“From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.” –Psalm 50:2
Why do we love art?
From the crayon scribbles of small children hung from proud parents’ refrigerator doors to classical and modern painters whose works can fetch seven figure sums at auction from the most discerning of collectors, the love of art is about one thing: emotion.
We will undoubtedly see tens of thousands of artistic images in our lives as we visit museums, homes, and stores, pass by murals painted on buildings, stay in hotel rooms, and – now, most certainly – go about our digital lives online. The question is, of all these images, how many will invoke strong emotions within us?
For me, the answer is: about two.
The first one is a painting called “Solitude” by Jean Leon Gerome which hangs in the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA). This piece is strangely beautiful to me because I can actually feel the soothing warmth of the sand beneath me and the gentle breeze of the ocean on my face, as if I am the lion. However, in this beautiful scene, the lion is alone and seemingly out of place – a feeling with which I can easily identify.
Two copies of this painting hang in my home: one from the DIA gift shop and another done by a friend for a painting class in college.
The second image is a painting called “Zion” by Jeff Haynie – and it only took almost 20 years to figure that out.
As a young teenager, I subscribed to a Christian magazine for teen boys called “Breakaway” (now defunct). The magazine was OK from what I remember – articles about youth making a difference, interviews with Christian musicians, athletes, etc., fiction and non-fiction stories, etc. Then, in the May 1997 issue, included in the centerfold was a poster and, with my first glance, I was captivated.
Zion is a reference to many different things, but, for me, it has always been a literal, actual, physical place where God will live with his creation (AKA heaven). From my early childhood reading of the Bible and my own imagination, I would often have dreams about what heaven was like. In these dreams, heaven is a giant city or nation, built around a central palatial-type dwelling where all can come and be in the physical presence of God while his spiritual presence is felt throughout the kingdom.
When I look at the image, first I am flying with the white birds in the forefront, gliding through the mist. Then my eyes slowly move up, past the tree on the cliff, closer to the light emanating from the holy place, guarded by stone angels who are seemingly ready to come to life at any moment.
The poster from the May 1997 issue of Breakaway was like a picture directly out of my dreams; it was almost as if I had painted it myself. This poster hung from a wall in my room (with that blue tacky stuff) for many years, until I bought my own house in 2007.
After forgetting about the poster for a while, figuring I had misplaced it, I spent considerable time on Google in search of a replacement, but had no success. So I gave up.
Fast forward to February 2015 and I’ve decided to undertake an organizing project to get all of my old files and documents in order. Going through folders of articles, tax documents, auto records, letters, and more (even old speeding tickets) I came across a magazine article about space camp. “That’s strange…”, I think, having never been particularly interested in space travel, “I wonder why I would have saved this.” Upon opening it, as you might have guessed, it was the poster I had loved from long ago!
My heart jumped with excitement that I had found this treasured image from my past – it was as beautiful as I remembered (though a little rough around the edges; blue tacky stuff hardened to the corners). Immediately, I grabbed a measuring tape and started scouring the internet for custom frame sites to preserve the poster forever – then it hit me. Jumping up from my computer, I went back to where the poster lay and looked with great hope for a legible signature, and there it was: “Haynie, ‘93”
This time, Google cooperated and within 0.5 seconds I found a store offering brand new prints for sale on all types of medium.
Now that I knew the name of the artist, I decided to do little more research on him. As it turns out, even though I did not have the Zion poster for many years, I was unknowingly seeing Jeff Haynie’s artwork in the movies and video games I was playing – it was quite amazing to read about all of his commercial success. Going out on a limb, I decided to write Jeff an email to express my gratitude for his art and how it deeply resonated with me. To my surprise, I received a response thanking me for my appreciation and offering to send me a signed copy!
Just over a week later, it arrived:
We are all delightfully different people who connect emotionally with different pieces of art for different reasons. For me, rediscovering “Zion” was an amazing experience and I look forward to one day seeing how close my dreams and this painting come to the real thing.
If you have a favorite painting, photo, or other piece of artwork, please share your story in the comments.