The Painter Had Disappeared

Chuck Palahniuk has some brilliant essays on writing-craft over at LitReactor. I’ve read through them all multiple times at this point. Palahniuk is giving advice for writing, but it’s amazing how much of it I’ve applied to myself as a preacher as well. I’ve learned as much (maybe more) about communicating from him as anyone else.

In this essay, he is making the point that when the author (painter in this case) applies his craft well, he disappears (I’ll give some counterpoint to that in the next post). I would add that the same is the case for a good sermon – the preacher disappears:

Another Christmas window story. Almost every morning, I eat breakfast in the same diner, and this morning a man was painting the windows with Christmas designs. Snowmen. Snowflakes. Bells. Santa Claus. He stood outside on the sidewalk, painting in the freezing cold, his breath steaming, alternating brushes and rollers with different colors of paint. Inside the diner, the customers and servers watched as he layered red and white and blue paint on the outside of the big windows. Behind him the rain changed to snow, falling sideways in the wind. The painter’s hair was all different colors of gray, and his face was slack and wrinkled as the empty ass of his jeans. Between colors, he’d stop to drink something out of a paper cup.

Watching him from inside, eating eggs and toast, somebody said it was sad. This customer said the man was probably a failed artist. It was probably whiskey in the cup. He probably had a studio full of failed paintings and now made his living decorating cheesy restaurant and grocery store windows. Just sad, sad, sad.

This painter guy kept putting up the colors. All the white “snow,” first. Then some fields of red and green. Then some black outlines that made the color shapes into Xmas stockings and trees. A server walked around, pouring coffee for people, and said, “That’s so neat. I wish I could do that…”

And whether we envied or pitied this guy in the cold, he kept painting. Adding details and layers of color. And I’m not sure when it happened, but at some moment he wasn’t there. The pictures themselves were so rich, they filled the windows so well, the colors so bright, that the painter had left. Whether he was a failure or a hero. He’d
disappeared, gone off to wherever, and all we were seeing was his work.

From Chuck Palahniuk’s essay, Thirteen Writing Tips

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