As one of the world’s premier art museums and home to such famed cultural icons as “Mona Lisa,” the Louvre in Paris ought to have nailed the answer to the simple question, “What is a masterpiece?” But no. When the museum posed that query to a bunch of its curators a few years ago, they were stymied. It wasn’t that they had no answer, but that they had too many. Superlative craftsmanship, extraordinary design, great antiquity, rich materials, purity of form, artistic genius, originality, and influence on other artists. All those qualities, and more, bubbled into the discussion. “It became evident that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to articulate a definition of masterpiece that could be accepted universally.”
Masterpiece has a broader audience than paintings. Not a few of you are captive to the Masterpiece Theater broadcasts. This company has aired excellent TV series since 1971. Their motto is “commitment to bring the best in drama to American public television audiences.” Pixar has been hailed as producing a masterpiece in its recent release of Inside. Others would consider the works of authors like Chaucer, Keating, or Shakespeare as masterpieces.
The quality of the workmanship, no matter the medium, produces a product that transcends normal standards such that the product takes on a life of its own. The authors or artists are an afterthought. For example, step into the timeless oil painting entitled The Return of the Prodigal Son. You lose yourself in the story. You become mesmerized by the color or the lack thereof as you visually contrast the robes of the figures. Who are those characters in the darker corners of the painting? Who is that figure with garments inconsistent with the era? The story the painting conveys takes over and you no longer think about Rembrandt, the artist, or his techniques used in the painting.
The theme for this month is “God’s Masterpiece.” Ironically, the beauty of the human being has had the same effect as The Return of the Prodigal Son. There is the continual and unfolding human drama with the darker figures, the ragged figures, the self-righteous, noble figures, and the father who strains to see a loved one return home. We find ourselves trying to locate our place in the masterpiece as did Rembrandt when he painted himself into the scene. We are mesmerized by flashy colors, rich colors, and the depleted colors of life. We, the figures in the unfolding drama, are God’s masterpieces: His most excellent creation.
Were it not for Rembrandt, there would not be this standard for a masterpiece of art. Were it not for our Master Creator, there would be no possibility for us to be deemed a masterpiece. While it is true that Rembrandt’s painting(s) take on a life of their own, holding us spellbound, those paintings cannot reproduce themselves. Humanity is given the opportunity to reproduce in a masterful way or in ‘masterpiece style’ the kind and quality of life that represents the original Creator. Every day we are afforded the opportunity to both represent our Master and create qualities of beauty in our lives and for the lives of others. The quality of Rembrandt’s painting may take your breath away but cannot give breath to anything else. The quality of life we receive from Creator God gives breath to us and allows us to participate in the life of those outside us.
We are God’s Masterpiece Theater. The drama connects heaven to earth: His life, His values, His beauty in us and then through us. “The artist speaks to that part of you which yearns for beauty and creativity. Your inner artist invites you to participate in the great work of healing the world by lifting out of your senses creative images, words, and actions that inspire others to live lives of wonder and surprise.”
Surrender to the ways of the Eternal Artist and build a masterpiece out of each day: superlative craftsmanship, extraordinary design, great antiquity, rich materials, purity of form, artistic genius, originality, and influence on other artists. This invitation is extended to all of those the Master has created to continue fashioning the world in which we live. May our lives inspire wonder and surprise, beauty and joy, and be a signpost to our Master and Creator to whom our worship and praise rightful belongs.
 Christine Valters Paintner. The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom (Kindle Locations 53-55). Kindle Edition