Clapham Christian Classical School

Clapham Journal

Class Eight Promotion

by Jason Barney, Latin Teacher and Lead Teacher for Middle / Upper School

(note: this address was given as the charge to the students during Class Eight Promotion Night on June 4th, 2013)

Tonight we celebrate the accomplishments of many years, and we promote you 8th graders to the next stage in your training as persons. That word ‘promote’ is fitting for this occasion. Just as in a job, promotion does not mean that the task has come to an end, but that a measure of success has been attained, which entails higher reward and higher responsibility.

8th Grade Promotion

 

So for you, the work of learning is not done, the time of training is not over; in a sense, it has only begun. Tonight, we simply award you a different color belt, in the hope that you will go on to become true ninja warriors. Or just as in promoting a cause, promotion means advertisement, commendation and praise for meaningful work. So we want to celebrate the hard skills mastered, we want to commend the true thoughts well-expressed, and we want to admire the beautiful creations formed from your own two hands, during this time of training. We promote you before friends and family; we promote you, looking for and expecting the many good works ahead of you.

 

And as we do so I would like us all to think for a moment about art. Now when I say art, for some of you, all that pops into your mind is Monet and Cezanne, painting in other words. Some of you might even want to let fly, “I love art…” like a flock of doves. But that’s not the type of art that I want to talk about tonight. It’s true that most often we use the word ‘art’ to refer to painting and sculpture. But there is a broader, more general meaning for the word ‘art’ that still survives when we talk about, say, the performing arts, the visual arts, the language arts, or the liberal arts. Art, in this sense, refers to skills as varied as that of the architect designing a skyscraper, the author writing a novel, the mathematician discovering formulae that accurately reflect the order of the world, the statesman administering law and justice in an ever-changing political situation, the student reading, comprehending, and performing the powerful lines of Shakespeare, or even the ninja defending the weak and powerless with bow staff in hand, just as Mr. Miagi trained him.

 

Perhaps there are, then, an infinite number of arts, many still waiting to be discovered. Consider for a moment what it was like when the first person discovered the art of making scratch marks on a stone tablet that symbolized not things but the sounds that made up a word that referred to a thing, and the beginnings of an alphabet, the art of reading and writing as we know it today was born. Or think of the not so distant idea of capturing impressions of light upon the right type of material. In 1839 Louis Daguerre developed a process for fixing images onto a sheet of silver-plate copper, polished and coated in iodine; after being exposed for only a few minutes—a great improvement on the 8 hours needed for Joseph Neipce’s camera obscura—the plate now painted with light was then bathed in a solution of silver chloride to create a lasting image, and the art of modern photography was born. In fact, everything in this room is a product of artistry. In this sense, then we all are artists of some kind or another. You will spend the rest of your life, practically all your waking hours, engaged in many types of artistry, whether small or great, whether noble or common.

 

What then does the great variety of arts have in common? What qualifies something as an art? Aristotle called artistry one of the five intellectual virtues, and defined it as,

“a state of capacity to make, involving a true course of reasoning. All art is concerned with coming into being, i.e. with contriving and considering how something may come into being which is capable of either being or not being, and whose origin is in the maker and not in the thing made…” (Nic. Eth. 1140a, Rev. Oxford Trans.).

 

 

Artifacts, then, are things that would not be there, if someone had not made them. To be an artist means to be able to create something, to make some cultural artifact; it may simply be sound waves in the air, a word document stored on your hard drive, or it may be the Mona Lisa. The artist makes something, reasoning through its proper formation. On that definition, God is the great artist, and everything is an artifact made by him. And yet, in a deeper sense, because the new creation work that He has done through Christ, as the apostle Paul wrote, we believers, in particular, are God’s workmanship, his poema, his artwork.

 

Tonight I want to promote you, each one of you, to the status of artist, I want to promote you to active artistry, based on the truest reasoning of love. There comes a time when the apprentice takes up the paint brush. There comes a time when the disciples are sent out to proclaim the gospel and cast out the demons. There comes a time when the practice becomes performance. And in a sense, I think that internal switch ought to take place for you in your promotion from the middle to the upper. No longer should you think of yourself mainly as consumers of art, now you are a producer.

 

Artist

 

But I have a challenge for you, then, if you are artists. What will you make? And will you be artists for good or for ill? For you see, real artistry—I’m not talking about incompetence, you may be incompetent, that’s another story—but even real competent artistry is not to be equated with goodness. A successful bank robbery requires great art, great skill and cleverness. That is what makes evil so very bad. No crime ever committed was devoid of art. No evil deed of the Devil would fail to impress, if we could fully see the twisted intelligence and craftsmanship at work. Hitler’s political savvy and powerful speeches made the horrors of the Holocaust possible. The arts are tools and they can always be bent by a bad will, to the goals of hatred, pride and strife. But of course, it is not always so extreme as in the case of Nazism. Most art is made from mixed motives, with some good and loving ends and some bad and selfish ones. It is likely that, because of God’s common grace, most artistry in our world that is prized and celebrated is mostly good. That’s something to be grateful for. However, probably not any of the great works of art, nor any invention ever created by man is wholly clean of the taint of human selfishness and sin, except what came from the lips and hands of the Lord Jesus, except God’s holy word to us in the scriptures.

 

So I ask you then, since you all will be artists of one kind or another, crafting your life, your relationships, your days, reasoning more or less truly in all that you form and create, What will you make… of your life? Will you craft your life according to the true reasoning of love? From the word of encouragement to a friend, who just suffered the loss of a loved one, and then night after night sitting beside them grieving with them, to the screen play you write that is filmed and watched by hundreds of millions of people, to the training you put in to become a world-class athlete, enjoying the gift of the God who made you and proclaiming him in word and deed before fans, to the moment that you decide to artfully sacrifice your own dreams and ambitions to care for your spouse, who suffered a debilitating injury and will never walk again; what will you make of the material of life that God is setting in front of you? Living well is itself an art, and a good life is not something you can create on your own. So will you join in the symphony, and abandon your solo? Will you promote the Artist on high by your art?

 

The arts occupy a unique, mediating place in the economy of creation. All the art in the world is a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal, without love. But in love, through love, art never ends. The partial and mediated artistry of this age, even the most spiritual arts, like prophecy, tongues, or knowledge, will pass away and be subsumed in the perfect. But the true and good arts themselves never die. For, faith works through love and in hope. And so if faith, hope and love remain, work too must continue, and indeed reach a new fruition of creative power. In fact, when we wake in the new creation, when we are finally and fully men and women, and no longer children—acting, speaking, thinking like children—then I tell you the true art project will have only begun. Then all that you will have done in this grand and beautiful world will seem as if it had been finger-painting in the mud. The light of the sun will shoot from our fingers and the blood of the stars will be putty in our hands, and we who have been recreated in Christ will create untold wonders throughout millennia and will reign as kings and queens of the farthest galaxies.

 

Light

 

If that is so, and I believe it is, then what humility, what joy, what love ought to characterize your little art projects in the meantime? It is my prayer and hope for each one of you, that you would not just be the artists we have promoted you to by status, but that you would be artists in the service of the crucified and risen Messiah. The world we live in is dirty and confused and mean. May you, by your art, spread beauty, truth, and goodness. God bless.

 

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