[NOTE: This piece was written by Abi, our daughter, on the first anniversary of her Grandma, my Mum, passed away.] It took me years before I learnt that the beautiful pieces of art around the house were painted by my grandma. She was an artist, an aspect of her I don’t remember much of. And I’ve recently been thinking about my belief in the Great Artist. My grandma could create masterpieces from nothing, in the same way that The Great Artist created everything in existence from nothing…including us. Human beings are art work. My grandma was artwork.
I feel sad today that she could make such incredible art, art that has and will outlive her, art that has a place in my home, art that speaks. Yet she never saw herself as artwork, as a masterpiece. And she never saw others this way either.
Of course human beings are art. How can we not be? Our prayers are spells, our words are poetry, and our smiles are a fresh flick of the paintbrush, and our bodies are the frames we’re in. Our expressions, our frowns, our tears, our exclamations – even our clothing, our mannerisms, and our choices- are all communicating art. Our joy, pain, accomplishments, pain, conflicts, failures, disappointments, hope…do we not use these to create paintings and patchworks and sculptures all the time? We are complex and evolving and abstract. But isn’t that art? The painting in my grandma’s dining room that is vibrant and feels like spring, is just as much art as the broken ships on the shore that now hangs in my living room. The yellows in the first painting are not more ‘art’ than the blacks and greys of the latter. Of course, some people will prefer one painting over another- preference is part of art I suppose. The latter painting speaks to my soul far more than the spring painting.
Even on our darkest days, we are art. Living pieces of art.
I wonder if my grandma would, have lived differently if she knew was a masterpiece, if she knew she was art. I wonder how she would have been if she knew that every single part of her was a work of art and that she was communicating with other living pieces of art. I hope it would have helped her to pray honestly and sincerely, authentically from her heart – not worrying about what or who God wanted her to be and feel, or what others wanted to see; that it would have allowed her to be a masterpiece. Her joy would be understood by her as art, her depression would be understood as art. Instead she saw some things of her masterpiece as needing to be painted into the forefront and shown off, and other pieces as mistakes on the canvas that needed to be painted over or covered.
I wonder if it would have empowered her to be kinder to others – to see the art in others that she encountered, lived with and loved. I can only wish that she would have seen the art in people, regardless of the colours used for their frame, and the accent in which they shared their poetry. I can only wish that she wouldn’t have spent her life advising others on the sort of art that they ‘should’ be, but she would have learnt to appreciate the art they were in those moments, always evolving, always changing, totally abstract, but sometimes with beautiful clarity. When I wander around art galleries, there’s frankly a lot of paintings and sculptures that are wasted on me. I don’t understand them. I’m not sure I understand the language of their spells or the meaning of their poetry. I can look at a painting and wonder why that colour was used or that part thrown into the forefront. My lack of understanding doesn’t diminish the fact that it is art. And so, this goes for people too. Our lack of understanding of others doesn’t make them any less a masterpiece.
The thing that pains me the most when I remember my grandma is that of my first image in her last weeks at the hospital: old and frail, tired, lonely and terrified. I remember her telling me that God wasn’t ready for her yet, and she wasn’t going to die yet, and I kindly smiled and said, “Grandma, God is always ready for you, and you don’t need to worry about that. If it is God’s timing, then it is God’s timing and there’s not much you can do about that.” Gosh Grandma, don’t fight with The Great Artist. Don’t you see, that even in death, He is making art? He is making things new and making things beautiful. I can remember my sister sitting with her reading the Psalms, and others playing her hymns in her last days to bring her peace. And I mostly remember trying my hardest to love her and look after her and alleviate her fears – to see her art, her painful, terrified, exhausted art, and meet it with my own art: kindness and love and peace. When we see people as art, it allows us to stop for a moment and consider how we should reflect and respond to the art being presented to us. I didn’t present some of my other spells and poems and expressions of art for my grandma on those days in the hospital – my own grief and anxiety and pain for her. I shared that art with others, in the carpark outside.
My comfort today, a year on since she died in the hospital and not in her home, is that she is entirely and authentically a masterpiece, existing amongst art and able to see and celebrate art that her eyes wouldn’t allow her to see while she was with us: in a variety of frames, praying a huge host of spells and speaking poetry in accents and languages that will no longer make her feel uncomfortable.