Charcoal: a simultaneously empty yet rich tool for expression. It's odd, really, because as unforgiving and hard to manipulate as it can be, for some reason I've really taken to it recently. From just four pictures now, I'm already beginning to see the stark learning curve in my own attempts to wield this severe utensil. It can be cruel. So, why would anyone want to use it? Well, it can also be so rewarding. I've thought through a few of my own reasons, and decided to just compile somewhat of a brief appreciation and theology of the potentially bleak art that is charcoal.
Roughly three years ago I took a class on aesthetics, where I was first introduced to the theory behind Rembrandt's works. I'd seen his paintings as far back as I can remember - like many of us - yet, this was the first time I came anywhere close to an understanding of their purpose. In Gene Edward Veith, Jr.'s State of the Arts, Veith describes Rembrandt as not only a master of form and color, but of light as well. In analyzing his The Adoration of the Shepherds, Veith says
The colors are dark and subdued... As our eyes zero in on the baby Jesus, along with the eyes of everyone else in the painting, we something astonishing. The warm, ethereal light that suffuses all of the faces... is coming from the baby Jesus. In fact, as our eyes are drawn to the Christ child, the effect is something like gazing at the sun. The details of the child's appearance are nearly lost in the splendor of His light.
Rembrandt is not only illustrating Luke's Christmas story (Luke 2:8-20), but John's: 'The try light that gives light to every man was coming into the world' (John 1:9).
This is the case with most of his paintings: light is the subject; darkness is the setting. What better reminder for us?! Much of what I see, experience, and remember of this world can too easily be draped in darkness. But that's not the subject. That's not the "piece". What the light does to that darkness, that's the focal point.
This is something that I've in no way mastered - not by a long shot. However, in an "Inkling-esque" way, I'm probably going to keep posting my attempts so that I have some accountability to stay at it. Regardless, Veith's assessment here is something beautiful and beneficial for us all. So, it's definitely worth considering next time you see a piece by Rembrandt, or other like styled work.
What I'm discovering is that charcoal will speak deeply if you allow it. Well, that's the hook that I've been captivated by at least. It is the idea of the dark, apparently despairing canvas, being illuminated by hope. And that is the Gospel.
So maybe charcoal isn't your muse. Maybe you're stirred by another type of art. I'd love to hear what and why, so please leave your comment.