I was standing in a stranger’s garage in a strange part of town when by chance I discovered the amazing and inspiring artistry of Frederic Remington. I was there in response to a “for sale” ad posted on Craigslist for a lamp—a beautiful, 18-inch tall antique stained glass lamp of an Indian couple dressed in their gorgeous, colorful garments.
As most of my family and friends know, I’m a swap meet and flea market junkie. Responding to an ad on Craigslist, however, was new to me. Indeed, it’s fair to say, I’d only heard of this new and very popular online selling forum as a result of the mega publicity it received in the wake of the 2011, based on a true story movie, called, The Craigslist Killer. But, I had to have the lamp—it was too beautiful to pass up even though purchasing it required driving to a stranger’s home. Insert Alfred Hitchcock’s soundtrack to Psycho here.
I stood there looking—staring at the radiant Indian couple. The lamp was even more beautiful and intricate than the pictures promised. It was magnificent and in perfect condition even after so many decades. The price haggling war began. A veteran flea marketer rarely pays the asking price. I learned this at the young age of seven or eight from my mother—the original flea marketer. The seller and I tossed numbers back and forth—I was trying to get to the half price mark—he wasn’t. The haggling was in full swing when I noticed something in my peripheral vision. In the far corner of the garage stood a 24-inch tall bronze sculpture of an Indian on a horse. “Could be interesting,” I thought. I paused and let the room fall silent. Then asked, “What’s that over there?” We walked over to the bronze statuette where the details of movement, body gestures, weaponry, and facial features came alive to tell me the beautiful yet profoundly tragic story of the Native Americans. “Is he for sale?” I continued gazing at the Indian sitting proudly atop his mighty horse—his right hand raised in defiance—a powerful social commentary that didn’t need words. It was a stunning piece—a signed copy of a sculpture by Frederic Remington. I’d heard the name Remington before but I wasn’t sure if it’s familiarity had more to do with remembering my father’s love affair with guns than my actually knowing anything about this artist.
Born in 1861, in Canton, New York, Remington began his career as an illustrator while still a student at Yale’s School of Art. It is said that he “had a penchant for sketching but little else” and by his second year he dropped out of school in order to explore, study, and sketch the great outdoors of the “wild west.” His craft developed. What began as paid illustrations for weekly publications such as Harper’s Weekly soon turned into commissioned oil paintings now found in museums and private collections around the world. His greatest achievement, however, is found in his sculptural compositions. An original Remington sculpture can fetch well into six-figures. He is largely regarded as the greatest artist depicting western America.
When preparing for this week’s lesson I began by Googling two questions: “What is the purpose of art?” And, “What is an artist?” I was curious to see what other people and other artists had to say about the world I’ve spent most of my adult life as a songwriter and recording artist.
Here are some of the responses that popped up:
“Art is something that stimulates an individual’s thoughts, emotions, beliefs, or ideas through the senses.”
“Even fine art has goals beyond pure creativity and self-expression—it is a vehicle for the communication of ideas.”
“A lot of the time, a message can be best given through a work of art. That is the beauty of all art, including music, literature, and drama.”
“Artwork as a way to express who I AM.”
And, finally, this response:
“God is a Creator and it says we’re made in his image—hence our need to create something. Everyone in his or her life has created something…even if it was a mud cake.”
Long before my days of writing songs and singing began, I experimented expressing my art on the shell of a hard-boiled egg. It was Easter and my very pregnant mother of my younger brother Sidney—for whom I was already feeling very jealous of—and I, were painting Easter eggs. On the last egg I painted I drew two boxes: One labeled “Yes,” the other, “No,” along with these words to my mother: “Do you still love me? Check one.
I think the Googled responses are correct. Artists create art for two primary reasons: Self-expression and communication. Thankfully, maturity has taken me from expressing fragile feelings scribbled on a fragile egg to writing music that hopefully inspires and perpetuates goodness. Maturity has also taught me that being a singer isn’t about being a great performer—it’s about being a great communicator. A while back I spent some months offering voice lessons and vocal coaching sessions to the young and upcoming talent in our area. Each class covered the basics—pitch, tone, correct breathing technique, enunciation, and so on. But every class started and ended with my saying, “If you leave here remembering only one thing, let it be this: “Singing is for the purpose of communicating.” I constantly had to remind students that if their fancy high notes or vocal runs didn’t have a purpose—they didn’t have a place in the song.
