Christmas lights & the beautiful life

I love Christmas lights. Any Christmas lights.

There’s something to dangling white icicle lights and traditional colored bulbs, something to rope lights and net lights that warms a cold December night for me.

I will always take an overly decorated Christmas Vacation house to one that seeks to retain its dignity by staying undecorated, the garish over the ungarnished.

Bad art is better than no art.

I don’t know who Ananda Coomaraswamy was, but he is the originator of a favorite quote in our house (since I am married to an art teacher): “An artist is not a particular kind of person. A person is particular kind of artist.”

Similarly, Dorothy Sayers, in her excellent book The Mind of the Maker, suggests that to be created in the image of God means being created in the image of the Creator. In other words, it is built into our very nature to be creative.

This is why I prefer a badly decorated home to an undecorated home. One is trying to be creative — even if that creativity is shaped by what’s on sale at Walmart — and the other has abdicated his creativity, leaving his canvas clean, his page unwritten on.

The beautiful life requires art. It requires creative endeavor.

When I look at the art made by my wife’s elementary school students, I don’t stand in judgment over them. “How childish! How derivative! How clichéd!” It doesn’t matter if I appreciate some of their work more than others, social convention keeps me from dismissing those I don’t appreciate so much. And that’s a good thing, because it makes room for trial and error, for poor quality art to exist with the superior. By putting the thoughtless with the thoughtful, we hope to teach the thoughtfulness of art.

But somewhere along the line, we become sophisticated. We begin to reject poorer forms of art, and those particular kinds of artists stop making their art, when what they need is a good mentor. They need to be trained in the way of art and in their own particular expressions of it.

I am not a great guitar player, but I try to play for at least a few minutes every day. And a few lessons here and there have helped me immensely. So, too, has leading the occasional worship service. I won’t be cutting an album anytime soon, but I can keep rhythm, play the right chords, and sing passably well. I make the best art I can with the abilities I have.

I play music because it fills me with joy. It opens up for me the beautiful life.

And I’ve got a hunch that the Creator smiles when we live beautifully and joyfully. Because that’s what he had in mind when he created us in the first place, isn’t it?

Yes, we could all do with more training in the way of art, for none of us is perfect in it. This is why my kids take piano lessons, drum lessons, and volleyball lessons. (Yes, sports are art forms. In fact, I appreciate sports more as art than as competition, as much as I enjoy that, too.)

The most important thing is that we be willing to do our art badly instead of doing no art at all.

Yes, that line could have been better written. Yes, that brush stroke should’ve had less paint on it. Yes, the actor over-emphasized that line. Yes, the soccer player’s shot was off-target. Yes, that salad could have had less dressing on it. Yes, that house didn’t need the fake polar bear next to the manger scene and the light-up candy cane forest. But at least each of these is making an effort at their art.

(Of course, there is always the possibility of using the arts to represent that which is ugly, false, and harmful. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the good-hearted and imperfect and even tacky attempts at expression and exuberance.)

So, light up the neighborhood with your Christmassy art and whatever else your art form is and live beautifully this December.