When the idea came to me to make this vase for the opening of a show at the New Hampshire Museum of Fine Art, I was making a second version of a piece I had made two years previous but in a shade of jade green with copper leaf rather than blue with gold leaf. The piece is in the home of a friend in New Hampshire – a gift to his family.
Titled Leviathan II and done with a gu vase shape after a bronze-age vase form and standing about 23 inches tall, the vase is fired in oxidation stoneware glaze with gargoyles at the upper lip and whose mouthes hold leather straps from which hang clay “icicles” covered in gold leaf. Leviathan is the name God gives to the greatest sea monster in the deep. The reference is found in the book of Job.
The piece was first conceived of as a sketch (most of my large museum pieces begin as sketches) in the monastery during a creativity week – a week set aside after Christmas for nothing other than the exercising of our creativity. The idea behind creativity week was that, as monks, we were celibates and therefore not generative as family members making (creating) human life or paying vocations. And yet we are designed by God in God’s image (the theme of our stewardship campaign this year) and so we MUST create because we are made in the image of a creator-God. It is simply impossible for a human not to be creative. It is possible for life’s circumstances to contain or constrain our creativity, but the result is a life filled with the acrid smoke of an unburned fire.
Some people love this vase and others on the museum’s opening night panned it as too weird. As an artist, it is fun to dress in black, take on a sullen artist’s demenor and wander the museum listening to people commenting on one’s work. Alcohol helps. Luckily at this opening the sponsor was a new blended whiskey made from maple syrup so the evening was about as good as life will offer on any given night. Listening, anonymously to people speak of one’s work is like overhearing parents at a PTA meeting discussing your child. One hears the flattering and the unkind words alongside each other. It is sobering and electrifying.
What does it mean to be a human made in the image of a creator God? What is our responsibility to that gift? I am not convinced that art is confined to paint and clay and marble. I know parents whose children are a work of art and clergy whose sermons or liturgy is a form of art. I know accountants, scientists and theologians whose friendship is an art form, and beautifully crafted. I know mothers for whom the food they place before their family is every bit an art form. The question is not “Am I an artist?” The question is “What kind of artist am I today?” and of course, the best art form there is will generally be the co-creativity of God and we, together, creating a good life. As for the critics…they are just critics.