|Fiction File September 2011|
|Written by Christine D. Johnson|
|Friday, 12 August 2011 10:19 AM EDT|
ASK THE AUTHOR: Athol Dickson
Next release: The Opposite of Art (September).
Publisher: Howard Books.
How do art and faith mix in The
“Faith,” in the sense of belief or trust, is explored in the idea of a great artist, perhaps the foremost genius of his generation, whose sense of self-worth and identity is inseparable from his talent. There is nothing he can’t paint, and through painting, redefine in ways that are relative to himself. In that way he stands at the center of his universe. Then along comes the one exception, something he can see and experience but can’t reduce to paint and canvas. ... He has a choice to make: Will he continue trying to force this thing to submit to him, or will he submit himself to it?
There’s also “faith” as a synonym for a spiritual system of ideas. The Opposite of Art explores that through the idea of art as a tool in the hands of faith. Art as beauty, and beauty as God’s revelation of Himself within creation. ... On one level, the story is about what it means to worship the art of creation instead of the Creator Artist.
Your main character, Sheridan Ridler, ends up with a Mexican circus—how did you think of that one?
I wanted to drive Ridler to his knees, so I thought about what that would look like for a great artist. What would be the most humiliating thing for a Pablo Picasso? And I came up with a caricature artist … Then I needed Ridler to be isolated for plot-related reasons, so I thought of a Mexican circus. I grew up in Texas, so I knew about them. ... It was a good way to get Ridler back to America after his pilgrimage while maintaining his isolation. Also, I loved the symbolic potential of a circus.
What kind of pilgrimage does he go on?
Ridler loves a woman, Suzanna, who basically throws him over for Jesus. It makes him very angry because he has a massive ego, but also because, to him, Jesus is just a myth. Losing her to a mere idea instead of to flesh and blood somehow makes it worse. But he really loves this woman in his self-obsessed way, so he has to believe she’s extremely special, otherwise she would be unworthy of his love. That means he is suddenly compelled to understand how someone worthy of his love might view myth as reality, so he sets out to try to understand the basis for religious faith.
Then there’s his own encounter with the ineffable, that thing he has seen and experienced but can’t reduce to paint and canvas. He refuses to accept that it might have been divine, but he suspects there might be some natural basis in the myth, something “real” that he could paint if he only understood it. So he sets out to understand it in order to justify his love for Suzanna, and to reassert himself as the center of his universe.
What do you hope the reader comes away with after reading this work?
I hope this is the kind of novel readers will want to savor. Much of the story revolves around the idea of beauty and the creative instinct. ... And I hope this story will inspire some readers to think about things like the destructive nature of pride, and the fact that all true love is sacrificial. I hope it will remind some readers of the simple fact that we create because God first created us. We are God’s art.