There was a hush on the fourth floor of the Vancouver Art Gallery as we entered, almost a reverence, I thought. People meandered quietly through the halls and rooms, taking time to study the paintings on the walls and read the commentaries and quotes from the artist’s journals. As I joined them, I was aware of my own sense of awe. Emily Carr was an artist I have admired since I was a child. Her work always made me pause, drew me in, made me aware of something beyond myself.
The quotes on the walls captured my attention as well. This woman, who is famous in my own country and beyond for her depiction of the west coast region of Canada, was a woman of faith, struggling to comprehend the greatest mystery there is - the deep, deep love of an all-encompassing God.
Emily Carr’s work depicts that struggle, that striving to faith, that longing to comprehend that which is unknown yet deeply sensed. The first quote visitors to the Vancouver Art Gallery saw as they entered the exhibit was “Art is Worship.”
Ms. Carr worshipped with every stroke of her brush, the swirling movement in her work drawing the eye up toward the heavens. A painting labelled Untitled, one of my favourites, is especially strong. The artist’s love of creation and its creator shouts from the canvass.
Emily Carr saw the divine in the deep dark forests of British Columbia and in the work of others, especially some members of the Group of Seven who welcomed her as one of their own. She was dumbfounded, while at an exhibit of their work, to see one of Lawren Harris’s paintings, Mountain Forms, ignored even by a priest.
“Surely he would understand,” Ms. Carr wrote in her journal. “Wouldn’t the spirituality of the thing appeal to one whose life was supposed to be given up to these things? He passed right by …”
I understand Ms. Carr’s frustration. So much that is redemptive in this world goes unnoticed at best, scorned and ridiculed, at worst. Yet those things that draw us all closer to our creator are enduring. Mountain Forms was recently auctioned for just over $11 million.
As I wandered in the gallery that day, I was not only stirred by how Emily Carr drew us to the Divine through her work, but by the recognition that we can all do the same, whatever our field of endeavour. We have all been created to express praise and adoration through everything we do, whether we work in oils or with words, whether we sweep floors or design buildings, whether our work is recognized or ridiculed.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters … It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23,24).
I was also struck by the reality that Ms. Carr caused me to praise and worship without saying a word. There was no banner declaring “Jesus saves” scrawled across her paintings, yet we are able to stand in the midst of those deep dark forests and worship with her. It made me wonder, does my art cause people to worship? Does it cause them to ponder the depth of God’s greatness and goodness? Does it glorify Him?
Walking among Emily Carr’s paintings made me pray it may be so.