We don’t prize artists like we prize scientists.
Or, so it seems for much of society, and for much of the church. It seems that art is expression, but science is knowledge—expression is fun and all, and occasionally worthy of attention or mention, but knowledge is worthy of recognition and funding. Your mother smiles when you tell her you want to be a doctor; she asks questions when you tell her you want to be an poet.
In a three-part series on this blog, I want to tackle the topic of art and the place of the artist in society. My goal is to provide encouragement and resources for artists so that they may boldly continue in their vocation and glorify God. Or, for those who have laid aside this vocation due to ridicule, persecution, confusion, dissatisfaction, or frustration, to pick it up once more and pursue it with freedom and conviction. In the process I want to especially challenge the Christian community to reconsider its conception of a work of art, the artist, and how they respond to both.
I’ve seen many an artist question their calling and practice of an artistic task simply because they feel like they lack for both a theological ground for it, and for a Christian community to encourage and support them in it.
Regarding the former, I say: resist the need to have a theology of art or culture in order to justify what you are doing. You don’t need to have a Scripture passage for every conviction, love, and calling you have. What you need is a basic framework for understanding God’s presence and action in creation. A theology of art, or culture, will follow, if necessary.
How is God present to creation? How does he act in this world? Being creatures of this God, how should we understand our presence in this world? How should we act in it? How does our presence and action relate to God’s?
These seem like highly theoretical questions. 30,000 feet of nonsense. Don’t get me wrong, they are high and they are theoretical. But what you must understand is that they are questions with immense impact on our understanding of art and the artistic task.
If we think that God is distant from creation then our works of art will be seen as gropes toward transcendence that are at best interesting and at worst pitiable. If we think that God acts independently of us, then our artistic task will not be viewed as a vocation, but an occupation, and our works of art a form of self-indulgence or meaningless entertainment and not creational depictions and meaningful considerations.
The fact of matter is that God’s presence is all around us. And he is not just present, but active. God is before us sitting there watching; he is alongside us acting with us. With and through us, God recreates.
As human beings created in God’s image, we bear the mark of his creativity as well as his impulse to create. And if that wasn’t enough, he gave us incentive to recognize and realize this creativity through a moral command (Genesis 1:28-31). We are called to be fruitful, multiply, and bring order and beauty to creation. On our very structure and existence as human beings is the imprint of God’s presence and action. That is, God—as our creator—created us to be creators.
As redeemed human beings, we bear the mark of the Holy Spirit’s presence and work in our lives. The Spirit guides us in our callings and our endeavours. The Spirit convicts us to confess our sins, and guides us in picking up our paint brush. Our drawings, paintings, lyrics and melodies, buildings, and busts stem from the inspiration and illumination of the Spirit.
Our works of art—if we are listening and if we are deliberate—can be products of the Spirit. We cannot think of art as something superfluous to our existence. God made us to create. Art is not something added to our lives or callings. It is a life and is a calling.
That said, we mustn’t think of our creations as replications of creation, as copies of God’s great works. We cannot think of the poem as a tangible “pause” in a moment, or the portrait as a duplicate of an image, Or a sculpture simply as a representation. These works are new creations. What we do is not a redoing of what God did. No, we are not mirrors of his image, we are bearers. We create as he created. We do as he has done.