters who lack conventional attributes of a protagonist. Most notably, a lack of morality. For Don Draper, he lacks quite a bit.

So why do millions watch this show? Why do we shower the program with accolades? How can an anti-hero be so popular? And specifically, why should a Christian love (to watch) Don Draper?

Don is relatable. He has two sides to him: The side he lets people see, and the side that he stashes away for no one to witness. He keeps secrets.  He hides in his work. He doesn’t fully understand who he is.  He constantly decides whether to do what’s right, or to do what he wants to do. He does good things for bad reasons. He does bad things for good reasons. Raise your hand if any of these things apply to you… Okay, put them down.

“We’re flawed because we want so much more. We’re ruined because we get these things and wish for what he had.” Season four, The Summer Man

Don is what we could be. We can relate to Don, but most of us aren’t quite at that level of depravity… yet.  I believe deep down we have similar, if not the same, negative desires that Don does.  We possess a selfishness that we frequently suppress in order to appear moral or to win affection or admiration. Many times, it’s not pure. Neither is Don’s, he just chooses to ignore his filter sometimes. Imagine if you ignored yours. Christian, imagine if you didn’t know Jesus, how closely would you follow Don’s route? How closely are you following it now?

“This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.” Season two, New Girl

Don has to cope with the past. Whew, and does he have a past! No spoilers here, but the man had it rough. It’s shaped him, and he’s constantly looking over his shoulder to either bring closure or relive his history. Lots of it is painful. Much of it influences what he does in the show.  Does your past influence your present? I believe it’s difficult to let the past go much less preventing it from affecting your life now. Is it okay to completely ignore your childhood? Eesh. I don’t know. This is stuff I wrestle with all the time.

“We don’t know who he is yet, and who he’s going to be, that’s a wonderful thing.” Season three, Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency

Don struggles with death. This guy plays basically makes his career off of the fear of death. He knows that people don’t want to die alone. They want to stay young and be surrounded by people that love them. He knows this because he struggles with it too. He desperately runs from this fear, but its so deeply rooted in his psyche that he doesn’t know how to cope with it.  Will death solve his problems? Are you afraid of dying? How is that motivating or affecting you and/or the people around you? Christian, are you afraid of dying? If you believe that Jesus has conquered death, why are we still scared of dying?  Is anything that Don says about death true?

 “It’s your life. You don’t know how long it’s gonna last, but you know it doesn’t end well. You’ve gotta move forward … as soon as you can figure out what that means.” Season two, Six Months Leave

Don needs and desires a savior and not religion.  Don repeatedly confronts his depravity.  He knows he does bad things. He chooses to ignore his feelings and crushes it deep down in his brain like you would a full trashbag. But we get these rare glimpses of the pain he harbors, the desires he has for reconciliation, for justification. He can’t stand the church, the preachers, the hypocrites, he views them as boring band-aids.  He wants a deep cleansing and renewal. For the Christian, we see this and know that what he really desires is a savior.

“I was surprised that you ever loved me.” Season three, The Gypsy and The Hobo

That last line KILLS me every time I hear him say it. Guys, he is, without a doubt, my favorite television character. He’s far from perfect, he wants what he can’t have, and he needs Jesus, just like me.

So please, don’t shy away from the anti-hero. Look at them and then Look at yourself. How much holier are you than them?

I’ll leave you with some of my absolute favorite Don Draper scenes from Mad Men. On the last video you might want to grab some tissues. Enjoy.

“I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one.” Season one, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

“What is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness… ” Season five, Commission and Fees

“…Nostalgia: it’s delicate, but potent. In Greek, ‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone…” Season one, The Carousel

Reading “Art and the Bible” Pt. 2 – An Audience of N(one)

Chapter 1 Takeaways:

1.  I never equated the specifics of the tabernacle and the temple to God affirming the necessity of representational and non-representational art. God wanted pretty objects, both real and abstract, as a part of worship. Pretty cool observation by Schaeffer.

