The Size of Your Canvas

(First of all, let me say that I prefer dogs to cats by a factor of about fifty, but this watercolor of a blue-eyed cat by my friend Linda Mullen almost makes me want to switch sides. I have no talent in the visual arts, so I am completely dazzled by her ability to use just a little paint and water and paper to recreate a cat that looks like it wants to hop right into your lap and meow. Linda is an artist who deserves a wider audience and so I’m taking this opportunity to share her work,, and gallery, Ballast Point Gallery, with you. )

The Size of Your Canvas: Reflections on Art and Audience

Some paintings are so big that they are best seen from a great distance.

In Rome I wanted nothing more than for the guards to just go away and leave us alone so that I could lie on my back and gaze up for hours at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Instead, craning my neck in the midst of a hot and sweaty crowd of hundreds of others, I had to grab what I could in the frustratingly short 15 minutes they allowed us to view the frescoes we’d crossed an ocean and waited hours to see.

Other paintings are smaller in size, but no less powerful. At the Louvre in Paris, we were in a similar herd of tourists filing past the Mona Lisa, which turned out to be not a commanding painting at all, if size were the measure. Little more than life size, the drably colored canvas could only be viewed by few people at once. There was an optimal viewing distance, and it was much closer than that of Michaelangelo’s frescoes.

Both are masterpieces.

Last Friday night, Jeff and I happened upon on art show in San Diego featuring a Spanish artist, Royo. His paintings were grand scale expressionistic works of young beauties with downcast eyes, clad in gauzy garments and holding baskets of fruit and flowers. When you walked back to the facing wall to look at them, the obvious brush marks were obscured and you got a better sense of what he was doing with the light. It was more pleasing to view them from a distance.

But certainly not pleasing enough to help us understand why anyone would pay $65,000 to own such a painting. Art collecting is clearly a world we know nothing about.

Just a few miles away, at Liberty Station in Point Loma, my friend Linda Mullen had a show at the Ballast Point Gallery she shares with two other artists. Her work is exquisite; she is clearly using the talents that God has liberally gifted her with. The skill and creativity she applies to her range of subjects just about takes my breath away.

Linda sold a painting that night too, but I can assure you it did not bear a $65,000 price tag.

I ask the Lord why? Why are some artists rich and famous, while others labor faithfully with little recognition or material reward? Of course, I have not given up the hope that one day Linda will receive the acclaim and financial benefits she so richly deserves, but in the meantime, I am left to wonder.

And to examine my own creative life and desires.

Looking Inward

Are you someone whose work is creative? Are you longing for an appreciative audience for your words or music or visual images?

I can’t lie, I am. Of course. I’ve spent years now writing a book that I hope will be helpful and inspiring. I’ve certainly prayed Psalm 90:17 over it, “May the favor of the Lord rest upon me, establish the work of my hands!”

Over the last thirty years, I’ve written a hundred songs that I would love for you to know and sing and learn from and be encouraged by. Putting the right words together, in the right order—and sometimes adding the right notes and chords— is the hardest, most rewarding thing I do. Of course I want an audience.

But now I’m drowning in advice about publishing and promoting and marketing, and frankly it is pushing my anxiety level into the crazy range. So I go back once again to asking myself the questions I’ve faced many times before about God’s intended audience for my work.

What is the size of the canvas He has given me to fill? Am I to be a mural that dominates the side of a building with vivid colors, bold design, and broad strokes?

Or am I to be a smaller painting, suitable for framing over a fireplace in cozy study lined with books?

Once again, today, I hold my words up to God with an open hand, declaring that I will be content with wherever He chooses, in his wisdom, to place them. I’m still singing a song I wrote two years ago, on another beautiful blue backyard day just like this one, when I sat down with the Lord and asked him “Why?”

Just for You

If I’m meant to be a forest flower, found by just a few.
Let me rise, Let me rise up and show my colors, Even if it’s only Lord for You,
Especially if it’s only just for You.
If I’m meant to be a songbird singing to the sky alone,
Let me rise, Let me rise up and sing my heart out,
Even if it’s only Lord for You, Especially if it’s only just for You.

Struggling with the time spent writing songs no one may hear,
I remind myself there is no time I do not have Your ear.
Ceasing from my striving, letting You promote my cause,
When I have Your favor, there’s no need to seek applause.
Because You’ll lead me to the place where I belong,
You are the only reason for my song.
To bring You praise is my delight.
You’ll show me where and how to shine this light:
Even if its only just for You, Especially if its only just for You.

If I’m meant to write words no more lasting than letters in the sand,
Let me rise, Let me rise up and pour each page out,
Even if it’s only Lord, for You,
Especially if it’s only just for You.

I’m trusting in your Father’s heart, Your mercy, love and care:
You turn your full attention to the gifts that I prepare.
When and where I’m asked to share must finally be Your choice.
I’m not writing my own story; I am listening for Your voice.
Because You’ll lead me to the place where I belong,
You are the only reason for my song.
To bring you praise O Lord is my delight.
You’ll show me how and when to shine this light.
Even if it’s only Lord for you, especially if it’s only just for you.