Life as a Masterpiece

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When you say that someone is creative, the first thing I would think of is that this person is an artist. This person either paints, draws, sculpts, or does crafts – basically anything related to the arts industry. This may be the case usually, but as I ponder on the term ‘creativity’ more and think about the people I encounter everyday, I find that it isn’t exclusive to those who are adept in wielding paintbrushes, pencils, charcoal, or clay.

What does creative mean, anyway? Isn’t it another term for innovative, which means that you discover new ways of seeing things?

Picture the people you meet: some of them establish buildings, some of them design these buildings that would make us stare at the details for a long while, some of them arrange flowers, some of them take photos, some of them teach young minds in a classroom, some of them are excellent in carpentry, some of them build machines and cars and phones and tablets, some of them bake bread and prepare food that tells stories, some of them come up with integrating various elements to create a fully functional whole, some of them put their hearts and hard work into planting crops across vast lands.

I could go on.

Pablo Picasso was right in saying these famous words: “Every child is born an artist. The problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”

Creativity is everywhere. You are an artist. I am an artist. Everybody is an artist. What we create is an extension of ourselves, beliefs, love, passion, faith, and most especially, our lives.

Everyone has an artisan soul – this is what author Erwin Raphael McManus, founder of a faith community called MOSAIC in Los Angeles, writes about in his latest book The Artisan Soul: Crafting your Life into a Work of Art. 

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Moreover, there is another idea that he revolves around. As it was said on the jacket of the book, “the most important work of art is the life that we create.”

I knew then and there when I read the blurb, this is going to be a book that I will appreciate and learn so much from. I wasn’t familiar with the book nor the author, but I’m glad that I saw it one hot noon last January in The Last Bookstore.

It’s a deeply detailed book that shows how our art, creativity, faith, and lives intersect and how God’s love for us is the glue that binds them. It is a topic that I am interested about, because I believe that we must not separate our authentic selves and lives – our messy, needy of grace, lives – from our work.

“Art is an expression of our emotions; art is an interpretation of our experiences; art in its highest form is a mirror of life.” (p.74)

I first thought about this when I was thinking about starting a side blog where I can upload all my artworks, but I felt detached, because why do I have to separate a part of myself from the whole? Art has always been a way for me to express my emotions and to use as God’s fulfillment of His purpose, so why separate? When I make my watercolor paintings and little drawings, there is a personal story behind those. I put my heart, soul, and faith into them. I should’t be a different person when I draw. The canvas should only be one.

I know this may seem so shallow, but it led me to think about who we are, who I am. Do we really have to dissociate the ‘artist’ in us from the redeemed and loved sinners that we are? Do I have to be a different person when I draw, when I talk with others about art or personal matters, when I am at work, when I am at home, when I am by myself? Do my art and personal blogs have to be separate? When I think about it more, I can’t seem to separate who I am as a person who loves to draw from a person who is still growing in faith. This is two little slices of who I am – why do they have to be separate?

Can everything that I do be just a reflection of who I am truly? Isn’t that what art is for some of us – an honest picture of ourselves, a version, only on paper. The characters sometimes that I draw is a varied representation of myself or what I feel or a story/idea I feel strongly about. – From a blog entry, July 2014

Around the middle of 2014, I thought about the harmony of these things, how they coincide, but I couldn’t find the answer, or rather, I couldn’t understand it yet then. This quote from Jacques Maritain from The Christian Imagination that I read from Ate Pat’s blog before enlightened me, however: “Do not make the absurd attempt to dissociate in yourself the artist and the Christian. They are one, if you are truly Christian, and if your art is not isolated from your soul by some system of aesthetics.”

And then came The Artisan Soul which flooded lights to this topic for me.

Books have this way of connecting me to the writer. When I read Madeleine L’Engle’s first book from the Crosswicks Journals, I felt like she was my friend who was so wise. I related to her intimate and honest writings from A Circle of Quiet.

The same can be said for Mr. McManus – he is like a mentor to me. I’ve learned so much from this book that I want to apply in my daily life. The Artisan Soul is that kind of book that stays with you until you learn (and re-learn) important things that you need to remember. I can go back to it any time and feel refreshed.

In the last chapter called Anvil and Hammer, Mr. McManus offered practical and soul-inspiring advices on how to craft our lives the same process and time we exert in doing the things we love. These tips are organized under the different chapters:

  • Soul: The Essence of Art
  • Voice: The Narrative that Guides
  • Interpretation: Translation of Life
  • Image: Manifestation of Imagination
  • Craft: The Elegance of Workmanship
  • Canvas: The Context of Art
  • Masterpiece: A New Humanity

It’s like a test for us to truly apply what we have learned after the lessons and stories we read from the preceding chapters. I love how Mr. McManus connected everything in art to living our lives, hence the name of the chapters. Truly, this book spoke to me, and I love it very much.

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I cannot recommend this enough to everyone – and not just those who are in an arts-related field, because this book was written in a way that reaches out to everyone – who wishes to incorporate their faith, enthusiasm, and full potential in what they love to do.

Whichever field you are in, you are an artist.

“Art exists to remind us that we have a soul, and all we need to be an artist is a soul.” (p.12)

If you haven’t discovered that yet, maybe you’re still on your path in finding that dormant potential. Your canvas can be anything, and your voice is your own courageous narrative. You can either be passionate in baking, in building, in programming, in animating, in making movies, in dentistry, in med school, in dancing, in preparing meals, in making music, in farming – creativity is everywhere; we just show it in our own unique ways, which is why we don’t recognize the creativity in others sometimes.

