Life After Art by Matt Appling

Life After Art by Matt Appling

May 29, 2013 by
Life After Art by Matt Appling

Matt Appling is an elementary school art teacher trying to help the rest of us rediscover creativity. We’re all former kindergartners and have that love of creating that was slowly beaten out of us as we grew up. Matt wants to get us back there.

The real meat of Life After Art: What You Forgot About Life and Faith Since You Left the Art Room is how we can rediscover creativity. Matt lays out four lessons:

1. Focus on the good, not the good enough. Don’t be lazy and ask if your work is good enough (which really means ‘can I quit?’), power through and build craftsmanship into what you do.

2. We have limitations. Instead of letting limitations define you, be empowered by them. Following the rules teaches how to become better artists, and in knowing when to break them is when we can become great artists. Limitations allow for greatness. Embrace them.

3. Failure is not a bad thing. We’re so often afraid of failing that we never try. But failure is how we learn, it’s how we get better. To be creative means that you’re going to fail. So get used to it. Embrace it.

4. You are a creator and what you create says something about you. You may not be an artist, but we’re all creators. Our creation, our work, our life all says something about us. Maybe it shows how meticulous we are or how sloppy we are. Maybe it shows our ambitions or our hope. What kind of legacy are you leaving behind?

Those are powerful lessons for rediscovering creativity in your life.

But to be honest, while reading Life After Art there were a couple things that rubbed me the wrong way. Since I talked to author Matt Appling about how all this applies to the church, I also had a chance to ask him about those disagreements. This really dives into the nitty gritty details of the book, so you might want to check out the book and then come back to this conversation.

1. Beauty is Objective
Kevin: You argued that beauty is objective, that there’s a single standard of beauty and while we can have our own tastes and preferences, ultimately if we don’t appreciate what is truly beautiful, it’s because we don’t understand it. In a nutshell: Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. From my own study of art (I have a minor in art, which qualifies me to know enough to get myself in trouble), beauty is a constantly changing and shifting thing—throughout different eras from the romantics to the expressionists to the cubists it was always changing. It’s subjective. I wonder if what you’re trying to argue is that there is what humanity thinks is beautiful and then there’s what God says is beautiful? God’s sense of beauty trumps our sense, just as God’s truth trumps my own.

Matt: You are exactly right!  There is “beauty” as God defines it, and there is “beauty” as humans define it.  The way I see it, all beauty is God’s beauty, the way that all truth is God’s truth.  God knows about all of the beauty in the universe, all of it unique, and much of it hidden.  But in our humanity, our minds and tastes and preferences are constantly changing.  The things we believe are beautiful go out of fashion and then come back.

Related to this, I teach high school art history.  I find at the beginning of a term, most students know just a little bit about art, they don’t understand it, and thus they don’t really appreciate it.  Their minds have not been trained to observe and enjoy art.  But they more they know about art, the more able they are to appreciate it.  When students are trained to observe, it is like giving them a stronger and stronger telescope to observe the stars with.  The better their eyes become, the more beauty they appreciate.  The more we study God, the more our eyes should see his beauty.

On the practical church side of things, in my experience many arguments arise because of lack of communication.  Two people have opinions (which they equate with “truth,”) and they both dig their heels in, rather than actually educating the other party to help them see things their way.

The ancient Greeks made incredible advancements in all kinds of endeavors—literature, drama, music, math, astronomy, science, philosophy, law.  Why are the Greeks the founders of Western Civilization?  My opinion is that it boils down to the priority they placed on beauty.  The Greeks believed that beauty and harmony were tangible things which could be studied, like laws of nature.  They searched and even worshiped beauty and harmony.  Guys like Aristotle and Plato theorized about beauty.  So when we discuss beauty as more of a “law of nature” rather than “personal taste,” we are taking a very classical view of things (which is fitting for me, since I teach in a classical school).

2. Rule Breaking & Nonconformists
Kevin:
My other complaint was your rant against nonconformists. I think we ultimately agree here, but let’s talk about the value of breaking the rules. You make a good case for learning the rules, learning how to do things and mastering the techniques. But at what point does a good artist start to break the rules? And is our desire to be “nonconformists” simply a weakness, that we want to skip the hard work of learning techniques and get to breaking the rules?

Matt: Your question is great and very complex.  Yes, we all must start as conformists, master the rules, before we can decide what rules need to be broken.  Every great innovator was a “rule-breaker.”

But even within  that context, “rule-breakers” don’t break every rule.  They only break the rules that need to be broken.  And in doing so, they create new rules (which the next generation will break.)  The greatest free-thinkers actually stand on the shoulders of every innovator that came before them.

In the book, I feel that the point that I was making is that there are a great number of rules and constraints which we are prone to pushing against, which turns out to be unfruitful for us.  There are pieces of our lives that God has laid out.  Or there are parts of our reality that can’t be changed.  I’m inviting the reader to look into their own lives and decide which rules in their lives are good and permanent and which are temporary or could be changed.

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Kevin D. Hendricks


When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998 and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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