Art Elevates

Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. -Khalil Gibran

My best friend Gigi and I have deep conversations about where we are going as artists. I am an author/illustrator, she a photographer extraordinaire. One day she asked me why I felt compelled to share my art with the world. I was stumped. I had a vague sense that my talent is here to make the world a more beautiful place. But what’s the use of beauty? It has no worth that can be measured or weighed.

The arts are part of the force that keeps violence and despair in check, that keeps hope alive. -Lynne Taylor – Corbett

Then my mind went back to September 11, 2001. After the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, I had the television on constantly. I listened to the media drone on about Homeland Security’s color-coded threat levels while I worked in my studio. I became frightened out of my mind. At my wits end, I walked out the back door and found my husband weeding the garden. He hugged me as I sobbed and told me to turn the TV off. After that I made a conscious decision to put my attention on what is beautiful, to what uplifts.

I began listening to music by George Harrison, Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell. Their melodies and lyrics soothed me. I can remember watching movies like, Fried Green Tomatoes and Father of the Bride. I reread To Kill a Mockingbird. I poured over children’s picture books and absorbed their exquisiteness. Gradually, I was brought back into feeling that a source of good exists and watches over us. Me, and those I love were safe.

Since that time I am very careful about the kind of energy I expose myself to. I no longer immerse myself in the news but glance at it. I keep my focus on what brings me to a higher place. Without fail, beauty does that.

Something sacred, that’s it. It’s a word that we should be able to use, but people would take it the wrong way. You want to be able to say a painting is as it is, with its capacity to move us, because it is as though it were touched by God. -Pablo Picasso

Whenever I sit down to draw I’m always at a loss. I don’t know what the heck I’m doing. Understanding the responsibility of sharing my gifts makes it even worse. After I finally put my pencil to paper, something begins working through me. Some people call it creativity but I call it God. As skilled as an artisan as I am, without his energy guiding my hand my illustrations would be flat. A collaboration with the Creator is always a sure-fire way to bring forth the amazing.

I heard in an interview with Pharrell Williams that, like me, he wants to use his gifts to lift people up. He was asked, “Are you afraid if you give yourself too much credit, it would all go away?”

“For sure,” he said. “You see people spin out of control like that all the time. I mean, those are the most tragic stories, the most gifted people who start to believe it’s really all them. It’s not all you. It can’t be all you. Just like you need air to fly a kite, it’s not the kite. It’s the air.” Listening to his song, “Happy,” makes me want to catch that same breeze.

Grass Is Greener

Beauty is alive and well in the fine-art photography of Gigi Embrechts.

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

12 thoughts on “Art Elevates

  1. Sue, thank you for elevating us with both your art and your thoughts. One of my favorite mentors teaches often about how all of nature is always in a state of growth or decay — there is no stasis. So much of life is the conscious choice to choose growth, even against all of the powers of entropy, to make beauty from ashes. Thank you for reminding us that just as collective ill will can destroy, collective good will can lift, inspire, and heal. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when the pursuit of beauty — especially the kind your art reflects, one born of pure goodness — is either more needed or has more nourishing power. You do bless the lives of others, as all who choose to create do. Thank you for sharing your gifts (and thanks to Gigi, too!).


  2. Uplifting post and beautiful drawing, Sue. Keep bringing beauty into the world. Here is a tweet by Pope Francis that reminds me of your thoughts; “Dear young people, let us not be satisfied with a mediocre life. Be amazed by what is true and beautiful, what is of God!”


  3. Beautiful as always Sue… If it had not been for God’s love where would we be… I love when His Spirit moves through me…. Hallelujah!!! Thank you for using the gifts He has placed in you my friend!!!


  4. Sue, I am reading this post 6 years later, and the truths you have written about here loom larger than ever.

    I think the mass media in its various platforms available to us these days gives us the news and information we need. But as they compete to outdo one another, they also serve to distract us severely from what we are called to do. I have seen people get caught up and so bogged down by all that’s happening in the world that it leaves them with too little energy to even go to their daily tasks. Then, there are those who tune in to get their daily fix of whatever – except that it doesn’t always do them much good. It harms relationships. It disturbs others.

    Worse, it stops us from doing what we were meant to do.

    Like you, I don’t believe in living in a cave. Some news and ideas I delve in to deeply because I am curious and want to understand; with others, my eyes touch the headlines and I leave it at that. I know when something disturbs me to spur me to do something about it, and I know when it’s just to incapacitate me so I stay clear of it.

    Some people shut themselves out of everything. That’s not healthy either. So much of beauty is shaped and informed by pain. I read that in your art, Sue, because I know a little about you. But it’s a pain that has been used by God to create something beautiful for so many searching hearts. You paint children a lot and I just love what you do because you bring innocence back to a world so in need of it.

    Sometimes, you might not fully realise why you do what you do, but from my corner here, it feels like you’re lighting little lamps. If we could all do this, in our own ways, this would be a very different world.


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