Freedom and Fellowship, Chapter 1: A Case for Theology (part 3)

The Fear of Art

Most people have what I consider to be an irrational fear of art and creativity. If you were to ask someone if they were an artist, they would flatly and quickly tell you that they were not. They would inform you that, at one point, they tried to paint or draw or take a photograph or sculpt and it had turned out horribly. They would tell you about how they felt like their insides had been exposed and of how they were embarrassed when it was their turn to show off their creations. Even though no one probably actually ridiculed them, they seem to remember how they were the laughing stock of the entire place for that day. And it was because of that that they swore off art and creativity in favor of something more empowering. Rather than giving into that feeling of sensitivity and expression which they were not able to harness, they decided to go the opposite direction and engage areas which reward simple tenacity and mastery over exploration and experimentation. Rather than allowing themselves to be laid bare, they settled for pursuits which allowed them to protect themselves and destroy anything which would seek to overtake them and allow them to seem weak.

This impulse can take on several disguises. It can be the brainiac who spends his time committing an encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge to memory so that he is always armed with the latest and truest facts and figures which cannot be disputed and cannot be ignored. Mastery over his discipline guarantees him protection. He will defeat you, for you cannot dispute him.

Others retreat to physical activity. Whether it is a team sport or an individual hobby, rather than be subjected to the possibility that she could be taken advantage of because of a weakness, this athlete decides to push herself to the point where she is able to bring either her own body or someone else’s under submission.

These disguises have some things in common. Most notably and importantly, they are disguises which presume to control the world around us. In the physical realm, a body is a body. It is no more and no less than what it is, and even the most unobservant human believes that we know more about our bodies than our souls and spirits. We know how to make the body increase and decrease in mass. We know how to make it work better and how to make it suffer. Although we readily admit that we don’t know everything there is to know about our bodies, what most of us learned in health class and PE is sufficient to get us through pretty much all of our lives if we follow it: Eat right, get sufficient sleep, exercise regularly, etc. Our interactions with our bodies are scientific experiments, which we can run and re-run. Even if we are not up to snuff, we can easily figure out what to do. If someone makes fun of us for being overweight, we can lose it. We know how. If we are looked down on for being weak, we can gain strength. We know how.

It is the same with mental disciplines. We have taken Descartes to heart and have bought into the idea that simply because “I think, therefore I am.” Reason, logic, and observable fact are all that matter as we consider our way in this world. We find ourselves in a constant pursuit of the Truth, continually searching for the key to explain and make sense of it all. In other words, we are using the mental faculties we have at our disposal to gain mastery of and control over the world in which we live. We are running not physical, but mental, scientific experiments in the hopes of establishing some certainty – certainty which we hope and pray will alleviate our fears about our life and its living.

But art is not so certain. Art is not so controllable.

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