What Matters

This blog was originally published on Fred Smith’s blog at The Gathering. We’re honored to share its insights about the artists’ talent and excellence here. 

 

I love the art of Andrew Wyeth and his family – father N.C. and son, Jamie. Last week I made my first visit to the Brandywine River Museum with friends and sitting in front of Jamie’s portrait of Shorty, a local railroad worker and hermit posed in an elegant wing chair, I started thinking about two sons of slaves who became great artists and builders – perhaps the most famous in the Bible.

The Lord chose Bezalel and Oholiab to build the Tabernacle and filled them “with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills – to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts. And he has given both him and Oholiab the ability to teach others. He has filled them with the skill to do all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers – all of them skilled workers and designers.”

Like every artist, the source of their skill, ability, and knowledge was the Spirit of God. They were anointed for the work and it was something that came to them directly from God.

Pablo Casals said when asked about his talent: “I see no particular merit in the fact that I was an artist at the age of eleven. I was born with an ability, with music in me, that is all. No special credit was due me. The only credit we can claim is for the use we make of the talent we are given. That is why I urge young musicians: “Don’t be vain because you happen to have talent. You are not responsible for that; it was not of your doing. What you do with your talent is what matters. You must cherish this gift. Do not demean or waste what you have been given. Work — work constantly and nourish it.”

While their gifts came from being filled with the Spirit of God, they developed the talent. They became craftsmen. We were with Angela Duckworth, the author of “Grit” last week in Philadelphia and in that book she writes, “There are no shortcuts to excellence. Developing real expertise, figuring out really hard problems, it all takes time―longer than most people imagine….you’ve got to apply those skills and produce goods or services that are valuable to people….Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it…it’s doing what you love, but not just falling in love―staying in love.”

They worked with a purpose outside themselves. It was not just the work on the tabernacle that motivated them to do their best but they were also given the ability to teach others. They were not simply first-rate artists producing works certain to make them well known. They were also given the gift of being able to teach others those skills. They had a purpose outside themselves that gave their work meaning.

Again, a quote from Angela Duckworth: “At its core, the idea of purpose is the idea that what we do matters to people other than ourselves.”

Why do we like “Fixer Upper” with Chip and Joanna Gaines? Is it because they know how to take an ugly property and turn it into something beautiful? No, it is because they do it for someone else. All along the remodeling process they are thinking, “What would please the people who will be living here?” They have others in mind and what they do matters to them. While we love their skill and creativity that is not why we watch the show, I think. It is for the look on the faces of the people when they see their new home.

We had an experience years ago with Habitat for Humanity that underscored this for me. Habitat had recruited a local church to help the volunteers and the homeowners to build the house. As you know, the owner is responsible for the “sweat equity” in helping build their home. The mission of Habitat is not building houses but “building partnerships with God’s people.” However, the volunteers from the church were professional builders and on the first day of work, they told the volunteers and homeowners they could step aside as the church workers could do the job better and in half the time. They did but Habitat never invited them back. While they had extraordinary skills they had no interest in teaching others. Bezalel and Oholiah were just the opposite. God had gifted them to include others and pass along their skills.

Steve Jobs said, “Real artists ship” and that is true. But it is also true that real artists understand the source of their talent, the grit to develop it and the humility to teach others.

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