I don’t often use this space to review books, but it isn’t often that I read something that makes me think, Yes, THIS is what I’ve always felt—THIS is what I’m trying to say. The book I found waiting in the mailbox one day last week did just that. So much that I didn’t have a choice but to write about it.
I’ve known Matt Appling for quite some time—one of those people you meet over the internet but never in person, whose words you read but whose voice you never hear. He’s a smart guy, a funny guy, and a guy who knows more than one thing about faith. But I never knew he was an elementary school teacher, and I never suspected he taught art.
All of that made his book, Life After Art, such a pleasant surprise.
Because, you see, we are all artists in some way. We are all creators of something. Back in elementary school, this is something we all understood on a fundamental level. Put a crayon in our hands, we knew what to do with it. And more, we understood the power of it. There was something awe-inspiring in taking a blank sheet of paper and producing something where nothing had been. And there was nothing more satisfying than knowing some special part of us had been imprinted on that something forever, long after we were gone.
Matt understands that. In fact, that’s the central premise of Life After Art. But much of the book is spent remedying all the lies we’ve told ourselves ever since art class, namely that our artistic days are behind us.
And why not? Who has time for art—for creating—when there are so many other things vying for our attention? Kids. Jobs. Bills. Dreams, whether real or imagined. No wonder anything other than keeping our heads above water gets placed aside, relegated to the periphery of our lives.
But that’s not the way it should be. And in fact, ignoring that very basic quality makes us less human and more separated from God. Creativity, no matter how it is expressed, is one of the purest forms of love for the divine. And our idea of beauty, no matter what it is, is one of the best ways to define the people we are.
But our idea of beauty has shifted over the years. Nowadays, art seeks to put down rather than lift up, and shock instead of inspire. That’s why, in Matt’s words, “We have an epidemic of addiction to the cheap, ugly, and disposable.”
Life After Art goes a long way in repairing such thinking. It’s a fresh reminder of the great truth many of us have forgotten—we are all creators. If not of words or songs or paintings, then of our own lives.
And perhaps the question Matt asks is the one we should all ask ourselves:
What is my life creating: beauty or ugliness?