Concrete or Abstract?

Created to Create, Part 2

By Visual Faith® Coach Valerie Matyas for the 2022 Creative Haven Retreat

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

Galatians 6:4-5 (MSG)

I have a beautiful painting of my grandmother’s farm house hanging on a wall near my kitchen. I see it daily and am reminded of my childhood daily. I love that painting. I know the artist, I remember where it hung during my childhood, and I look forward (many years from now) to gifting it to my niece/goddaughter who currently lives in that farm house.

Valerie's family farm house.

Every once in a while I smell a smell, hear a phrase, feel an embrace and I am reminded of my grandma. It sneaks up on me unexpectedly; it is delightful and emotional. I enjoy both the concrete and abstract reminders of her.

In the creative visual faith circles in which I walk, I have noticed two very distinctive types of artwork: one that is very concrete, and one that is rather abstract. I find both styles beautiful and edifying. Both draw me deeper into understanding or reflecting on Scripture, or allow me time to pause, focus, and have a visual reminder of what was lifted up in prayer. I enjoy dabbling in both, but find that I am not an expert in either, which allows me to hold both of them loosely.

I am very good friends with Visual Faith® artists who are extremely talented in either concrete or abstract forms of visual representation that draw the viewer in more closely for the time and purpose of understanding and meditating on Scripture. I have heard talented artists on both sides either lament, complain, or justify why they are not good at the opposite form: “I could never draw that; it just wouldn’t look good,” or, “Every time I try to do that it comes out a mess.”

Here is what I have come to understand: The concrete artist trusts her ability to draw the subtle curve or the ocean shore. She can expertly and purposefully add color and shadow to create depth and overall beauty. She understands perspective, composition, line, and form. She can expertly execute what she sees in her mind and is pleased with the overall result of the finished product—to God be the glory.

The abstract artist trusts the process and technique required for the emotional representation she desires to convey. She may not be able to draw the ocean, but she can choose colors, patterns, and layers that convey the emotion of the ocean—tranquility, power, peace, majesty, vastness, depth, etc. She can achieve the emotion she is trying to convey and is pleased with the overall result of the finished product—to God be the glory.

Whether you excel at the abstract, revel in the concrete, or dabble in both (like me), you can allow your artwork to be a reminder of your Heavenly Father’s love for you. Allow visual faith practices to draw you closer to Jesus while you are studying his Word or meeting with him in prayer. Jesus loves you, and wants to know you better; and Jesus wants you to know him.

Looking at the way other people are gifted can naturally lead to wanting to be like that, leaving the abstract artist wishing they were better at the concrete, or the concrete artist wishing they were more abstract, or the less visually expressive wishing they had more natural artistic talent. But the notion that you should be better or different than you are runs the risk of rejecting the creative way God has already made you.

Of course, you can get better. Of course, you can explore other techniques. But you never need to do something better or more to try and get divine approval for your art. You are loved; you are his; you need not waste any more time or thought comparing your work to another’s.

Instead, you have an open invitation to create boldly. Your Heavenly Father will hang your artwork on heaven’s refrigerator, not because of the intrinsic worth or value of your art, but because you are so valuable to him.

However concrete or abstract, however professional or amateur your art, the time you spend engaging God’s Word and prayerfully spending time with Jesus through color, design, shading, wordsmithing or collaging—any way you engage God’s Word is an investment in your relationship with One who loves you more than you could ever imagine.


Reflection Questions

Do you consider yourself more of a concrete artist or an abstract artist? What do you admire about each style? How can we shed the burden of the comparison game so that we can be energized and humbled in the abilities we do possess? What could be a simple phrase you tell yourself that will help remind you of the truths found in Galatians 6:4-5?


Prayer

Thank you, Lord, for my budding artistic ability.
Thank you for allowing me to grow closer to you in Scripture and prayer
through visual faith practices.

Lord, help me to remember that
you have created me fearfully and wonderfully.
Give me the boldness to creatively reflect on your truths
in the way that you have created me to.

Guard my heart from the fickle trap of comparison.
Keep my eyes and heart focused on you.
Allow me to rejoice in the gifts of others.
In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

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