I fancy myself to be a work of art. Maybe I’m back in the Louvre, with thousands of tourists shuffling by on their way to the Mona Lisa… or maybe I’m the Mona Lisa, watching the crowd shuffle their way forward so they can take their picture with me. Perhaps I am framed in an elaborate, golden frame! Cliché? Maybe mahogany wood. Or maybe…

“All art is quite useless.”

-Oscar Wilde

Living in a place where even the graffiti is of noteworthy caliber, varying depictions of beauty are regularly placed before me, awaiting a frantic flurry of photos and some oohs and ahhs.

Personally, the work of Matisse has remained with me. Attending the Henri Matisse exhibit in the Centre Pompidou in Paris last weekend gave me fresh insight into why I like his work so much. My primary reason (among many secondary reasons) is that his works are never quite complete. They are always pointing to something intangible — like the beauty of the human form, the different tones that a day at the beach can take, the subtleties of the human expression — he never captures it perfectly, yet the imperfection is the perfection. The art is never an end in itself, to be praised for its own sake. The art is taking the beholder somewhere — beyond the exhibition room. Indeed, this is what I experienced with the smile playing upon Mona Lisa’s lips in the Louvre, with the muscles that seem to be pulsing with life in Michelangelo’s sculptures — and this is what I find so convicting in my own life.

“All humanity is quite useless.”

Does this sound familiar?

Why do I find art convicting? Because I so easily fall into the surface level purpose of art as I ponder the lives of others and my own. Art for its own sake — beauty for the sake of beauty; success for the sake of success; recognition for the sake of recognition. I find myself framing myself into that golden box. In some ways, I paste a serene smile for the camera, the attention, the high-tech security — I hide my squirms behind the safety of the coats of paint and strain my ears for the oohs and ahhs.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

-Ps. 139:13-14

If that is the extent of my desires, the adapted Wilde quote may ring true. Attention, a snapshot, a frantic crowd — a checking off on the list of things to see, this is an insult to the art and its Creator. In the midst of the hustle and bustle, a pause. Maybe, just maybe, someone will see me and find me beautiful. Not because of me, but because of what I fail to capture. Because by seeing me they might see the spirit of the Lord coursing through my veins — maybe by seeing me they will see a smile filled with the joy that only Christ can give and grow curious to know the presence of God that nourishes a distinct lifestyle. Maybe in seeing my imperfections and flaws, they will see the grace of God abounding mercifully. Maybe they won’t pull out their camera, but they will walk away with a smile. Maybe they won’t push and shove to see me, but they will become even more undignified in pursuing the presence of God.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father…This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

Jn. 14:12, 15:12