Archive for October 14th, 2019


We are Called to Be Artists

Last week I visited Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha to give an encore of a talk I’d given there years earlier.  In 2006 the museum had hosted a major exhibit of folios from The Saint John’s Bible, and by any measure the attendance of 70,000 people made it a success.  And while I would not dare to attribute any of its success to the lecture I gave during its opening, at least I didn’t scare that many people away.

Last week I spoke once again to the Friends and docents of the museum, and I enjoyed being back.  As in 2006 the exhibit of folios is well-staged, but it is quite different from its earlier incarnation.  In 2006 we had folios from the first three volumes of The Saint John’s Bible.  This time around the project is complete, and the current exhibit includes folios from all seven volumes.  That in itself is quite an achievement because — as I reminded the audience — the only thing better than perfect is done.

17280824-BDB1-4F35-AB62-E1A5E9ADE994It was nice to have the opportunity to reflect on the project in its entirety.  For one thing, I noted, the project didn’t turn out quite the way our scribe Donald Jackson had promised nor had we imagined.  To be specific, it took a lot longer to make.  We thought it would take a mere seven years.  In retrospect that timeline now seems ridiculous.  Notably, it took almost two years of planning before Jackson put quill to parchment for the first time.  All kinds of other issues cropped up along the way, and in the course of time seven became fourteen years, and that translated into a budget that more than doubled.

At the beginning of the project Donald Jackson promised to give us exactly what we asked for and more than we ever imagined.  We certainly never anticipated some of the snafus and other grief-producing moments, but not for a moment do I believe this was the kind of experience that Mr. Jackson had in mind when he made those promises.  To cast it in the most favorable language, it turned out to be a genuine learning experience for all involved.  But out of that experience came something truly wonderful.

9ED52866-F447-44A0-BB9C-F3F177EBA314If there’s one unanticipated challenge that I would single out for special attention, it’s the one I touched on in my talk last week.  When Donald Jackson delivered the second volume I expected it to be nice, just as the first volume had been.  But it wasn’t.  Volume II was nicer.  Then each successive volume proved to be even nicer.  Jackson too noticed the progression; and when he proposed doing the first volume all over again we replied with a resounding “NO!”  By then, however, it was not just a matter of done being better than perfect.  It was a matter of artistic growth and insight.  His understanding of the Bible had deepened in the course of the project, and the illuminations reflected that.  Had we let him start at the beginning again there certainly would have been greater nuance in his work, but at what cost?  Better to be done and perfect in this particular case.

I didn’t dwell on that issue in Omaha last week, nor did I tease out one parallel observation that struck me in the course of this project.  Not often enough do we stand back and reflect on the course of our lives.  Not often enough do we appreciate our personal growth or whatever achievements we’ve racked up in the course of the years.  Still, we’ve been allowed to be artists with the materials God has given us, and God gives us the time and opportunity to be creative with our lives.  We can only hope and try to make the most of the chances we have.  For all of us, however, the day will come when we’ll be able to say that the only thing better than perfect is done.  That’s the day when we stand before the Lord and he welcomes us into his kingdom.


+On October 7th I spoke to the Friends and docents of Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha.  The address was part of the opening activities of the museum’s new exhibit:  Word and Image:  The Saint John’s Bible.

+On October 12th we had our first snow of the season at Saint John’s.  It was nothing big; but nevertheless it was a jolt, considering that most of the leaves are still on the trees and have yet to change color.  We may have missed autumn entirely.

+The photos in today’s post show scenes from The Saint John’s Bible gallery in Alcuin Library at Saint John’s University.


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