I continue to learn from the world I live in, the people I talk with, and the books I read. And, I’m certain I’m living in the wake—and in the midst—of the greatest artist of all. For sure, the countless magnificent natural wonders in the world are enough to convince me of God’s profound artistry. I am, after all, a lover of nature and often cry at just the sight of the ocean. But, I believe God’s greatest masterpiece—greatest feat in artistic self-expression, was in giving humanity the ability to also create—to do good…
to be kind…
to lift up…to inspire.
to be what it is to be made in God’s image.
Just this past week I had the unique and awesome opportunity to witness for the first time in person a Cesarean section being performed on a young woman by a very gifted doctor. I’d psyched myself up enough to ensure I wouldn’t get nauseous—or worse—faint. I’d seen, after all, a few C-sections on the Discovery Health Television channel and was shocked by how barbaric and bloody the whole affair seemed.
But this C-section was very different.
From the opening cut,
down through the subcutaneous fat,
through the fascia,
and, finally into the uterus,
I felt as if I were watching a painter gently glide her paintbrush across the canvas. She worked swiftly and smoothly. Within minutes she’d made her way through the many layers of human anatomy and pulled out a beautiful baby boy. I wanted to cry along with the father but composed myself as I was filming and there was more to be done. Delivering the baby safely is the goal of course but only the halfway point for the surgeon and mom.
And so, just as meticulously and thoughtfully as the doctor opened the patient, she closed the patient. One layer at a time, the entire process is done in reverse, this time with a surgical needle and thread. Finally, as she began to carefully stitch the closing layer of skin——the area most women worry about having a scar—she announced: “I’m bringing sexy back.” Indeed she was—the closing stitches were so perfectly and precisely placed that one could barely see a seam.
I witnessed more than a surgery that day. I witnessed an artist at work. More importantly, I witnessed humanity at it’s best doing “unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matt. 7:12).
This is what it means to be made in God’s image
This is what it means to be an expression of God’s artistry.
Each of us is an artist. Each of us has the desire and the ability to both express ourselves and communicate the ideas and values we find most important. We communicate these things through whatever medium comes most naturally.
Whether one is holding a scalpel or guitar;
Pencil or hammer;
Wrench or shovel;
Or whether one is standing at a podium or at the bus station;
We are creating—expressing our artistry.
At any given moment I can use my art to inspire, inflict pain, or do nothing at all.
There are times when someone says or does something that really annoys me—even angers me to the point where I feel justified in saying something sharp in return. In a split second I have to decide the kind of “art” I will create. Will I express life or communicate death? Just as an object that falls into the water creates a ripple that continues incrementally far beyond what we can see, so do my words have such a ripple effect. I fail often and express myself in ways I wish I hadn’t. These are the bells I can’t un-ring—ripples I can’t stop. But, in the moments I refrain from saying something I’ll later regret—or better yet—the times I offer instead words of kindness, I inherently know something good—something right happened to the both of us.
I want desperately to make everyday count—I want to do something, create something—express myself in ways today that will affect someone tomorrow and the many days after. Almost everyday I ask myself the same question, “Patty, what are you going to do today that will leave a mark tomorrow?” On most days I feel so much self-inflicted pressure I accomplish nothing. But, I continue to surround myself with people and things that inspire me—to help guide and gently nudge me forward.
I left the garage of my newly found Craigslist friend not only with the lamp, but also with my beautifully defiant Indian atop his powerful horse. And, I might add, two other Remington sculptures he had stored away. Suffice it to say, I went broke that day. Still, I am the richer for it. Because, these statuettes do much more than simply decorate my home—they inspire me. They communicate something important about our history—both the tragedies and the triumphs—as well as they give me fair warning about the kind of power my humanity—my artistry—has in shaping the future.
And, so I ask myself:
“What will be my Frederic Remington?”
“What will be my perfect seam?”
“What will by my “ripple effect?”
It is written that the greatest artist of all looked at what he’d created and said, “It is good” (Gen. 1:31).
When my days have reached their end and I look back on what I’ve created—the ripple I set into motion—I, too, hope I can say, “It is good.”