Living in such a utilitarian culture where the financial bottom line is the only one that counts, being an artist can feel like a pointless endeavor. I have been called "artsy-fartsy," told that I will never make a living, and felt my work to be superfluous among so many pressing global needs. But intuitively I know that making of any sort brings healing, and not just to the makers. In so may surprising ways the Bible supports this idea, as Makoto Fujimura explores in detail in his book Art and Faith.
Since today is Easter, Resurrection Day, I want to share my favorite chapter from Art and Faith, which is a reflection on John 11, the story of Jesus's mysterious delay to his friend Lazarus who was very sick and then died. Jesus arrives on the scene days after the funeral and wastes time with Lazarus's sisters Martha and Mary weeping. He knows he is going to raise Lazarus from the dead, but he cries with Mary who earlier in the story had been scolded for wasting time listening to Jesus.
Artists also "waste" time listening to other people, nature, their inner selves, and feel deeply about the world around them. As Mr. Fujimura says, "The arts are use-less, but a great gift, and therefore indispensable." In fact, one way to look at the scene of Jesus weeping is that God, the ultimate Artist, wastes time to be fully present with us, especially in our suffering.
Mary responds to her brother's resurrection in another outrageously wasteful act by taking a perfume worth a years wages and anointing Jesus with it. Judas, who later betrays Jesus, responds by revealing his own false devotion and asking why it wasn't sold and the money given to the poor (the practical and utilitarian view.) But Jesus accepts Mary's superfluous act as beautiful. As Mr. Fujimura points out, the fragrance from this perfume was the only thing Jesus wore on the cross. "What is our frivolous act of devotion today? What is our art? Mary's act of extravagance is what it means to create in, and through, love."