2.  I don’t know why it blows my mind that David wrote secular poems. All this time I only assumed he wrote love songs to Jehovah. Serves me right. Much respect.

And the big one:

3.  I’m so comforted at the points that Schaefer makes about an artist’s audience.  Speaking from experience, having an absent or limited audience threatens many artists motivation to create.  What’s the point if no one sees it? What’s the point if no one cares? If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know I wrote a post on this very subject.

But Schaeffer makes the astute observation that if one becomes a christian and gives his entirety to God (mind, body, talents, etc.) then they are freed to create for the worship and pleasure of God. Of course, this is not to say that we are only to create for God’s audience. Rather, it is enough for the christian to know that God sees, and he is pleased. Schaeffer lumps in plays, films, and even love poems between couples as pieces that please God.

It helps free me up to go crazy on any sort of project knowing that if no one sees it that it still holds great value to an audience unseen.

A Response to “Good Art/ Bad Subjects”

In ML Candelario’s post “Good Art/ Bad Subjects”, he points out the difficulty one might have in appreciating the form of a piece while at the same time objecting to the exposure of the depressing and/or horrific content. He also questions the worth of subjecting oneself to the wonderfully made content if it makes one so…sad.

My short answer: Yes.

Before I go on, I have to assume a few things.

I believe when Candelario says “Bad subjects”, he doesn’t mean that they are subject-matters without merit. They are matters which distress or cause deeply rooted sadness to crop up.

I believe that when Candelario questions “Is it worth it?” He’s not questioning the artist, but the viewer. He asks that every individual assess how much is too much and where to draw the line.

Here we go.

///

Let’s start with an example: 12 Years a Slave.

The film is an incredible unflinching look at slavery in the south. And when I say unflinching, I mean unflinching. Several shots are wide masters that won’t cut away for several minutes, meant to force you to watch the atrocities on screen and view them as the truth. It’s a tough watch, and one of the most important films ever. I heartily recommend it to my friends frequently and always warn them of the content. Through my recommendations, I’ve come across several people who have not seen the film on the grounds that “It’s going to be too depressing to watch.”

Listen, I understand that people don’t want to pop in a depressing movie every day after working for 8 hours. Usually they want to unwind and forget about the worries you have or the problems that are left unsolved.  Sometimes certain films, novels, plays contain content that could rouse up distressing memories or-I know, I know. I’m right there too. But I submit that value lies in making time to see these types of films even if the movie saddens you.

These types of films challenge what, and how we think. They push us to see things differently, to picture different perspectives, to learn about ourselves and other people, to uncover what we’ve hidden within ourselves. They reveal what we have in common and what separates us from one another.  Films like these resonate in our minds days after we watch. They’re important. They’re necessary.

Avoiding an art piece merely because it will be too depressing is cowardly.  Cowardly because the true reason for avoidance lies in the unwillingness to confront vulnerability.

No. I’m not calling the masses to consume all depressing, challenging content for all their entertainment needs. I’m saying that “It’s going to be too depressing” is the wrong excuse.

 

Good Art / Bad Subjects

This article started conceptually as a review/discussion of the movie Nightcrawler, similar to my “review” of Interstellar, but over time I realized that there were themes here that weren’t specific to any single movie or piece of art. What I really wanted to write about was the juxtaposition of high-quality art depicting terrible events or people. It wasn’t just that I wanted to dissect my views of Nightcrawler. Instead, as I contemplated exactly what my feelings were about that film, I realized that the crux of that discussion is really how to deal with art that makes us feel very badly. So let’s begin.

