An artist’s view of trash, a God-perspective of damaged people

Saturday morning my daughter had a soccer game. Pollen permeated the air, my need for caffeine consumed me, and the urge to write itched in my fingers, so I sought refuge at a nearby fast food restaurant. This is an expensive area of town, and, predictably, even the local Chick-fil-A was tastefully decorated.

A large wooden table stood in the middle of the dining area. It was about waist-high and long enough for ten or more people to gather. The wooden legs were rough-looking: discolorations, nail holes, paint streaks. Yet they were polished smooth, their ends capped with steel. The ends of the wood tabletop were painted, emphasizing the grain.

A plaque at the end of the table reads,

This table was built by artisans from A Better Way Ministries. The materials used were salvaged from unwanted and abandoned homes. The hands that built it belong to a person who also once felt unwanted and abandoned. Love, compassion and grace are powerful tools. http://www.abetterwayministries.com

I wondered if the paint hides graffiti, those random obscenities plastered on walls, like labels on despised people.

In the space of forty-odd minutes, various people sat there. Some waited for food to appear from the depths of the kitchen. A mom and daughter ate chicken biscuits and laughed over photos on their smart phones. Children sat at the high stools, irresistibly drawn by the novelty of a table taller than themselves.

Once, someone had looked at that wood and said, “Trash. It’ll never amount to anything.”

Now, it’s a work of beauty, if one has the eyes to see it.

It reminded me of a local artisan who sells his jewelry at our farmer’s market. He’s quite a chatty person, so when I talked to him, I heard about the reclaimed materials he uses in his art. Steel, wood, tin—it’s all reclaimed and re-purposed.

His son is a drummer. Apparently, when cymbals are struck, they become harder. The hardness increases with every strike, each blow, until finally, the cymbals shatter.

“That’s when I get them,” the artisan said. He grinned.

From these shattered pieces of cymbals, he fashions jewelry. The pieces are fantastical, like something Dr. Seuss would’ve created if he’d been a sculptor and had an off-beat fashion sensibility.

“What is it?” people asked the artisan.

If you have to ask, you won’t be satisfied with the answer:

“Whatever you think it is.”

Is it art? Is it junk? Beautiful? Hideous?

It depends on the eye of the beholder. The artist sees it as beautiful, as art, as the result of years of artistic training and the destruction of a musical instrument.

I couldn’t do it. I tried: went home, deconstructed a discarded metal lamp, stared at it, bewildered, and realized I couldn’t construct anything beautiful. Not because it couldn’t be done, mind you, but because I’m not an artist. I see trash. I don’t have the eyes to see beauty in the debris.

But the artist does. Moreover, he has the training not only to envision, but to create the vision in his head so that others see what he does.

Whoever made that table from reclaimed wood was learning to see that way, too. But they weren’t simply seeing discarded materials as potential tables, they were also learning to see themselves as valuable, too.

Beauty comes from that pain:

Labelled, graffiti-style.

Abandoned, discarded by society.

Shattered, struck too many times.

Made beautiful by the hands of the artist,

who alone sees the value of a human life.

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11 thoughts on “An artist’s view of trash, a God-perspective of damaged people

  1. Beautifully told – I enjoy how you write about seemingly small events (i.e. the woden table at Chick-fil-A) that yield profound changes of perspective! And what a fascinating fact about cymbals and how they get harder with use until they shatter!

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  2. Laura, you, too, are an artist. You, too, take what others may oversee and discard and create art with your words, with your observations. I love this post. I love the beauty that can be found in brokenness. I often use an example similar to the table and jewelry that you described: Japanese Kintsugi pottery where broken shards are reassembled using precious metals and resin to make an even more beautiful whole. According to Wikipedia, “As a philosophy it speaks to breakage and repair becoming part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.” Thank you for Western and Christian versions of the same spiritual and philosophical value.

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    1. Thank you for the kind words, Kitt. What a beautiful example the Kintsugi pottery is of this concept; I believe I’ve heard of it before, but I’ll have to look up some examples on the web. (My knowledge of art is mostly limited to Western-culture art.)

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  3. “I don’t have the eyes to see beauty in the debris.” – Great line, Laura. It shows how great an artist God really is, making us new and works of art as in Eph. 2:10.

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