Are You a Failure and How Do You Know?

One of the441px-Leonardo_da_Vinci_025 most challenging things about being an artist (this is one of the major themes of my book Broke is Beautiful) is that the yardstick by which society tends to measure success seems not to apply.  That is to say, artists who measure their success in terms of money or social status s are likely to be miserable.

Money and artistic success simply do not go together like a horse and carriage.  Some rare artists achieve worldly success in their lifetimes, but not many.  If you read biographies of the writers, musicians and painters we most admire from the past, they are nearly always full of money struggles.  Some of the most renowned artists actually starved to death and even those who earned respect and support while they lived were often plagued by feelings of failure in direct proportion to their artistic ambitions.

Case in point, Leonardo Da Vinci, who is featured in the current Failure Magazine:

Author Ross King tells Failure that “It’s amazing — and poignant — to think that Leonardo did consider himself as something of a failure. He didn’t believe that he had achieved everything he might have done. His notebooks have a repeated refrain: ‘Tell me if I ever did a thing.’  We have to remember that when he died in 1519 the Mona Lisa and most of his other paintings were unknown to the world at large, that The Last Supper was already fading, and that his notebooks — with their studies of anatomy and flight — were unknown to everyone but a handful of his friends.”

This is the part of my article where the moral of the story should be.  Here’s the thing, I don’t know what the moral of this story is.  That your talents may be posthumously recognized is not a great deal of consolation when you’re trying to find something to eat.  How do you know if you are creating work that justifies putting up with reduced circumstances?  You don’t.  You never will.  It is a question of faith.

The only thing I can say is that in spite of all the social pressures to just give up these foolish arts dreams and do something practical, there are always people who refuse to listen, and we are all richer for it.

He is Risen Indeed!

James Carroll, writing for the Boston Globe, has a very nice article on the significance of Easter. 

This is a follow up in theme to my past article on Biblical literalism and the symbolic value of Biblical stories.  I cited an article in The Christian Century lamenting our inability to read the metaphoric meaning in artistic and spiritual texts. 

“A literalist imagination— or lack of imagination— pervades contemporary culture,” wrote the article’s author, Conrad Hyers.

In today’s Globe, Carroll asks what would happen if there had been a video camera fixed on Jesus’ tomb, and what if it showed nothing?

…would Christian faith thereby collapse?

Of course not. Why? Because the resurrection of Jesus is addressed not to a machine but to the eyes of faith. The example, though, demonstrates the modern fallacy — the way a post-Enlightenment religious imagination gets easily sidetracked into questions of “scientific’’ or “historical’’ proof. What “actually’’ happened on Easter and in the days after? Were the laws of nature upended by a “miracle’’ or not?

…It trivializes what Paul means when he says “appeared’’ to reduce it to mere apparitions. There are apparitions in Virgil’s “Aeneid,’’ and in all kinds of ancient narratives. Revived cadavers are irrelevant. No, Paul is declaring that believers were enabled all at once to grasp that the abandoned Jesus was ultimately exalted by the one he called Father. That is what believers saw. Paul does not say how it happened.

The death of Jesus was not the end of the story. Indeed, with the death of Jesus, the human story is transformed, with death perceived now as entry into the ultimate reality — who is called God. Human destiny, therefore, is not nothingness, but meaning… Thus, the resurrection of Jesus was not a suspension of the laws of nature, but a fulfillment of them — a personal event without being physiological, a real happening without being “historical.’’ Christian faith is not in “after life,’’ but in eternal life, which is beyond categories of time. “Life,’’ as Jesus himself said, “life to the full.’’ To be fully alive is to be aware of being held here and now in what does not die, and in what does not drop what it holds. God. Resurrection is the word Christians have for this awareness. And why should it not have ignited the ancient world?

The Red Letter Christians today ran an article Do I Deny the Resurrection by Hugh Hollowell, which touches on the same theme.

“Do I deny the resurrection of Christ?” Hollowell wrote, “I can do no better than to quote Peter Rollins on the subject.

Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think…

I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.

However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.

Hollowell concludes: “If I act hateful, or in fact, less than loving to my neighbor, I have denied the resurrection… And I can believe whatever you want about what happened that Sunday morning, but if I am not using what power I have to help God bring the Kingdom into fruition, to help make it on Earth as it is in Heaven, I don’t expect you to call me a Christian.”