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.
I have been deeply troubled, like many Americans, since oh around last November 8th. Troubled by where I see the country going; troubled by the excuses that Christians have made for certain behaviors that twenty years ago would have been impeachment-worthy; troubled by what might happen in the world as people fight with people and nation fights with nation. Troubled by the attitude of America First and the rest of the world can go burn in hell. I have prayed more deeply in the last year and taken more political action than I ever have before.
But in the midst of that general sense of malaise and deep concern: Eddie got a new job, we sold our house, we moved cross-country, we found an apartment, we furnished that apartment, I began expanding my graphic design presence, I made friends, I started getting involved in a church.
And I have frequently wondered, what’s the point? Why not just hunker down and build myself a fallout shelter? Why go on with an ordinary life that might be disrupted by wars and rumors of wars? If everything’s just waiting to go wrong, then how can I feel excitement for the future? What’s the point of moving to a new city, starting a new job, saving for retirement?
Here’s why: because when Israel had been torn out of their homeland, carried into exile, lost everything they’d worked for, and were living in a new place with just as much uncertainty about their futures, this is what God told them to do:
“Build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters, take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Jeremiah 19:5-7
Loosely summarized, live your life. Do good work in your job. Pray for your neighbors. Don’t be so resentful of the past (exile), or so anxious for the future (returning from exile) that you neglect to do good in the place where God has you. As Elizabeth Elliot said, “Let not your longing slay the appetite for your living.”
This is where we are. In a world of turmoil and uncertainty; where picking up the phone might alter the course of your life. Where you feel hopeless and out of control. Plant vineyards anyway, whether you will drink their wine or not. Obey God anyway. Live in the hope of eternity, but live today. This is the day of salvation.
Since I've moved to Seattle, the question I get most frequently from people back home is:
"Does it rain all the time there?"
Well, I'm here to tell you: no. It doesn't rain all the time.
So, no, it doesn't rain here all the time. In fact, I'm anxiously watching the forecast hoping it will show rain somewhere in the next ten days.
Just remind me of this when I'm heading into February with 120 sunless days behind me!
21 candidates for mayor; so many you can hardly figure out who is who.
We don’t have “republican” and “democrat” primaries here, we have non-partisan primaries, so that you are picking not based on political party but by what you can gather of their voting records, statements about themselves, endorsements, and plans. Which can be good, and force more accountability from the voter; but I'm thinking it also leads to "voter fatigue."
One curmudgeon said (when asked in an exit poll who he’d voted for): “I don’t know, I just closed my eyes and pointed. I’m exercising my right to vote.”
A weird thing about Seattle is that they mail out $25 “democracy vouchers” before the election so that even those who don’t have any money can still support a candidate of their choice. It’s meant to keep the people involved and keep money out of politics. Of course, candidates have to opt in and this means that they can’t take money from big donors, but if they opt out, then they can take just as much money as they want from Amazon. It’s a classic example of the silliness of Seattle: raise property taxes (and therefore rents) to fund a program so that everybody can “afford” to support democracy.
Another silly Seattle thing: there was a proposal on the ballot to raise the sales tax to fund arts programs for low-income kids. The thing is, the sales tax in Seattle is already over 10%, and many progressives complain about it being a regressive tax that disproportionately affects those in poverty. So we’re going to fund arts programs for low income kids by making it harder for those same low income kids to buy school supplies, clothes, cars, gasoline, and everything else required for them to be able to survive. Fortunately this ballot measure failed. I’m sorry about arts education. But there has to be a better way of funding it than taxing the very people it’s meant to help.
There was one race in which the four options included a career politician, a protest candidate who wanted to draw attention to the failures of the career politician but had no intention of winning, a perennial candidate who is always entering races to promote causes like a monorail (the Simpson’s monorail episode comes to mind), and a candidate who calls himself Goodspaceguy (which about sums up his candidacy). That’s four candidates for one position, only one of whom seems like a serious candidate (though possibly flawed). I went ahead and didn’t vote in this race, I just couldn’t take it seriously.
And then there are those 21 candidates for mayor. The race swelled after it became apparent that our current mayor would not survive (politically) a sex scandal. How do you tell the difference between 21 candidates who all say that affordable housing is their top priority? Which one of these has a plan for the city that will actually help and not make everything worse? We had the socialist, the activist, the first openly gay attorney general, the idealistic 26-year-old, the former mayor, and a woman whose motto seems to be “US Out of Guantanamo!” Not to discount the man who says, “Stop fascism with idiotic face!” (That is not a mistype. That is actually what he said in his bio, which is rich with similar gems).
Who did I vote for? The former mayor (not the sex scandal one, the one before him). Because he seemed to me to be the only one with actual plans. He didn’t even make it into the top three, so he won’t be on the ballot in November. But that’s democracy in Seattle for you!
