From Cartoon to Classic

From Cartoon to Consecrated
Lent 29

We’ve all made them. You’re sitting in a very long meeting or maybe involved in very one-side telephone call. Perhaps you are stuck waiting for an appointment or just stuck….working on a problem or even writing an article. The pencil or pen in our hands starts to move and suddenly we have a doodle.

The term “doodle” is derived most likely from a German word meaning simpleton and certainly in the song “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, that is the intended definition. As a verb, doodle means to defraud or swindle. As an art form, though, doodles may be simplistic, but they can serve very real purposes. Scientific studies have revealed that doodling can help one focus as well as reveal what a person really feels or is thinking.

In recent times the graphic novel has brought validity and recognition to the cartoon which some feel is an elevated form of doodling. Cartoons first appeared as political commentaries, putting forth in art serious concepts presented in humorous form. Often the artist’s life was spared by doing this rather than being arrested as a traitor to the reigning regime. For those who could not read, a talent held only for the elite in some ancient cultures and often discouraged by law for those seen to be lower classes, the cartoon provided a means of communication.

Communicating respect for, stories of, or pride in one’s spiritual beliefs has long been practiced as a part of theology and/or spirituality. Every culture has sought a way to leave their mark and many have left artistic scrapbooks of their existence whether it is a simple cave drawing or the more elegant fresco. A fresco is a design painted with water onto a wet plaster wall. It requires not only the skill of the artist but also the ability to work fast before the plaster dries. There is a dry fresco style but those frescos require the artist to paint on the service while the more traditional fresco format incorporates the paint and the drawing into the actual plaster.

We may think of doodles and cartoons as child’s play but they actually are the first step in the painting of a fresco. The artist makes a cartoon, a preparatory drawing before mixing his paint powders with water and taking brush to plaster wall. While cartoons gained popularity for their humor, the original cartoon was a guide, a two-dimensional representation of what would become a three-dimensional masterpiece.

It is hard not to marvel at the frescos remaining in the world. While some are still being painted, far more are being destroyed. This past week the Middle East Media Research Institute released photographs taken in the ancient city of Nineveh which showed the destruction of historical churches and the destruction of priceless artifacts, some frescos dating back to the first century ACE and earlier. The United Nations has condemned these actions which ISIS has proudly and boastfully claimed credit. The cultural annihilation of centuries of ethnic evidence has been condemned by many of the world’s leaders. “We cannot remain silent,” Irina Bokova, head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, said Friday. “The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime. I call on all political and religious leaders in the region to stand up and remind everyone that there is absolutely no political or religious justification for the destruction of humanity’s cultural heritage.”

The use of frescos to portray spiritual beliefs dates back to the Romans at Pompeii and earlier on the isle of Crete. It was the technique employed in the painting of the Sistine Chapel and has become known as a Christian art form but was evident in many different ideologies and theologies. Depth was illustrated by marking indentations in the wet plaster with layers of paint added. Marble dust was often sprinkled into the paint to give it a glittery effect, the effervescence and depth giving life to the artwork.

The recent destruction of these sacred works of art is not one ideology trying to erase another’s presence, as some may claim. It is an attack on all of mankind. The tomb of Jonah, a prominent figure not only in Judeo-Christian scripture but also prominent in Islamic teachings was recently desecrated. A group that uses religion as its motivation should not and cannot justify their actions when their actions defile their own historical and cultural art forms. Those that follow them are not thinking, preferring to wallow in the worst of human behavior rather than see the sacred in themselves.

That which has been created is said to never really die. While mankind’s preferences may change and one’s palette may become educated to enhance appreciation, the creative spirit will forever live on as long as one man has breath. The choice to create or destroy is ours, one we face every hour of every day. The onus is on us to make certain our living is a cartoon, a preparation for what follows, and not a caricature, a picture, description, or imitation of a person or thing in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect.

An ideology, theology or spiritual belief should be able to stand on its own merit. If it must destroy in order to show reason for its being, then it has no purpose in being and denies the very reason for its existence. The destruction of temples, churches, and masterful artwork makes a mockery of sacred theology and the very men who conduct these heinous acts. Their caricature of their faith insults it. We have the choice to live a sacred belief in a sacred manner and that is done by positive action, not destruction.

Each of us is a created classic, a unique individual in the process of blossoming into our full potential. Unlike an annual plant that blooms only one season and then dies, our living continues on even after our passing. Our footprints leave impressions on those we meet and those yet to come. It is the way of mankind that we build on what was and honor the past with the future. We find the sacred by building, not destroying. Our purpose is to make certain the living we do today is a cartoon, a preparation for tomorrow and not a grotesquely exaggerated caricature that mocks our being. We each live in the shade of yesterday and our living is an outline for tomorrow. How we apply the sacred determines our future and gives reason and meaning for our being. After all, your life is not just a doodle but a masterpiece.

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