Nightcrawler

When I talk to people about Nightcrawler, I find myself using one phrase over and over again. “It was a brilliantly made film,” I’ll say, “but I don’t know that I can say ‘I liked it’ because it was so unlikable as a story.” Yes, the technical aspects of the film are done very well indeed. The acting, the lighting, the angles of the shots. I’m not a filmmaker, so I can’t expertly go into detail on all the gritty aspects of filmmaking—on the nuts and bolts and whatnot—but I can say that I “got” the repeated motifs of the city skyline at night/dawn/midday and I thought that many of the sets and clothing selections and acting choices were spot-on. The dialogue was great, the story progressed at a reasonable rate (i.e. it didn’t seem to lag behind where I thought it should be, didn’t seem to skip over anything, developed in a steady crescendo instead of jumping inconsistently to specific plotpoints… which is all to say, I guess, that it flowed). It’s a film I would recommend. But I’m interested in parsing out what it means to like such a film, or to say that I did.

If you haven’t seen the movie, it is essentially a character piece. It is designed to show you a specific character whose development is the meat of the film. Instead of a specific event, theme, or story per se, the film’s main character is the story. He’s the big deal. So you follow, in Nightcrawler, a character played by Jake Gyllenhall (to devastating effect, I might add) who discovers that he can make money by becoming a “nightcrawler”—a term that refers to people who capture video footage of tragedies/crimes in order to sell the footage to local media. Gyllenhall’s character is out to make money, out to make a name for himself. Out to succeed. But the problem is that he’s a sociopath. Or a psychopath. Or maybe both. I’m fuzzy on the terminology.

I won’t spoil any of the major developments in the film, but you can basically watch the first five minutes and figure out that Gyllenhall is a monster inside. I don’t know if he doesn’t have feelings, if he’s repressed them, or if he has feelings but they’re just aligned differently than normal folks’. But I do know that every aspect of this film is meant to show his character’s sinister uniqueness. Every aspect is meant to be unsettling. That’s the adjective that most describes this movie. It is unsettling in a way that even most horror films—perhaps even many of the good ones—don’t match. It is lingeringly unsettling. And after months of contemplation I’ve realized the main reason why this is so—why this movie captures something unsettling that I think few other pieces of art have captured for me: it is because it is so well made. That’s the simple reason. Gyllenhall is this character. And the movie is so wrapped up in him, so expertly crafted to make you identify with him (even while not sympathizing with him) that by the end of the film you feel like his mental disorder has reached into you, has tainted you. I walked away from that theater feeling as if maybe a piece of me had become marred by watching it, like a duck that swims through an oil slick and finds its feathers coated so that it can’t fly. The film stuck to me in some way.

What would it mean to “like” something like this—something that effects you in (possibly) seriously negative ways? The film is brilliantly made, I’ll say again, and so therefore do we come away from it having learned something valuable? Have we encountered an evil that we are now better equipped to combat—or does coming into contact with a character like this harm us in a real way, infect us with some of the same outlooks on life? I don’t know the answer, so if you’re looking for one you may want to stop reading. But to explore the issue more, I need to deal with some other artworks and how they disturbed me.

There Will Be Blood

One of the masters of the modern character study is director Paul Thomas Anderson. Although I felt that his recent film The Master was a bit too odd and didn’t “go anywhere” thematically (for me), one of my favorite films of all time is There Will Be Blood. Maybe it’s my obsession with Daniel Day-Lewis, maybe it’s that I watched it as an angst-ridden late-to-post-teen, but something about the film stayed with me. Like Nightcrawler, its main character is not a likable guy. He’s a sociopathic madman trying to get rich. Nobody else seems to matter to him, and it’s not as if the movie ends with some kind of righteous, he-got-what-he-deserved moment. Spoiler: he gets his riches in the end. He succeeds at his goal(s)—virtually all of them. But to me there is one specific difference that makes me feel less marked, less internally messed-about-with, than Nightcrawler.

