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Valuing the creative power of the arts

“They do not see that the streets shine beautifully, that they themselves are walking on stars and water, that they are running in skies to catch a bus…” — Thomas Merton

It has been a pleasure to invest my energies and time in pursuit of art. This field of study is quirky and quixotic. It has the power to show us our world in unexpected ways, cause us to see the beauty of the seemingly banal and look for the miraculous in our lives.

I share Madeline L’Engle’s assertion that art is the ability to make cosmos from chaos. At its essence, the arts show us our humanity, and this is where its importance lies.

Creative acts are records of moments in time where an individual artist says, “Here I am.”

To borrow from Descartes, “I create; therefore, I am.”  These declarations of existence are also representations of societal consciousness.

From the prehistoric hand imprints in the caves of Pech-Merle, France, to sculptures of Shiva Natarja from the Chola Dynasty in India, to the more recent Gates project by Christo; all share an ability to illuminate humanity’s place in time, cultural assumptions and beliefs.

What we make now and leave for future generations to rediscover will tell them volumes about what we find to be valuable and worth our time. This is what excites me about the arts, but it is too grand for my actual studio process. The day-in and day-out action of “making” demands a different drive. I go to work and make art because it is an honor to be called to do so.

Each piece presents opportunities for me to be still and listen. To respond with honesty and hope that the end result is what is needed in another’s life. It is a solitary pursuit with hours of self-reflection and work. Possibly the main reason I teach art is to have additional impact. In a collegiate environment, there is an opportunity to share discoveries, learn from each other and invest in the future of creativity.

The students that come into the studio art program at ORU are passionate about God, art making and our world. Together, we venture out and explore the amazing roads that have yet to be named and the overlooked wonders of life.

Hopefully we will be able to explain these paths and surprises. Maybe, like Thomas Merton asserts, we can show you the stars that you are walking upon during the evening rains.

Editor’s note: Nathan Opp is an assistant professor of art.

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