Blogs, new artwork, and other updates from sculptor Douglas W. Merkey

Musings on art, beauty, culture, aesthetics, and the spiritual life by wood wall sculptor Douglas W. Merkey.

"Outer Sculpture" and "Inner Sculpture"

“…Perhaps outer sculpture does influence the inner sculpture we call thinking.”

Upon first reading this profound suggestion from John O’Donohue in his book Beauty, The Invisible Embrace (p. 124.), the most dominant note ringing through my mind is simply the word “true.” It is true that sculpture, as with all art, influences the viewer’s “inner sculpture we call thinking.” This is true when art lifts one’s thoughts to places of beauty, wholeness, hope, and the like. But it’s also true when art pushes one’s thoughts down into places of chaos, disorder, anguish, and the like.

As an artist, these truths amplify my sense of responsibility and privilege, and lead to an essential question, “How then would I like to influence others’ ‘inner sculptures’?” As an artist who happens to be a Christian, I am apt to ask, “How might the God of the Bible like me to influence others’ ‘inner sculptures’?” Do I, does God, want my “outer sculpture” to influence others’ “inner sculpture” in ways that create ugliness or beauty, pain or pleasure, despair or hope, darkness or light, doubt or faith, fear or assurance, depravity or purity, chaos or order, or godlessness or godliness?

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that my highest joy and privilege as a sculpture is to create “outer sculptures” which “influence the inner sculpture we call thinking” in ways that create beauty, pleasure, hope, light, faith, assurance, purity, order, and godliness! Even when darker shades and jagged edges are used in my work, they are merely a backdrop for the ultimate ends of my efforts summarized in this delightful list.

But even as I celebrate this wondrous vocational invitation, I lament that so many art instructors, artists, collectors, and curators consider O’Donohue’s original thesis offensive at worst and irrelevant at best. These exalt the artist’s responsibility to self over others. As such, personal authenticity, self-actualization, and self-expression rule the process and presentation of artwork. To frame this worldview using O’Donohue’s language, the suggestion becomes, “Even if my ‘outer sculpture’ influences the ‘inner sculpture we call thinking,’ I don’t care! My highest principle is to express my own ‘inner sculpture’ authentically and unapologetically.”

As grievous as this self-centered approach to the artistic vocation can be, it is amplified by an even more malignant idea which actually acknowledges O’Donohue’s thesis and exploits it for darkness. This worldview says, “Ah yes, I am happy that my ‘outer sculpture does influence the inner sculpture we call thinking.’ It is my aim to exploit that obvious fact as I shape others’ ‘inner sculpture’ with violence and vulgarity.”

Lord, have mercy.

As with all lawful vocations (by this I mean “lawful” in God’s sight), the vocation of the artist is one of immense privilege given as an opportunity by God to participate in His grand, ongoing campaign to make all things new. As an artist rescued from the penalty of my own sin by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, I am grateful to be a beloved participant in God’s exhilarating and beautiful plan to lift hearts to behold that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and excellent as He defined these things (Philippians 4:8ff). Oh Lord, please walk with me and give me the grace to create ‘outer sculptures’ which influence others’ ‘inner sculptures’ in this most noble way for my joy, others’ joy, and your glory.

Doug MerkeyComment