Painting over the alien
Ever since I became acquainted with left-wing political activism, I have had considerable sympathy for Jehovah's Witnesses. Having experienced the terror of handing out soggy leaflets about apocalyptic events in the Middle East to contemptuous rush hour pedestrians on Queen Street, I can appreciate the courage with which Jehovah's boys and girls launch themselves onto the doorsteps of suburban homes early on Saturday mornings. And, having enjoyed discussions about the correction definition of the class nature of the former Soviet Union with Maoists, Andertonian social democrats, anarchists, semi-primitivist Greens, left-wing Islamists, and four different varieties of orthodox Trotskyist, I am both familiar with and fond of the ideological refinement and tenacious disputation which is such a part of the culture of small evangelical organisations.
I try, then, to be reasonably civil when the God squad comes knocking, even when, as today, they have the bad manners to interrupt me reading the new Don De Lillo novel. Usually I quietly turn down the offers of a reading from the Bible my interloctor has hastily opened, and shake my head firmly at offers of an impromptu prayer session, but nevertheless agree to take away a copy of the latest issue of Awake, the glossy magazine whose writers seem to have a direct line to Jehovah.
It's hard for a magazine which runs articles with titles like Did God Design Chimpanzees? and Can Sex Really Improve Your Relationship? to compete with the latest offering from the God-like De Lillo, so when today's jolly ambassador for Jehovah handed me yet another issue, I smiled, thanked her, shut the door, and aimed the rag at the rubbish bin.
As luck or God would have it, though, the latest issue of Awake bounced off my overloaded bin and opened at an article adorned with a photo of an artist's studio and the curious headline 'I Chose a Better Career'. I'd never thought of the Jehovah's Witnesses as part of the vanguard, or indeed the rearguard, of artistic expression, and so I was intrigued by the prospect of learning something of their aesthetics. And, make no mistake, 'I Chose a Better Career' is a remarkable text - so remarkable, in fact, that I feel obligated to turn evangelist, and offer a slightly abridged version of it on this blog, for the edification of the art-lovers here.
I Chose a Better Career
As told by Plamen Kostadinov
By the time I was 14 years old, I was pursuing a career in art. I was admitted to the art college in the town of Troyan, Bulgaria. I was very happy.
I liked living far from my parents and doing whatever I wanted. I started smoking and, from time to time, I would get drunk with my school friends. My love of art continued to grow. I excelled at my drawing studies, and a desire for fame grew within me. In 1988, I was admitted to the Art Academy in Sofia as one of only eight successful candidates selected from the entire country. How proud I was of my success!
Soon I began to dress in black, and I grew a long hair and a beard. I adopted what I thought was the traditional Bohemian lifestyle for an artist. That included renting a room in the artists' quarter of the capital and keeping it as cluttered as possible. I then took in a cat with its three little kittens and a little dog. Squandering money was part of my lifestyle.
My passion for art kept growing. I was constantly painting, using abstract depictions to represent the fantastic world of my imagination. I even painted on the walls of my room.
An integral part of my lifestyle was partying with other students. We often gathered in my room, drinking. Our philosophical discussions centred on music, art, and the purpose of life. Often, we spoke about supernatural forces and extraterrestrials. These ideas stirred my imagination, prompting new ideas for my next painting. I wanted to enjoy those feelings of euphoria longer, but they lasted only as long as I was drunk. The colours of my abstract compositions were getting brighter but I was getting darker.
I will never forget how eagerly I read through the brochure Look! I Am Making All Things New! and how in a few days I devoured the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth. On my knees, I sincerely confessed my concerns to Jehovah. I was thrilled when I received my personal Bible. I stopped smoking and changed my unkempt appearance. I started to take note of my surroundings. The mess in my room and the painted walls no longer spurred my creativity. I painted the walls white and thus destroyed the three-eyed alien creature that I had created on a wall. Needless to say, my artist friends soon abandoned me, but they were quickly replaced by people I met at Christian meetings. I realised that it would be very difficult for me to pursue a career in art and at the same time put God's Kingdom first. I decided to change my career plans and become a Bible teacher.
Some of my former friends made careers as artists, doing what I had dreamed of doing. However, I am thankful that I chose a better career. I am happy to know intimately the greatest Artist, Jehovah God.
This brief memoir raises a series of oddly haunting questions for me. Why, I want to ask the narrator, is the keeping of a cat and kittens a sign of decadence and financial profligacy? What, I wonder, does an 'abstract depiction' look like? And is there a photo somewhere of that painting of a three-eyed alien that evidently caused the author such aesthetic excitement and psychic turmoil?
I suspect, though, that the article might be a clever hoax, and that 'Plamen Kostadinov' might be one of Christchurch revolutionary anti-art activist Jared Davidson's nom de plumes...