When you think about it, art galleries are such amazing things. These buildings are devoted to the preservation of beauty, and exist so that the public can have access to view priceless sculptures and paintings which would otherwise be left collecting dust in a storage locker, or only available to those who could afford to own them. I took a vacation recently and spent many afternoons wandering thorough London’s art galleries. Not only do these buildings house spectacular collections, they are FREE.
As I walked through the National Gallery on a weekday afternoon, I was struck by how people looked at the paintings which hung on the walls. I was a bit hurried — I was eager to see Van Gogh’s famous Sunflowers, and the res of the impressionist collection. I hadn’t paid admission so I didn’t feel the need to get my money’s worth intently view every painting in every room of the gallery. I skipped entire rooms, and my approach to viewing many of the paintings was much more influenced by Instagram than any of the art history courses I have taken. I found myself wishing I could “like” the paintings and move on. I felt shallow for even thinking this.
There were many tourists like me. But there were also groups of school children who would sit on stools or lie on their stomachs in front of huge canvasses and attempt to recreate a Turner or a Cézanne with stubs of pencils in exercise books. A part of me wished I could do the same, rather than snap a quick pic, and move on.
There was also one elderly gentleman that I remembered from my visit. He stood leaning on a cane in front of a huge canvas for a long long time, switching between having his glasses on and glasses off. I admired his focus, and the way he was taking time to soak in every brushstroke. As much as I admired this man, I did not think that I would be capable of his level of captivation.
I think God’s beauty is much like my experience at the National Gallery. We can experience it from a distance, but as we get closer and closer, His beauty does not diminish.
Than I walked into a room and saw Georges Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières hanging on the opposite wall. From across the room I could see the picture — the familiar shapes of humans and a nice dog on a tranquil rolling hillside, with sailboats on a river in the background. The scene delighted me, and drew me in. I drew closer and closer to the painting and began to see the tiny dots which made up the figures’ composition — a key feature of the pointillist style. I was struck thinking about how many dots were on this canvas and how many hours Seurat invested in creating this masterpiece.
I think God’s beauty is much like my experience at the National Gallery. We can experience it from a distance, but as we get closer and closer, His beauty does not diminish. Our God is the God who made the universe, but also the creator of of sub-atomic particles. Our God is the God who loves all his children, but also the God who is your faithful father and has chosen and adopted you.
It is right to respond to this in wonder, but it is a wonder that draws us in. God’s beauty should cause us to look at Him again and again. It should inspire us to sit as His feet and try to replicate Jesus, like a schoolchild with a sketchbook trying to copy a Matisse masterpiece.
This dwelling, and looking at God’s beauty is something the Psalmist thirsts after. In Psalm 27 he writes:
One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.
This is something we should hunger for as well! And here’s another layer of God’s beauty: he has given us free access to Him. He not only allows us to look from a distance, but through Christ has made the way for us to draw close to him. What a gift!
This isn’t a gift for us to experience and move on from quickly, like the way I breezed through the National Gallery. This is a gift for us to dwell in, to be thankful for, to gaze upon and try to replicate. True beauty inspires us to action. The best paintings make me want to paint. So as we look at the Lord’s beauty, closer and closer, and dwell in the reality of Christ’s sacrifice to bring us life, it should inspire us to emulate the way Jesus lived, and we should begin to exhibit some of the true beauty of our Creator God.