In There Will Be Blood, Day-Lewis’ character suffers one significant loss. I don’t want to exaggerate it too much and say that there is a sense of retribution by the end. There really isn’t. But the scene in which his son basically leaves him for good has an aura of real, profound loss in it. Day-Lewis’ Daniel Plainview may act heartless and uncaring, he may have just disowned his son by saying some of the most heart-wrenching, hurtful things one can say to one’s child, but you get a glimmer of an expression on his face that he has just lost someone he actually deeply cared about—literally the only person he actually deeply cared about. This is foreshadowed by the absolutely stunning “I abandoned my child” baptism scene. Both are the kind of scenes that make you pause for a moment and utter curse words in your deepest unconscious.

In Nightcrawler, though, Gyllenhall is a consistent sociopath. He legitimately doesn’t seem to care about anyone or anything other than his own desires, his own needs, his own success. There is no scene in which I thought to myself “okay, he’s a monster, but he just felt something profoundly sad there.” He gets upset only when his own goals are undermined, only when his own ambitions are contested. On one hand, it is interesting to me that a film has been made in which the “sociopath” seems to behave consistently as such. On the other: damn, he’s a sociopath. Perhaps it is this very thing that makes the movie so disturbing to me in a way that even There Will Be Blood was not. In Nightcrawler, there is no redemption—not even in the slight, almost subconscious way that There Will Be Blood exhibits.

Incarnations of Burned Children

I’m going to shift to the written word for a second, mainly because I want to deal with how this sort of weird juxtaposition of good art and bad things works differently in different media. I prefer my television shows to be comedic and my books to be sad. It’s the center of a whole personal media-based theory I’m developing about my watching/reading habits. (I can obviously “enjoy” a good melancholic movie [see above], but for whatever reason I don’t like super depressing t.v. shows. Exhibit A: I’ve quit both Madmen and Breaking Bad within like six episodes because I could tell it was going to be too depressing for me—and I DON’T APOLOGIZE FOR THIS.) I don’t know why this is so—I just know that a lot of the books I like are depressing and I’ve even been accused of writing almost exclusively depressing stories.

Even so, there is a limit. Like in the case of Nightcrawler, there is a point at which a story so accurately captures irredeemable tragedy without flinching that it leads me to feel sick to my stomach. My go-to reference for this type of thing is and probably always will be the short story “Incarnations of Burned Children,” by my all-time favorite author, David Foster Wallace. As the title suggests, the story is about a small child (still in diapers, in fact) who accidentally pulls over a pot of boiling water onto himself. The story’s few pages (I just checked and it’s all of like two pages… but even just checking the length made me read a few sentences and now I feel utterly wrong inside, no joke) pack a horrific punch. The language is not just beautifully written—it’s almost perfectly so. DFW’s art is so precise and cohesively thought-out that you feel in the story in a way that few other pieces of literature have made me feel. And he uses this to show you, without blinking or shyly turning aside from the real horror, just how—excuse my language here—but just how fucking horrifying our world can be (and is). You come away realizing within your person that something has shifted, something has irrevocably popped into focus for you about this world. You will not be the same again. You cannot be.

Is this good art? If you’ve read my definition of art in previous entries on this website, you’ll know that I consider “art” to be, essentially, communication—and “good” art to be effectively communicated. In that sense, this story (and Nightcrawler, and all the other examples of nearly pure art that get at something so bleak/sad/terrible that it leaves you sort of stained) is a work of exceedingly good art. But the question I struggle with is: is this good? Like the old adage says, ignorance is bliss. Ought we to remain blissfully ignorant of the horrifying world around us or, conversely, ought we to seek out these life-changing works of art that can show us what reality is like? I mean, we can’t fix problems without knowing that they’re there, right? So in some sense this sort of awakening that I’m talking about is vitally important. It can move us to action. On the other hand, it doesn’t feel too great. I have a strong feeling that I (and other writers/artists/musicians/etc.) make our own depressing art as a method of coping with our own existential pain—often after experiencing personal tragedy or, at the very least, partaking of someone else’s art that, like “Incarnations of Burned Children,” presses our very noses into the bad things of this world. Is this a cycle that is worthwhile? Alternatively, can it be helped? Humans have been making art for millennia as a way of escaping the horrors of the world. It seems to be something ingrained on our very nature.

