True Artistry


In September, I found myself with my nose nearly touching the surface of a stunning Van Gogh painting. I was close enough to see the ridges and layers of paint – the greens, browns and yellows of cedar trees cutting into the vivid turquoises and whites of the sky. It was an amazing moment; I felt like I was inside the painting, viewing it so closely that the experience was like stepping into Van Gogh’s created world. I gazed a while longer, committing the experience to memory, and stepped back into the real world to find myself in an art gallery somewhere in the middle of the Netherlands.

My dad smiled across at me from the other side of the room, and we moved forwards to the next roomful of Van Gogh’s work. In our week-long trip to the Netherlands we saw hundreds of this artist’s masterpieces, learning much about his process of creating such incredible beauty out of just paint and canvases.

We learnt that his colours were carefully considered, chosen to contrast and bring his subjects to life. In copies of letters to his brother, we saw diagrams of how Van Gogh aimed to precisely measure perspective. We heard that he paid such close attention to detail, that the starry constellation in ‘Café Terrace at Night’ is so accurate that it reveals to astronomers the exact date upon which it was painted.

In this sense, Van Gogh is a little like God. It’s a strange statement to make and perhaps a bizarre analogy – especially if you’ve never paused to consider what, or who, God could be.

Could God be a creator, an Artist who carefully considers His work as He forms it? What could it mean for you and I if this were true?

To consider these questions, let me introduce you to another work of art. It’s not a Van Gogh masterpiece, but part of an ancient song: 

You created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand –
when I awake, I am still with you.
— Psalm 139: 13-18

This song, can be found in the Psalms, the poetry anthology at the heart of the Bible. The Psalms express all emotions – from rage to joy, loneliness to comfort, disappointment to faith. This one in particular captures the contentment which can only come from being fully known – fully known and completely accepted by the Artist who carefully created, the Psalmist believes, you and I.

My experience of this Psalm is similar to my experience of Van Gogh paintings. I sit, wrapped in a blanket in the window seat of my room, looking out across the river running through College. I read the poem and draw close to the words, encountering their truth.

The Artist created my inmost being, the deepest part of me. He made me and knows me; He sees beyond the name that I’ve made for myself and knows the truth of who I am. He says to me: you are wonderful.

This is the amazing truth, for you as well as for me. The Artist not only knows you completely, but He also loves you completely. You are not hidden from Him and His love is not hidden from you.

The invitation is there: will you draw near?


TruthTom Olyott