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Coloring the Cultural Canvas



My wife and I couldn’t be more opposite. Our personality contrast is not apples and oranges – it’s apples and three-month-old-leftover-tuna-casserole. This was never more sorely realized than on our honeymoon…

A European adventure had crescendoed to a climax in Paris. Our bed was still chilly as I woke my bride and hauled her to the Louvre. My diligence was aptly rewarded; we stepped through the famed museum’s doors as the morning’s first visitors. Having stayed up late studying layout diagrams and plotting a path of least resistance, I towed my wife on a crazed dash through the labyrinth of antiquities. Then, at last – we arrived. Like a dream, we stood mere inches from the mischievous smile of the Mona Lisa; no other soul within 1000 feet radius. Having gauged our fellow visitors’ leg-span before entering, I approximated we had roughly twenty-three minutes to bask in the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity….

… My wife tossed a fleeting glance at the painting and shrugged, “sweet.” Then, without slowing her hasty pace, she buried her nose back into her outspread museum map and marched out of the room in search of new antediluvian thrills. I hung my head low —For better or worse…

To my wife’s (flimsy!) defense, the shockingly diminutive 77cm x 53cm portrait does leave one slightly underwhelmed. However, if the Mona Lisa appears ordinary – it is only because Leonardo Da Vinci made it so. Years before the first brushstroke of his cherished masterpiece, he completed a less heralded work: The Portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci. Currently the only Da Vinci painting housed in the United States, it’s also the first known portrait to feature hands as opposed to merely a bust. Although not initially acclaimed, it ordained a new avenue for future art, such as the illustrious Mona Lisa. Interestingly, time has ransomed a 20cm strip from the painting’s lower half, shedding the image of its defining attribute. Yet, like a human soul transcending its earthly vase, the ideological contribution to Art outlives the physical medium which exhibits it.

We live in the age of instant gratification. Art must be an immediate, ground-breaking success; and when it fails to surpass these lofty expectations it is dropped and abandoned as a failed endeavor. Tragically, we have lost perspective of the grander picture: We are but a single brush stroke on history’s vast canvas, continually fashioning an eternal masterpiece.

As we live in the moment; we simultaneously build upon the foundation of the past and lay the groundwork for the future. Whatever tone we shade the Artistic landscape today will define the norm for the next generation. That responsibility is not something to take lightly. We may feel disgust at contemporary culture’s degrading, raunchy, morally skewed standard of Art; but we must understand that the decadence didn’t materialize overnight, nor by just one person – it was shaded by countless brushes, stroke by stroke, in ashen tones. The same reality is needed for Art’s restoration.

Scripture teaches to be salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13). What does salt do? It flavors. By simply adding tiny granule by tiny granule we can completely transform the taste of any food. Post-Impressionist Painter Vincent Van Gogh once deduced that “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” Therefore, how are you currently contributing to the Great Work?

With only life to live, will your stroke be precise and full of vibrant color – or pallid and carelessly smeared? Will it add detail to a picture greater than yourself – or will the white glare of unpainted canvas give witness to the brush you never picked up? History may never recognize or acclaim us as individual Artists, and that’s okay, because we can be so much more than that. The tone we color the cultural canvas today will carry on long after we’re gone. The only question is:

What color will we leave?

Daniel Blackaby is a multi-published author, including the YA Fantasy trilogy The Lost City Chronicles and ____ When Worlds Collide: Stepping Up and Standing Out in an Anti-God Culture. During the process of penning his fiction he encountered many questions and few answers to the pivotal question of how a Christian should engage with the prevalent, contemporary pop-culture while maintaining their faith. Since then Daniel has made an effort to fill that void. Drawing on his BA in English, MDiv in Theology, and current PhD studies in the field of Christianity and the Arts, he has been speaking on the subject in schools, churches, and seminars around the country.