Dear Zachary

This brings me to possibly the most eye-opening, soul-crushing, I’ve-just-transcended-some-kind-of-collective-malaise-and-have-now-become-a-blubbering-mess piece of art I’ve ever encountered. I won’t go into too much detail (as is usually my wont when talking about these things) for fear of spoiling the experience for someone else. Although, really, the experience itself sort of spoils you, as by now you’ve probably grown tired of me saying. What I’m talking about is the documentary Dear Zachary.

In short, the doc is a filmmaker’s tribute to his friend’s son—because the friend was murdered by the mother of the child. Did you get that? Basically, one man had a child with a woman, who then killed him, and then that man’s friend decided to make a documentary for the child in order to give the child a glimpse of what the father was like. I hope that explains both the general idea of the documentary and why it’s an utter tear-jerker.

Again, what seems to be the crux of my issue here is that what makes the documentary so powerful is how well-made it is. The director expertly maneuvers the elements of the film—its sequence, its interviews, its music, etc.—to deliver what amounts to a spiritual knockout punch. I “recommended” the doc to a friend of mine who we sometimes (jokingly) accuse of being emotionless and his response was basically “why the hell did you do that to me?” It strikes the viewer at one of the deepest possible levels. And I think that’s what I’ve been sort of circulating around in this article so far. What makes these pieces of art so devastating and even more intensely unsettling than a movie like There Will Be Blood (that is, honestly, itself a very bleak and depressing story) is that they succeed at peeling away all of our personal defenses. They get at the heart of us, as cheesy and unhelpful as such a cliché sounds.

This one is a bit different, though, because the subject matter isn’t fictional. This is real. This is reality. Sure, a documentarian crafts his film to make a certain point—that’s what makes him an artist. But the fact remains that this is still the story of the tragic loss of a life that actually happened. And so it goes a step beyond where “Incarnations…” and Nightcrawler can go. Dear Zachary forces us to confront the fact that this isn’t all just some story written down to deal an emotional blow, and it isn’t just a character study in the vein of “what-if.” Rather, it’s a reality. This is our world. This is what it’s like. And that’s why those other works pack the punch they do: they ring true.

A Couple Paintings That Speak to Me on a Similar Level

Don’t worry, reader. I know this has been a longer journey than most of the stuff we post on this website. Heck, it’s longer than most of the stuff I post on this website, which is saying something. But we’re nearing the end. Bear with me for a few paragraphs.

I want to talk about two paintings that, for me, represent the kind of existentially unsettling art that I’m talking about. They are, in order, Repin’s Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan and Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son. See them below:

Now, let’s set aside the facts that (a) a lot of the stuff in this article deals with sons and fathers and (b) I myself am the father of two sons. While that probably makes the impact a little worse for me than it would be if I wasn’t a father, I watched Dear Zachary and There Will Be Blood before having kids and so I don’t think it’s just the fact that I’m a dad that makes these pieces of art so intensely unsettling to me. (I’ve decided on that word to describe them all, by the way: “unsettling.” See the paragraphs about this kind of art’s ability to wake you up from what is essentially a slumber, a deadness to what the world is like at its core. We become settled in life, assured of the big picture and our relative contentedness, and then a piece of art like this comes along to unsettle us and make us deal with the horrors that have always been there, masked beneath our ease and comfort.)

