If the nerd world practiced the tradition of sainthood, Leonard Nimoy would be the patron saint of all things geeky. Through the years, thanks to his groundbreaking role as Star Trek’s Spock, he has become a pop culture icon. Whatever wisdom he has gained through his 81 years on this planet, he imparted in the Fine Arts Convocation speech for Boston University’s graduating class of 2012.
His words, filled with humor and insight, were intended for an audience that had spent the past four years studying art as an academic pursuit in hopes that their collective talents would be put to the best possible use. In it, he posed a few questions that are not only essential to the creative process, but questions everyone should ask themselves. “What is the work about? What does it say to a contemporary audience? What light does it cast on our lives and on the issues that concern us and connect us? Indeed, how does it help to heal the world?” The answers to those questions give us a foundation to build upon.
Nimoy closed his address with a challenge, “You are the creators and curators of your own lives. You create your own life and your own work. Give us your best. Give us the best of your art. We crave it. We hunger for it. Help us to see ourselves, to know ourselves. Illuminate our lives.” This should be the goal of every artist.
How do we accomplish this feat within the realm of Christian morals? How do we stay honest and creative while honoring the God we worship? How do we push boundaries but stay within the limits prescribed by scripture? How can we be brave while giving the best of our art?
Paul, in his letter to the church in Phillipi, gave us a list of words to live by. If we, as artists, remain faithful to these values within our creations we will never stray beyond God’s will for our art. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8 NIV)
This is a checklist that gives us the strength to endure criticism, scorn, and outright mockery. Within these bounds we give our imagination free reign. We can confidently face our critics and speak. You don’t approve of my style? That’s OK because it is pure and noble. You don’t agree with my message? That’s fine, because it is true and admirable.
This liberates us to enjoy both success and failure. This allows us to learn, grow, and improve. In this, we gain liberty to create in times of joy and mourning. There is a time to laugh and a time to lament and we are free to do both within the bounds of Philippians 4:8.
These are the closing remarks that Paul gives to the Philippians. This is the “ps” to his letter. The exhortation is preceded by the word “Finally.” It is as if he is saying, “If you haven’t been paying attention to anything I’ve said before, you better start listening now. Finally, these words are of the utmost importance. Finally, if you forget everything else, at least remember this.”
From translation to translation, there is not an inglorious word among them. A few years ago I compiled the various terms used in this one verse from each of the English versions of the Bible for a presentation to a youth group. Collectively, this is a framework for us as artists. This should be the cornerstone for all we create.
Finally, whatever is true, honest, honorable, excellent, sooth, seemly, pleasing, compelling, commendable, of good fame, of good repute, of good report, truly worthwhile, the best, good, noble, respected, reputable, full of pleasantness, friendly, amiable, well thought of, kind, winsome, right, admirable, straight, fair, just, proper, holy, chaste, righteous, acceptable, pure, modest, clean, authentic, gracious, beautiful, lovely, lovable, worthy of respect, worth giving thanks for, worthy of reverence, of any virtue, brings praise to God, praising of discipline, or worthy of praise…
Think about such things. Just think.
ps. If you haven’t watched Leonard Nimoy's speech, you should.