Faith, art walk hand in hand

By Clyde Davis: Columnist

A book by Madeliene L’Engle, “Walking On Water,” given to me by a close friend almost a year ago, explores the relationship between art and religion, or more dynamically, between art and faith. Coincidentally, I was giving it a reread last week, seeking for some inspiration.

It caused me to rethink the entire issue. Perhaps “rethink” is not the correct word, for the subjects of art and faith often occupy me. I thought about a conversation I had with an artist friend who recently left town to pursue his dream, and I thought about it again when I dropped by the opening of Drew Merritt’s new gallery on East First Street in Clovis.

One of L’Engle’s key ideas is that, knowingly or not, the artist serves as channel for the Divinen —not only in undeniably sacred art but in all forms. I thought about this in relation to my friend who left recently, and his statement that the artist ought to serve as the guide and transformer in a society in which we live, a society without shamans.

Since my friend has had basically negative encounters with religion, I let that pass, though I feel we spiritual leaders ought to yet often don’t act as the shaman. (That is, however, another column for another time.)

My counter to this, in my art form of woodcarving, was that I saw it as my place to honor the Tradition— a concept I understand but haven’t room to articulate.

If I carve a decoy, it is a working decoy, no matter how ornate — the key is how it rides the water. If I carve a mask, a fishing lure, a horse or an ethnic figure, or even build a chair, I’ve found it always guides me back to the Tradition. I find it almost impossible to do otherwise.

The crux of the matter is that, like so many areas of creative energy, both are true: the prophet and the patriarch, the visionary and the ceremony leader. The new understanding for me is that this is another way in which art and religion journey in tandem. In faith, both are true and essential elements, without either of which, the portrait is incomplete.

Enter the trip to Drew’s new gallery. I have not talked with Drew about religious practice, and thus I have no idea where he considers himself. I saw in his work, though, so clearly an expression of the vibrant, largely depicted, bold and idealistic faith of the young.

That faith was shown that by drawing injustice, by depicting the homeless, the dispossessed, one can turn society’s heart to that segment of society ( a three-dimensional, multimedia piece of a hobo in a boxcar door). faith, too, that one can bring to canvas the serenity of a Buddhist monk, for the viewer to touch, and by depicting the vulnerability masquerading as toughness of “Tiffany,” my favorite piece, he can help us to hear the soul of this girl.

My visit to Drew’s gallery, squeezed out of a busy Saturday, tied together pieces or threads of thought I had been pursuing all week. Religion, art, traditionalist or trailblazer —we really find a common point at the center.