What I think is so moving about these two paintings is the respective artists’ ability to capture facial expressions. Look at the eyes of Ivan and Saturn. Look at them and tell me they don’t say “what have I done? What am I doing?” It’s a kind of layered effect, the terribleness of the events in question and the eyes’ remorse. Ivan cradles his son, desperate, it seems to me, to undo the event that has just transpired. Saturn seems caught in a whirlwind of fate—I’ve always imagined his eyes to be the real glimpse into his soul, seemingly saying “I don’t want to do this to my son, but I can’t stop. I can’t stop.” Then you move on to the rest of the paintings with that in mind, and the artists paint the tragedy, like DFW, unflinchingly. The blood runs down the sons’ necks. The fathers clench the sons’ bodies to themselves—one in uncontrollable hunger, one in despair. And I’m left staring at these paintings, my heart in my stomach, knowing that I will come back to these images again. I’ll look at them again. But I can’t say I “like” them. They’ve changed me in a way that I can’t undo, even if I wanted to—and though sometimes I want to, I’m not even sure I should.

This article started out as an attempt to review Nightcrawler. It became something else by its end. A depiction of my struggle with amazing art that, basically, hurts me? A kernel for a discussion on what it means to say we “like” such art? A way for me to ask permission to like them while not liking them? I don’t know. I haven’t resolved anything here. I know I’ll keep reading depressing things, keep watching depressing movies. There is something beyond articulation that draws me to them, some desire for transcendence, for catharsis. But is it worth it all? I’m interested in your ideas, though in reality I’m sure that someone who frequents a website about art/creativity/the soul/spirituality will end up in a similar place, will have resigned herself, as I have, to this dichotomy. What can we say about such things? What kind of box can we put this art in? I don’t have the answer. Maybe there isn’t one.

Reading: “Art and the Bible.” Pt. 1 – Daniel Hansen

“Art and the Bible” has been on my must-read-right-now-but-i’m-too-lazy list for quite some time. And since I’ve made a few resolutions this year, one of which is to read more books, I’m choosing to finally pick this one up. It also happens to be a perfect piece to write about for this blog. Yippee!

I’ll begin by saying that I only know that Francis Schaeffer is a theologian and, from what I can tell, I like him.  Many friends that I respect enjoy his thoughts and ramblings so when I saw he had a particular book on art and how it interweaves itself in faith, I had to give it a shot… duh.

I’m going to go buy it off the kindle store really quick.

Okay I did it.  (Amazon makes things so easy!)

I’m hoping that many of my thoughts on this specific matter can be better said or flushed out clearly through the words of the mighty Schaeffer.  Based on the summary and a few reviews, I can see that we share similar views.

I’m excited to start it. I’ll keep you guys posted on my thoughts and questions along the way.

What if Being Sad Was a Good Thing?

One of the running jokes with my friends is the phrase “What if Being Sad was a Good Thing?” I said it one day in a deprecating/self-help type of manner in order to gather a few laughs. It’s since snowballed into a saying remarked when silly questions abound. I tend to be morose or gloomy. It’s not that I have a depressing story. I just happen to lean towards a certain kind of dispositional sadness. But the strangest thing about it is… It makes me joyful.

It doesn’t have much to do with depressing state of affairs the world finds itself. But more to do with the fact that suffering seems to be a part of every day life, in large ways, and, many times, in small ways. For the christian, it’s meant to be that way.  “Give up your life and take up your cross…” and “We are but sheep to be slaughtered,” come to mind.

Rather than allow the sufferings of this world overcome me and send me into a deep spiraling depression, I do something to help soothe the aches.  The joy comes from coping with the day-to-day sufferings through the means of creative expression and allowing God to be a part of the process. Lately that’s looked like creating dishes for dinner, curating playlists to fit certain moods and occasions, and writing and setting goals for this blog.  They can serve as distractions, but mostly they are reminders of grace.

Faith fits in where it answers the questions involved with the pain I might feel. The why’s and such. The answers I find fall within the realm of Christ showing his love for us by dying. And that sometimes finds itself realized-through me-by my creativity. It’s by God’s grace that he’s allowed me to see joy through my sadness by creating for his glory.

Until recently, I hadn’t thought my little joke had any sort of truth. It was spat out to gather cheap laugh.  It turns out, however, that sometimes, being sad truly is a good thing.