Does art have value?
Since I became a graphic designer, I've always done practical work; catalogs, websites, brochures. Selling tools, for which I am paid by the hour. That work has value, a pre-determined value that I decide with my boss in a meeting every year. I can measure my value in terms of the money I earn and the money I help generate for my company.
But I've begun a series of side projects, just art, flowers, animals and patterns, anything that strikes my fancy; nothing world-changing. My current profit is hovering around $3; and I've begun to think a lot of the value of art.
So much of art is waste. Wasted time spent working on projects that don't end up being as good as I thought they would be. Wasted materials. Throwing out page after page of writing that doesn't fit the story, whole characters and plot lines that don't make the cut. Chipping away at marble until a David emerges.
And even then, after David emerges fully formed, what is Michelangelo left with but a huge pile of valuable marble chipped and wasted, destroyed and unusable, and a massive statue of a naked man that could never have practical value? It wouldn't feed the poor, pay the rent, clothe the cold, or really accomplish anything.
As Christians we can be utilitarian. We know that the time is short. If what we do isn't actively making converts or showing mercy, then why do it? Why make art that doesn't obviously preach the gospel? Why read mystery novels, browse Pinterest, go to art galleries and concerts? Why make pretty but innocuous pictures of cats and pine trees?
Art is inherently waste. Its value is not in what it does but what it is, what is says, and what it shows.
Art pulls us out of a utilitarian view of life. Art shows that we are not mere machines, whose value is solely in our function. Art points to a Creator in whose image we are made. Art points to God's gratuity, the great excesses of beauty that God poured into this world: colors that are unnecessarily vibrant, and sea creatures in the depths that might never be seen by human eye. Art makes us long for another world, a world where beauty reigns, truth is spoken, and our value is not in our contributions to the world but in our created nature.
A woman with expensive alabaster came to Jesus and anointed his feet, pouring out value in pure waste. Expensive. Costly. Pure. Value that could have been sold and spent on the poor. But Christ said, "She has done a beautiful thing to me." And somehow, beauty was enough.