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A Valuable Workmanship

David Hockney is best known as being the artist who sold the most expensive painting to date: his “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” sold for $90.3 million dollars (USD). The portrait initially sold for $18,000 back in 1982.

Hockney Painting

Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) David Hockney

 

Granted, I’m not really an art critic; I’m an observer of human behavior, a teacher, counselor and pastor.  Yet as I looked over Hockney’s portfolio I noticed there are inconsistencies which I would have thought would have caused rancor in our egalitarian and politically sensitive culture.

There exist many themes in Hockney’s paintings.  Homoeroticism reoccurs often.  Yet just as often the portrayal of women has a perceptual twist.  With only a very few exceptions over the course of Hockney’s 81-year lifetime, the portrayal of women is minimally Cubist-leaning and his perceptions reveal an inability to come to terms with the female form.  His depictions of women are misshapen, as if M. C. Escher chose to paint portraits.

His depictions of men are clear, detailed, vivid and exhibit proof of their importance to the eye of the painter.  Yet Hockney’s rendering of women is nothing like his perception of men.  Women are either vague in detail and appearance or they are horribly distorted.  Some may say, “As with his depiction of men, Hockney is merely reproducing what he sees.” So, are we to believe Hockney purposely chooses beautiful men yet he seeks out women who possess no innate beauty and lack humanizing attributes?

This is much more than seeing a glass that is, “half-empty” or “half-full.”  Those who applaud the beauty of simplicity, the vividness of color which exists in Hockney’s works, should also observe an inability to see the beauty extant in both sexes equally.  Hockney routinely mars the mouths and noses of the women he portrays; symmetry is exchanged for twisted asymmetry.  When Hockney deigns to sketch a female subject, they are just that: a sketch, lacking detail, life, reality and color.

Again, this is not a judgment of Hockney as a person but rather his work.  No one in this world is above either the influence or the distortion experienced in the circumstances of life.  The art world loves to pile approbation and applause on Hockney and his work.  Hockney exhibits a clear eye, colored with his unique perspective of his perception of light, color, space, depth and subject.  Yet as the critics exhaust their adjectives on the product of his mind, they overlook the lack of clarity he selectively uses on female subjects.

The person who purchased “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures),” made a choice to buy this work yet passed by so many others of this artist.  The questions regarding why Hockney chooses to depict his female subjects as he does should not cause us to judge him and to demean the genius of his work. Yet it is legitimate to query his raison d’etre.

All humanity is art. True, the canvas has been ripped, ablated by time and circumstance.  Poor choices and lifestyles also affect who we are.  To a degree, there exists a truth in the beholders ability to perceive beauty; yet we cannot overlook the innate, intrinsic value extant in all human life.

How is this possible? If a picture, a photograph, is worth a thousand words, who chooses the words?  The words which are chosen, what do they reflect?  Are not the words of description, the adjectival efforts put forth to describe the perceived reality, are they not also affected by the person doing the describing?

The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  What is fascinating, is the word translated “workmanship” comes from the Greek word poiema, where we get our English word poem.

Those of us who know Jesus Christ as our Lord because we have accepted salvation by the faith given to us, we are the “poem God created us in Christ Jesus to accomplish good works.” The poem itself did nothing; it is a creation of the mind of the author.  Its beauty, its meter, the rhyme and the measure are all reflections of the author.  The poem didn’t create itself; it became a poem when it was written.

Hockney’s paintings received no applause, no accolades until he set them on canvas or whatever medium he chose.  His perceptions demonstrate the flaws extant in all of humanity.  Yet within those flaws, we can understand the need for correction.  God, through Jesus Christ, provides the correction to all of our flaws—and He is available to whoever desires Him to fix their plight.

Our value was determined by the price paid.  Jesus Christ died for those who accept the gift of God.  What kind of value could we—a finite, sinful and rebellious creature—put on the life of the Son of God?

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The Fixation Problem

As I mature (I opted for this rather than “grow older”), I am discovering very few decisions I make must be made at a specific moment.  When we can conclude we are not really “hostages of the moment,” we grant ourselves the opportunity to place our impending decision in its true context.  We can look around at what else is occurring in our life, we can talk to trusted friends, and we have the ability as believers in Jesus Christ to spend some time actually praying about our situation.

 

Fighter pilots are some of the most talented multi-taskers in the world.  They are flying a multi-million-dollar machine, capable of doling out unimaginable destruction on whatever target they choose.  Today, pilots have access to a mind-boggling amount of data presented to them through screens, auditory signals, and HUD’s.  All the while, they can be hurtling through the air at speeds far exceeding the sound barrier.USAF F-16

 

One of the most dangerous problems a fighter pilot of today’s modern aircraft can face is something called target fixation.  Target fixation occurs when the pilot becomes fixated on an approaching target—whether another airplane or a ground target—and their concentration causes them to lose the ability to comprehend where they are in time and space.

 

When this occurs, the pilot doesn’t realize how quickly they are closing on their target.  They have forgotten to pay attention to where they are, and more importantly, how close they are getting to their target!  Because of this fixation, the distance between them and their target goes unnoticed and ultimately they can fly into the very target they are trying to destroy—a bad day all around!

 

Few of us are pilots; so, it is unlikely we would ever be subjected to the circumstances producing this kind of target fixation.  Yet all of us are guilty of being far too close to our problems and losing any sense of importance and context.

 

Up close, all problems look huge because we cannot have any sense of perspective.  How can we, since all we can see is the problem?  A crisis this large demands an immediate response!  This person at work could ruin our career!  My wife doesn’t understand how necessary this motorcycle is to how I define myself!  The salesman will sell it to someone else if I don’t buy it now!

 

The writer of Hebrews 12:2 in the New Testament of the Bible writes this: “Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.”

 

Many people would understand and even acknowledge that Jesus Christ is our example in how to live our lives.  These same people would, however, never believe their situation deserves to be included under the example of the life Jesus lived.  Yet in this verse, there are two very important points.

 

First, the writer opens with a command to those who have a relationship with Jesus: we are to keep our eyes on Him!  Why?  Because He is the source of our faith (Acts 4:12: “There is salvation in no one else”) and His life completed or finished a life of perfection and obedience to the Father (“perfecter of our faith”).

 

Second, what motivated Jesus Christ to be able to be our example?  Because Jesus saw the problem which was before Him on the cross but He also could see the “joy that lay before Him” because He looked past the suffering of the cross (unimaginably horrible yet brief in comparison to eternity) to the eternal glory of being at the Father’s right hand on His throne!

 

The next time a decision “just has to be made this moment,” let us remind ourselves to keep our eyes on Jesus!  None of us are facing a cross or even death.  Yet if we make the choice to discipline ourselves to keep our eyes focused on Jesus Christ, we will never again fixate and obsess on a problem and crash into it!

 

No problem is ever longer than eternity; our bigger than Jesus Christ!