I recently watched Justin Timberlake on Saturday Night Live sing “Only When I Walk Away.” Multicolor laser lights flashed in geometric shapes and cast net-like patterns on the blackness of the stage. My 19-year-old son watched, too, and while he’s not a fan of Timberlake, he appreciated the fact that he was willing to try something new. The last time we saw Timberlake, he appeared on SNL singing “Suit & Tie.” It sounded like the Sinatra songs my dad sang around the house when we were growing up. What a contrast!
On one level, Timberlake’s diversity reminds me of the modernists’ creed to continually “make it new.” It also reminded me of Henri Matisse who, toward the end of his life, shifted from painting to making paper collages. Having survived surgery for cancer, he considered his last fourteen years “a second life” and he pursued his new medium with fervor. Matisse’s desire to try something new lead him to create what are often considered to be his greatest works. Matisse reinvented his craft. He made it new.
Jack Kerouac described how the jazz greats continued to develop their music. “They sought to find new phrases...They found it, they lost, they wrestled for it, they found it again, they laughed, they moaned.” But what makes all that effort, that pursuit of the new, meaningful? Is newness, along with beauty, an end in itself?
God told Moses that Aaron’s new garments should be made for beauty, but also for glory (Exodus 28:2). As image bearers we have the responsibility to pursue newness and beauty. But what of God’s glory? Do we pursue it? Is His glory worth the wrestling, the laughing and the moaning?
(Art is La Lierre en Fleurs by Matisse)