As a newcomer in this city, I'm still trying to make sense of Seattle culture, what the people and city are like. This is the second of an ongoing series on my observations of the city. I'm not trying to define anyone, just make sense of what I'm seeing and experiencing.
Willie loves being a city dog.
He loves going for walks, sniffing for other dogs (there are many), and running down the hallways of his apartment building. There's so much to see and smell; he's always sitting at the window watching people pass, nose twitching, waiting for E to get home from work.
I was sitting in a darkened basement living room in our temporary housing; I looked up at the sound of footsteps on the gravel outside the window, and next thing I knew, two bricks were thrown at the window, making an unexpected popping sound. With each pop, I screamed, involuntarily, like this piercing sound was jerked out of me; like being startled at a scary moment in a movie. The would-be burglars must have heard me and run away; I was conscious of nothing but tremblingly trying to dial 911 before they came back.
When you’ve been nearly burgled, have looked into the eyes of a would-be burglar before he throws a brick at your window, there are suddenly things you’ve experienced that your imagination couldn’t dream up. As a writer, I’m always imagining how it would feel to be someone else, to experience different things. But here are the things I didn’t imagine I would feel:
So how did it turn out?
How did the idea board vision turn into reality?
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not great at envisioning how things will turn out, whether it be a paint color (in my last house, I repainted the living room walls three times until I got it right), a novel I'm writing, or in this case, an apartment layout.
We ended up going with a different rug that better fit the style of the apartment, and sadly the little green file cabinets that I loved so much were no longer being sold at Ikea by the time we got around to buying furniture. The arrangement is slightly different, with our coffee table housing our projector which points at a screen that drops down in front of the bed nook (so we can watch movies from either the couch or the bed).
I'd say overall, it turned out pretty close! Some of the sizes were a bit different, and the layout was different, but the space definitely includes most of the things I originally envisioned.
Here are a few more angles:
I think Seattle is a stressed city. Like, everybody’s worried about something.
The "Land Use Action" notices that seem to be popping up everywhere and always signal yet another condo building in place of a historic home.
Rising rent prices.
Traffic getting worse.
Amazon changing even more of the cityscape.
Pursuit of better jobs, more success, more days off, enough money to put food on the table.
It is a young city, a city of transients and transplants, a city caught in between the drive for financial success and the urge to get out into the mountains and have a day off. It is a city where the hunger of the homeless is matched by the high cost of coffee; and where the $15 minimum wage is not even close to a living wage. It is a rapidly changing city. There are more building cranes in the cityscape than in any other US city.
There is so much to love about Seattle, but I do find I’m more stressed being here. I feel the push of the city rushing forward, and the pull of those who don’t want things to change too quickly. I too see new buildings going up and think “everything’s changing.” And not all change is bad; gentrification has made some neighborhoods safer and brought in businesses. But not all change is good either, and when change is primarily driven by money, it will be voracious; it will never be satisfied.
Already I feel myself more driven by success, more insecure about my accomplishments, more anxious about change than I have ever been before. But I don't want to be driven by the desires of this city, controlled by its mores, or in pursuit of its successes. The challenge is how to enter in to the life of the city while holding myself - my heart - separate; letting God hold my heart and set a different standard of success.
As a newcomer in this city, I'm still trying to make sense of Seattle culture, what the people and city are like. This is the first of an ongoing series on my observations of the city. I'm not trying to define anyone, just make sense of what I'm seeing and experiencing.
What does it feel like to finally be home?
I feel like thus far every post I’ve written, or journal entry, or draft post, has been about a lack of place, the sense of being deeply unsettled and ill-at-ease with my situation.
And now that I'm here?
We are living in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, but whatever the reputation it might have for a bustling bar scene and loud nights, this isn't it. We are on a quiet street with historic homes and apartment buildings; near a whole bunch of coffee shops that all close before 8. There isn't really a nightlife in this part of Seattle; which is perfect. I like to leave my windows open at night but am freaked out by strange noises.
Parking is a bear, but not as large or growly a bear as if we were trying to park closer to downtown. It’s usually a matter of circling the block a few times, and thanking God that in his providence he caused us to buy a postage-stamp sized car long before we ever knew we’d be moving to Seattle (I know that sounds facetious, but I'm actually being totally serious).
We are within an easy downhill walk from downtown Seattle (walking uphill on the way back is a different story). But an even better walk is the two blocks to 15th Ave, where there are shops and restaurants, many of which I will be featuring on this blog in the coming months. We are an easy walk to church as well; it was important to us in coming here that we be part of a “neighborhood church”—somewhere that is invested in our community and with whom we could serve our neighborhood.
How do you choose a place to live? Obviously some of that is based on availability, but what are your priorities? What do you want to be close to, and what sort of neighborhood makes you feel most at home?