Book Review: Life After Art
My grandfather was an expert on stain-glassed Tiffany lamps. Not a he-knows-more- than-me-so-I-consider-him-an-expert, expert. He was a bona fide people-call-him-from-all-over-the-country-to-look-at-their-lamps, expert. At least that’s what my grandma tells me. She says, “he knew those lamps so well that he could walk into a room and tell if someone’s lamp was legitimate or not” – whether it was a knock-off or not.
My grandfather loved Tiffany lamps so much that he mastered the art of building tiffany-style lamps in his garage. For years, he pulled my mom and my aunt into his workshop and made them help. They cut colored glass, soldered copper, and framed stain-glassed shades over Styrofoam molds. He even built his own lamp bases out of amazing statues he would find at garage sales and antique stores. It was a unique talent, and he was really good at it.
Whenever my grandma or mom tell me stories about my grandfather’s lamps, I feel this nervous excitement and inspiration begin to build in my chest. Some of it is undoubtedly pride, how can I not be proud of my grandfather’s expertise. But there is more to it that just pride and admiration. There is a deep sense that something is missing in my life, something important.
When I picked up Matt Appling’s book Life After Art, I got the same feeling of excitement and inspiration that I get when my grandma tells me stories about my grandfather’s lamps. Matt is a pre-kindergarten through 6th grade art teacher. The theme of his book is summed up in the subtitle: what you forgot about life and faith since you left the art room.
In reading the book, I realized that there are NOT a lot of people like my grandfather left in America – people that spend years learning a craft and then a few more years mastering that craft. Instead of creating art, “The vast majority of our culture’s artistic energies are devoted to creating advertisements to clutter the world and pop culture, which is meant to be consumed and then mentally thrown away.” (71) Most modern creators use their abilities to write marketing messages, design brochures, or craft mass-market products that have been stripped of beauty. As Matt says, “Instead of timeless things, my world is full of disposable things.” (69) It’s true. Our world is full of disposable things.
Think about it. “A popular singer writes a formulaic song that will top the charts and be played several times a day by DJs everywhere. The catchy hook will be on the lips of fans. As soon as the song reaches saturation, fans will become bored and sick of the once infectious rhythm, and the song will mercifully drop off the charts and out of our airways.” (72) And it’s not just music. People spend hours writing books so that they can hit the best-sellers list and then fall into obscurity. And magazines, well, most of us don’t even read the articles, we simply look at the pictures and then throw it away (or set it beside the toilet so that we can look at the pictures again in the bathroom).
Our world is full of disposable things.
But I don’t want to make disposable things, I want to make timeless things. That is the feeling that I get when my grandma tells me stories about my grandfather, and is the feeling I got after reading Matt’s book. It’s also the feeling I get when I watch a timeless movie, read a timeless book, or listen to a timeless song. It’s a feeling of personal pride. It’s a feeling of inspiration. And I’m starting to think that it’s the same feeling God had when he saw that the world was, “empty and formless” and decided to make it “very good.”
You need to pick up Matt’s book and read it because you’ve forgotten a lot of the qualities that make life beautiful. You may not think that you have forgotten a lot, but you have. Trust me. I just read the book and underlined stuff on almost every page. You need to pick it up because the second half of the book is all about reclaiming our inner-creator – something that I need to do, and I bet you do too.
Unless of course, you want to continue making disposable creations. If that’s you, don’t worry about Matt’s book; our culture is already poised to help you succeed.
But for people who are tired of mass-market C-R-A-P. For people that want to impact the world through their creations. For people that want to create timeless products instead of disposable ones. Pick up the book. Read it. And enjoy the reminder that you are created in the image of a Creator, and were born to create.