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SIGN YOUR NAME … Vincent Van Gogh was one of the most prolific artists ever to live, creating over 2,100 artworks in ten years. Famous for “The Starry Night” and “Sunflowers” as well as struggling with his mental health, he also lacked awareness of his brilliance, having sold only one piece of art in his lifetime. It is rumored he did not believe any other pieces worthy of his signature.
Olivia Rodrigo is just nineteen years old and found herself among historical headliners like Diana Ross, Paul McCartney and Billie Eilish at the famous Glastonbury Festival in London this summer. When she was eighteen, she won three Grammy awards, yet in her song “Brutal”, she cries, “And I hate every song I write, And I’m not cool, and I’m not smart, And I can’t even parallel park”.
Rich Mullins created an album right before he died that he never recorded in studio. Fortunately, he did record nine songs with an old fashioned tape recorder in a tiny abandoned church on a rickety piano in his perfectly raw voice. At one point in one song, he bangs out a chord with a wrong note and it is beautiful and holy and the best part of the entire album.
I don’t know how it is possible that someone like Vincent did not see his brilliance. I cannot understand how Olivia hates every song she writes. But I do hear the beauty of the moment when a wrong note blends with the right ones and it is holy. Is it possible that such moments are where art really happens? Maybe when everything seems wrong, it is being made right?
If so, then it is right and good to be in the middle of the mess, trusting that there is something beautiful happening. Even when we cannot see light or hope, we are urged to believe. Barbara Brown Taylor explains: I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.” Learning to Walk in the Dark.
The darkness of the doubt, the hatred of the song, the abandoned, rough edges do not stop the beauty. In some ways, they highlight it. A sunflower grows through a rock garden. An abused child learns to love. Wounded lives become whole.
I resonate with these dark spaces. They threaten to strangle me at times. But then I listen to people’s stories. And how humans shine in such excellence even while in pain and sorrow. It makes me hope. My work is like being in an art gallery or at a concert or in a tiny abandoned church experiencing magical and mystical masterpieces.
May we learn to walk in the dark, bang out wrong notes, keep writing anyway and in honor of dear, dear Vincent, always sign our names.