on limits and bridges

“But it is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits. Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. The moment you step into a world of facts, you step into a world of limits.”
–G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

We’ve been talking art at an apologetics conference. Art and apologetics, the exclusivity of the gospel, the way people try to hide the messy, the way the messy can’t be hidden, the way Christ’s light shows it forth without shame, the way we want our endeavors to show forth that light in the midst of that mess.

I took a walk by myself one evening, caught snatches of magnificent piano music through open concert hall windows, glimpsed a drawing of a dragon on a whiteboard through the window of a basement classroom.  Today I’ve run into three different people from my undergraduate alma mater, overlapping here with me for various reasons. Serendipities all; all made more charming by their limits, by the windows, the time constraints, the place. I might, of course, meet someone from my alma mater anywhere in the world, but to meet them here, this week, is a wilder chance. The limits, and the necessities imposed by them, make things more beautiful.

Last night, Sandy Reimer asserted that we must always seek to “build a bridge between beauty and need,” while Ravi Zacharias called our attention to “the longest bridge we’ll travel in life,” which is the bridge between head and heart.

A surgeon speaks to me of his desire for artistic expression, and an engineer tells me with a shade of regret that, while he chose training in a field which guaranteed a job, we in the humanities get to do things that we love.

The need, the desperate need, is the bridge between head and heart: the surgeon would be more than a head and scalpel-wielding hands, the engineer must be more than a mind and numbers on a screen.

Bridges, like art, are defined by their limitations, by the lines of their arc, the breadth of the gap they span, their rails or cables or concrete supports. If I began to call other things bridges — the watch I wear on my wrist, the chair in which I sit — the word “bridge” loses all meaning. Limitations let us communicate.

Not all paths go from head to heart. But beauty, I submit, is one path which does. Beauty, which also lies in the limits, which depends so much on a thing being what it ought to be. (The lines which define a beautiful giraffe would make a hideous human girl.) We hunger after beauty with heads that calculate and define the lines of what ought to be, and hearts that ache for the mystery that lies behind the lines, the wholeness which the lines cannot communicate.

Sometimes we try to erase the lines, to say that they don’t matter. That all gods are alike, all bridges are alike, that giraffes may have short necks and there is no difference between beautiful girls and beautiful giraffes. But when you erase the lines, you destroy the beauty. When you erase the lines, you are left with an un-bridged emptiness.

The artist and the apologist both must draw the lines clearly, must care for laws and limits, if they are to show forth beauty. The cross stands forth, lines obvious, itself because it is confined to the limits of cross-ness, beautiful because of the mystery that lies behind the lines: the God-made-man who cares to connect heads and hearts which have been broken, taking the brokenness into Himself.

This, so that we can be more than heads and hands, more than minds and numbers, more than bodies interacting with physical facts, bound for more than death. So that, from this world of laws and limits, we enter into life without limit and find the broken bridge from head to heart made whole: beautiful.

 

©2013 by Stacy Nott

4 thoughts on “on limits and bridges

  1. Captain Thornton says:

    That is so very true, and yet I’ve never thought of it that way.
    Even as the moral law that God has given us only constrains us from injuring ourselves. It frees us to enjoy the wonders of the life He has given a.

    Good point, Stacy

  2. What if the edges of the nose or eyelid or cheek or chin or ear were where I met God? Everything would change. I would embrace the “frame” not as a prison, but as a portal…Surgery could be, uh, liberating?

    And I was all set to go pilot hot air balloons for a living…

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