People are always scared to paint with black. I've seen it countless times when working in the community or in the art studio. I see the hesitancy in their hands, the pause and pondering. It's in that space of wrestle that I like to press in.
"The green is the calm" she told me. She was stopping by the art class on her way to get a bus pass and hopefully find access to a phone to call her young daughter. I could tell she was carrying not only her only anxiety and pain, but also that of friends and loved ones that she cared for. She spoke with an upbeat voice, but her trembling hand betrayed her. After she calmly painted her watercolor paper a light shade of grass green, I asked her if there were any other colors she felt like painting with. She answered without hesitation. "I mean, I want to paint with black but then you'll just think I'm super dark and I'm not."
"Do you feel like painting with black though?"
"Yes," she whispered.
"Then it doesn't matter what I think. You can have both. Both green and black. You're not one or the other right now and that's ok. There are not good and bad colors, simply colors. Use the ones you want."
But I understood what she meant. The very first time I painted in my art studio it hadn't even been built yet. It was still just a wooden foundation in the open air. I took a canvas out and I began to paint using every color in my bin. I offered each color up to God, letting my brushstrokes act like upward wafts of perfume that extended as praise. Each color speaking of a different emotion and expression was given as an offering- except for one. Black was the last tube of paint I pulled out and I couldn't bring myself to add it to my colorful canvas. I held the canvas in my hands for a long period of time and questioned why I was having trouble adding this last color to my canvas of praise. In the silent woodsy air I felt the whisper in my ears. "Daughter, black is beautiful too."
Now I realize saying this phrase has many connotations, but I have no hesitancy allowing you to interpret them with all its implications. In this moment my color aversion was a highlight of my own personal bias towards "happy" and my need to choose this over hard rather than let them exist simultaneously. Since the beginning of time, humanity has closely tied the color black to grief, mourning, darkness and even evil; a color representing fear and lack of sight, filled with uncertainty and the breadth of hopelessness. But we will return to challenge that thought in a moment. For me, while mars black sat as a paint color in a tube, it represented so much more to me. As I slowly began to add in the black line to the middle of my canvas, God simultaneously whispered His freedom and a truth that I would continuously need to sustain me for everything that lay ahead. I did not need to fear the hard or the painful or the unknown. It would always be part of my canvas. It had to be. Black would come to be one of my favorite colors to paint with, as I began to appreciate it's deep and symbolic beauty.
You might recall the very first lines of Scripture:"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
We might say that in this place of darkness, God saw the need for light and so light is good and darkness is bad. But interestingly enough, God simply created space for both. The dark was the perfect space to breathe creation.
So what if we began to see the color black less connected to the death, and more connected to the birth of something new?
It's in the darkness of night that God designed our bodies to find the deepest rest: sleep. Haven't you found that it's in our darkest places that God's presence seems to hover the thickest? In the black of the night sky, the stars radiate from millions of miles away. Without black, what is light? Let me be clear. I am actually not comparing the color black to bad, evil or the kind of darkness that covers up good. Those are all things we have created in our own symbolism as humans. I'm referring to the actual blackness that God existed in as the eternal Creator. Pitch black darkness, pregnant with the possibilities of hope and life and all things to come. Is it not in the the darkness of a womb that life is born? Is it not in the darkness of the tomb that Christ conquered death? Why are we so afraid of black?
We fear the unknown, the lack of sight. We always have. Isn't that why black has come to be the color of death and grief in every culture? Pitch black is the color of endless abyss- things beyond our physical sight and it terrifies us. It's here we find the mysterious things out of our knowledge and control. We come face to face with the reality that we are not God. Human sight gives us something to cling to, even sometimes the false perception that we know.
It's in the the "blackest" hours of my life, the moments I have felt most out of control and afraid of what's to come and even of what is, that I have felt most held by God.
So as an artist I've come to love the possibilities of the color black. It reminds me I don't have to know or understand. Black doesn't symbolize just hard to me. It symbolizes hope. It speaks of what can be and it anchors the deepest places of my soul to the God who exists beyond the unknown. And if you come to an art ministry session, I will likely encourage you to use black, not to represent the worst of your pain, but perhaps the most beautiful.