“Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a path for the thunderstorm,
to water a land where no one lives,
an uninhabited desert
to satisfy a desolate wasteland
and make it sprout with grass?” – Job 38:25-27
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that one of the great things about art is that it is not, strictly speaking, needed. I’m sure there’s some aesthetic philosopher out there with an argument in their back pocket about how art is essential for human survival, but really, it’s hard to argue art’s on the same level as, say, air or water in the hierarchy of needs. Unlike the procurement of food, art is largely unnecessary. In that sense, the creation of art is a kind of grace. Nobody HAS to create art. But those who choose to do it make the world more beautiful, or at least more meaningful, with their unnecessary gift.
The artists of the world learn this sort of profligacy at God’s knee, the one who unnecessarily pours water out on a land where nothing lives. Will anyone come to see the greening of the desolate lands? Will some ungulate wander through and eat the grass? Will a passerby stop, tilt their head critically, and pronounce upon the creation God has made? Will it fetch a good price at auction? Does it have a practical purpose? These do not seem to be questions God asks Godself.
Instead God carves a channel for water that probably could have been put to some better use. Spends time that could have been improved with a little more industry. Uses up energy that ought to have been put to the creation of some useful item. Like an artist toiling away in her studio not to make something to sell, or show, or even share, but just for the sheer joy of creating. Because while art may not be strictly necessary, it surely is good.
Thank you, God, for teaching us the wastefulness, the profligacy, the sheer unnecessariness, of art, and for making us artists and dispensers of grace in your image. Amen
Quinn G. Caldwell is the Pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, Syracuse, New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.