In The Artisan Soul, the lessons the author shares encourage us to observe the innovativeness of others and of ourselves and how these can help make the world a better place to live in for everyone in our own little ways.

“If we want to create a better world, we had better start to unleash the creative potential inside each person to create all that is good and beautiful and true.” (p.8)

Mr. McManus interspersed fascinating stories in the chapters that tell of people who have endured so much in their lives – whether it be joy, pain, confusion, or illness – but rose above the pressure and became who God wanted them to be and helped add beauty to the world.

“She took her story, and by paying careful attention to a real need that was right in front of her, she began to express her most creative self while making the world a better place.” (p.118)

I recall the tales of the dentist who, in his practice, would give you a headset that played music you enjoy and ask you to dip your hands into hot wax to make you calm. There’s also the man who found faith in himself again after trials in his life and became a humble and kind craftsman. Another story is a woman who started a vintage clothing line for children with a close friend after she finished college with a lack of confidence in herself. Her creative potential was reawakened when she had children of her own and found out that creativity was to be used and cultivated. There is also the beautiful and precious stories of the author’s wife Ms. Kim and their son and daughter, Mr. Aaron and Ms. Mariah.

If they can do it, we can too.

Although there are days when we feel like our growth in our respective fields is stagnant or when we go through a painful ordeal in our lives, we still go on. We discover more of hope while we are losing. We discover and want more of light when we are in darkness. As Mr. McManus said, “We cannot love deeply or risk greatly and never know failure or disappointment. Not even God was able to pull that one off. Love never comes without wounds; faith never comes without failure.”

That is a beautiful testimony – that anyone can truly make his or her life a work of art, as long as we are patient in ourselves, we are forgiving of ourselves, we are hoping and loving even more, we are hard-working, and we are continuously seeking and then applying the ways in which our talents and skills are honed and sustained.

“Beyond despair there must always be hope; beyond betrayal there must be a story of forgiveness; beyond failure there must be a story of resilience. If the story ended at the cross, it might be a story worth telling, but that story could never give life. Only the Resurrection makes the Crucifixion what it is for all of us who are marked by the cross.” (p.78)

Like making artisan bread, it takes time. Like the master Potter molding us to be the best we can be, it takes time.

“He who is the Creator God is the creative God, and he created us in his image and likeness. He created us with imagination and curiosity, with the capacity to hope and dream, and he placed within us all the material necessary to live an extraordinarily creative life.” (p.37)

In making our lives a work of art, it takes a lifetime. And that’s okay! We have our whole lives ahead of us; day by day we are learning and re-learning and un-learning more and more about us. The thought about learning something new each day excites me, because it adds up to our lives. It adds up to other people’s lives.

What we have gone through in our lives – these are the ingredients we put into our work. They bring our vision, heart, and soul. We learn to accept our own limitations and bring out the best in us even if that is the case.

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Our artworks, our arrangements, buildings, portfolios, baskets, bread – basically, all the outputs of what we do – are only our drafts, projects, and studies. They are not the masterpiece, not the ones we pass with so much confidence during the final quarter at school.

The magnum opus we have yet to work on are the very lives we live.

“Though we may create many beautiful works of art, the most important works of art to which we will ever give ourselves are the lives we live. No matter what else we produce in life – whether we are painters or filmmakers or dancers or poets, even if we create something that might someday be kept in a gallery or museum somewhere in the world for generations of people to come and marvel at the wonder of our work – we will never create anything more powerful or significant than our lives. The complexity is that we are both works of art and artists at work.” (p.13)

And the lives of Mr. McManus and his friends that he mentioned in the book inspire me to take a look at my life like it’s a work of art, how God intends it to be, and how my life and choices can better serve my family, friends, community, my country the Philippines, and people that God wants me to serve.

By writing this book which holds a special place in my heart, the author has inspired me to act with more intention in everything that I do. He inspired me to surrender my life more to God every day, to put my heart and soul in living my life, because He is love; when you love Him, it changes you in every aspect. It makes your heart more malleable in loving others better and selflessly.

I love it when writers support their insights with the truths found in Scripture, which is also another reason I highly appreciate this book and recommend it to those who want to bind their faith and what God thinks of them as His children in what they do.

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All in all though, what made me love this book even more is that the writer calls us to love and to invest more life and meaning into our relationships. It is as simple as that.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:34-35

I want love to be the motive, the action, and result of everything that I do. I want love to bind all of us together even if we are different in many aspects. Because like what I read from somewhere before, we are more alike than we are different. Love gathers us as a whole.

God’s love for us is everywhere.

“It’s no small thing that the universe somehow got it all right, that the distance between the sun and the earth just happened to be exactly right, and the atmosphere just happened to be exactly what the human species needed to survive. It didn’t just happen that in the midst of a planet with salt water, the freshwater essential to our survival erupted out of the earth. What if there had only been salt water? What if nitrogen filled the atmosphere? […] We live in symbiosis. We live in relationship with all things. It shouldn’t surprise us, when we are created for relationship with each other and in relationship to the created order, that we are also created for relationship with the Creator of the universe. […] From beginning to end, the Scriptures are clear that though the unifying principle of the universe is relationship and its driving force is intention, the motivation for the creation of all things is love […] When love is the driving force of the universe, everything moves toward intimacy; everything is informed by empathy; everything we create brings life.”

I agree with Mr. McManus. I agree with The Beatles.

All we ever going to need is love.

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