What do I think of Russ Ramsey’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I’m not much of an art guy. I just don’t see it in a lot of art. There have been exceptions. I use to go see a pastoral counselor at a Baptist church and I would sometimes get there early since I came from somewhere else and would go to a room to pray and there was a beautiful stained-glass picture of Jesus gently knocking on a door, no doubt based on Revelation 3. I really loved looking at this one and would love to find it again.
Ramsey is getting me to consider giving more paintings a second chance. He does this by introducing us to the artists and telling us about their positions. No. Not all of them are Christians. Still, all of them did produce art and that art is remembered today. Some I had heard of. Some I had not.
However, this book is about art and artists secondarily. It is primarily about beauty. As the author tells us, that means it is about brokenness as well.
Recently, I went to a beach with some friends and as I looked at the ocean, I thought about beauty. The ocean is a place of beauty, but it is also a place of destruction as well. How many lives have been claimed by the ocean? How many lives have been claimed by creatures in the ocean?
Beauty draws us in, but beauty is also extremely destructive. I am highly considering that everything in the world that has beauty also destroys as well. Some of you might think “Seriously? What about a newborn baby?! What does a baby destroy!”
Oh, nothing much but the couple’s regular lives together as they normally spend at least the next eighteen years caring for the child and perhaps more. Note this is not always a bad destruction, but it is a destruction. What I know about people who have babies is the constant message that life is never the same after.
And of course, God is the most beautiful of all, and if you do not think God is destructive, you have not met God. When God comes into your life, He does destroy it. He does break you, but only to put you back together better than you were before.
In all these artists, there is going to be some brokenness. Some of these artists lead tragic lives. Consider Vincent Van Gogh who is said to have shot himself in the abdomen. Ramsey does say some scholarship considers that he might have been shot by hooligans, but Van Gogh was in many ways a broken man.
The first artist considered is Michaelangelo. In him, you see a figure who took a slab of stone that everyone considered useless, and from that, produced the David. It is one of the natures of art to take what has no semblance and put it together to give it beauty. The first person in Scripture said to have the Holy Spirit was an artist.
If Michaelangelo lived a devout life, the same cannot be said of Caravaggio who was on the run from the law constantly and was wanted for murder and other crimes. Still, he had to paint biblical scenes because the church was in charge. The key to being a great artist is to go through the church, yet even in paintings of the profane, which would refer to the common, beauty shines through.
I found the chapter on Rembrandt disappointing. It’s not because of Rembrandt, but because so much of it was devoted to the stealing of paintings by Rembrandt. I found this a shame since Rembrandt was known as the master even in his time and was thoroughly devout, and yet I don’t remember learning a lot about his life.
Vermeer was the next artist and here you see how Vermeer had to work with the people of his day. No artist painted in an island. It’s quite likely Vermeer had a friend who developed lenses who he worked with.
The fascinating thing about Bazille was about how there was a group likely dismissed by the rest of the artists of the time working together called impressionists. Monet and Manet and others all worked together. It’s interesting that I suspect we know few of the names that rejected them, but we sure know their names today.
While Tanner was interesting, the disappointment was that Ramsey said he wanted more than just white men. I really don’t want to have an artist picked as say a token black artist. Give an artist a spot because the artist is good. The race of the artist doesn’t matter.
Van Gogh is one of the most well-known today and is indeed a tragic figure. It could be that he was painting perhaps three canvases a week somehow. He longed for recognition in his life. It could be tempting to look down on that, but do not many of us want the same? Don’t we want to be known and loved for who we are?
Edward Hopper was someone I hadn’t heard of either, but it was interesting how he painted his wife in so many pictures, and yet their marriage seemed to be chaos. I saw nothing that said he cheated on her, but he was willing to cast her to the side for his own career and she was often willing to be cast aside. However, it looks like as he got further and further long in life, he came to realize how much he needed her.
Lilias Trotter at the end was a strange choice. I wondered if Ramsey was wanting to get a woman in and yet if that was the case, why not someone like Mary Cassatt? Trotter apparently had a lot of artistic skill and was a prodigy of sorts, but chose to focus on ministry and go to Algeria and serve. I am not knocking that, but it seems odd to have a book about artists and yet end with a lady who set aside the dream of being a great artist.
At any rate, the author’s goal was to get us to learn to appreciate beauty more, and he succeeded with me at least. I think I will try to take a deeper look the next time I see some paintings. Also worthwhile is Ramsey gives tips on how to go to an art museum and appreciate the art more.
Check it out and see if you do the same.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)