“There’s no fear in Love…” It is a song I have grown to love recently.
“Perfect love casts out fear” it is a scripture I know pretty much everyone has heard. In many Christian circles this is reduced to nothing more than, because Jesus loves us, we don’t have to fear hell. While this is a lovely reality, there is so much more to it.
Art is love. God in his infinite capacity to love created. He created the heavens and the earth, and you and me. He created out of love and in his love gave us the capacity to create, like him. As I paint, I feel so connected to the creator, like I am tapping into something eternal, something pure.
It doesn’t always feel this way, especially when I began taking classes with Steve. When I started classes at Art 4 God, I was afraid. I had been painting for a few years, but I was completely self taught and while I was able to create some things exactly the way I intended, my execution was sporadic and my technique was inconsistent. In short, I could create the perfect brushstroke in the perfect place, but, I didn’t have the confidence or the understanding to create that same brushstroke again.
I walked into class excited, but nervous about my ability, or lack of ability, to keep up. I also wasn’t sure how to properly use oil paint. So, of course, I choose the most complicated thing to paint, a portrait. I was definitely afraid, and my painting suffered for it.
My drawing was inaccurate. I would carefully look at each piece of the painting, sacrificing the whole for each individual part . Steve always tells us, “Anything you mess up, I can fix,” with the attention of alleviating our fears from the process. You just can’t create when you’re afraid.
A funny story that comes up anytime someone is struggling with something in class painting is about that first portrait. I worked for hours on this ear. I just could not get it right. Every so often I would have this “perfect” brushstroke, so I would try to work the rest of the ear around that one stroke. It just wasn’t working. Finally, desperate for a way to get the rest of the ear to cooperate with the one or two bits that I was happy with, I asked Steve for help. Steve saw the struggle for what it was. I was afraid. I was afraid to let go, I was afraid of what I was capable of, I was afraid of missing something. I was operating under the subconscious belief that I had no clue what I was doing and anything that came out well was pure accident, and I had to do whatever I could to protect that accident, and if I did it enough a painting would come out.
Steve approached the easel and I felt the tension leave, he picked up the brush, placing it gently on the canvas, and I watched fully prepared for him to work his magic. Then, he erased it. He swished the brush around, pulling the carefully applied layers of paint off its surface. My jaw dropped and without intending to I sucked what felt like all the air in the room in one giant gasp. All of my work, it was gone, in a flash.
In the back of my mind I wanted to grab my canvas right then and there, and fend for myself at home. The only problem was, Steve was the only one I knew who could fix it, and I didn’t want a portrait with no ear.
Steve explained “It wasn’t right.” There was no way to finish the painting and finish it well with the ear that was there. He could have worked to incorporate what little bits were okay into the rest of the piece, but it would have taken longer and it would not have looked as good. However jarring it was, it was the right and gracious thing to do for me to remove the ear entirely and start anew.
After recovering from my initial shock, I gave my full attention to Steve as he, in mere minutes, completed the perfect ear.
You can’t create a good painting when you’re afraid to paint. You can’t do anything well when you are motivated by fear. Maybe that is why the Bible says not to fear so many times.
I feel like sometimes God does exactly what Steve did. He blows a bit to rattle our house of cards to show us just how fragile the construct of our lives is. He does not do it to traumatize us or break us down, he does it so we can build the confidence to do it ourselves, to watch him move on our behalf, and to let us see where the brushstrokes belong. He does it because creativity and love cannot live in an environment of fear.
I love Stephen’s painting of Jesus laughing. I feel it represents who God is so well. We like to imagine him as serious and angry, but I believe where we are afraid, he is just waiting for us to trust him and enjoy the ride.