I read somewhere about Dorothy Sayers, the late British writer, poet, and playwright who would often point to the analogy of an artist, who “does not see life as a problem to be solved, but as a medium for creation.” I think what she was trying to say is that the context of our lives is in the story we create with them, and that the problems we solve, however great or small our accomplishments might be, are only details within the story.
The other evening a friend invited us to go listen to a jazz singer friend of hers who was performing at a local hangout. We accepted the offer more to be with our friend than for the music, but not long into the evening we became converts. Not that we were not fans of jazz before, it’s actually quite pleasant to listen to. We even own a small collection of jazz recordings. What we began to realize, though, is that we were not just listening to the music being performed, we were experiencing the musicians themselves. Jazz is like that you see, a unique music form that it is not simply being played, rather it is being created before your very eyes. It’s more like entering a studio where artists are painting and sculpting instead of a gallery filled with completed works.
In the introduction to his book Blue Like Jazz Donald Miller describes his own experience this way. “I never liked jazz music,” he says, “because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland [Oregon] one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes. . . After that I liked jazz music. . . Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.”
Life, it seems to me, is sort of like jazz music in that it doesn’t resolve. Instead it is a medium for creation, and we begin to create when we realize that we are living in a studio not a gallery.