As I walked by the bookstore flower box, the beauty and color astounded me. The brilliance of the colorful pansies that were blooming in this warmer climate seemed to shout to my eyes to wake up, to jump for joy, to drink it in deeply. You see, my eyes had grown accustomed to only the white of snow and the gray cloud cover. How could such simple flowers in such a pedestrian area, bring so much joy to my soul? I felt a bit self-conscious gazing on the flowers. After all, there didn’t seem to be similar appreciation from those around. Yet I decided to run the risk as they lifted my soul to consider the God who would put so much detail and brilliant color into something so common, which led me to say a prayer of thanks.
Our opportunity to connect creativity and beauty to its source is one we should not take lightly as Christian educators. We must teach the youth in our care to respond to beauty, and consider the ultimate Creator of all things. Creativity is now acknowledged to be the highest skill on the revised Bloom’s taxonomy – how appropriate that humans’ highest aspiration is to image God through creativity. Yet, in our modern society we grow alienated from creation and fail to even connect every day things back to their source. This has an impact on our soul – we conveniently buy products, not considering what has gone into them and what choices were made along the way.
Helping us to step back and to see the beauty contained in the natural resources around us is the intention of the 100 Mile Art Project by Christopher Van Donkelaar. Christopher is an iconographer and also works in technology for the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools. He created a painting by collecting all materials from local sources, painstakingly making everything needed to paint the picture from a 100 mile radius around Cambridge, Ontario. Christopher explains what he was trying to accomplish through the project:
Six months of work in creating colours which could have been bought at an art store for less than $200! But, this project was not about the finish; rather it was about a journey. Ultimately, the answer to this question is found in the iconic prototype I chose to paint as the culmination of the exhibition: Adam naming the Animals. Let me summarize:
God creates everything. Then, He calls Adam to come and appreciate the especially beautiful animals. Adam’s appreciation is more than just a hands off, nod-of-the-head; his appreciation is participation. God asks Adam to add something beautiful to His work by giving it a name (as anyone who has had children will attest to, naming is a very special work and I am never sure if such naming is a response to what I see, or newly shaping/changing of what I see by circumscribing it; I suspect both are true). There seems to be an unconscious shift in our thinking today, in response to the abuses of the industrial model, which nature is at her best when left alone. But with this scriptural example as proof, we know that our calling, even before the fall, is to interact with our environment and shape it through appreciation.
Beyond this original premise, I really learned a lot from doing this project: The place of convenience in our culture has reached a level that is very problematic and seems to be the root of many of our current issues. I learned that working hard to achieve something makes it impossible to waste the achievement. My family and I have many old-order Mennonites where we live, and I think their quilts point to the same truth. When creating a shirt requires you to grow a crop of flax, process it into linen (a very arduous process), and dying it using herbs, the worth of such cloth is guaranteed. And, when the shirt can no longer be worn, it will inevitably be reused and cut into smaller strips to create a beautiful quilt. Likewise, each colour I created during this project became unthinkable to waste. Lastly, it was a lot of fun giving worth to something considered worthless. There are many other thoughts and reactions that have come from a broad range of people, from scientists, teachers, environmentalists, etc., and each has brought with them a little revelation of their own.
The project isn’t finished, either! I am continuing to explore different regions and reporting what I find through my website. These self-collected coloured pigments are also becoming increasingly the backbone of my commissioned art works.
You can view how Christopher made each color as well as his beautiful icon paintings at his website. (Please pass this information on to your art teacher!) Christopher is prophetically teaching us and our students to understand creation more deeply and appreciate it more fully – helping us to praise our Creator in the process!