Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Arts and Faith – Resembling God in Creativity and Development

In mid-march it looks like I’ll be giving a talk on faith and the arts and I’m teasing out some of the ideas in the next few posts.

pottery

When you look at the muddy side of a riverbank, do unformed vases and bowls call to your hands.  In a cherry tree I see pies and pastries and a desk that will last beyond my grandchildren.  In the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli there is pigment for blue skies and the Murex snail turns plain cloth into shades belonging to royalty.

In Genesis 1  God creates humanity

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

And two features that apply to the discussion of art and faith, are “development” and “creativity.”  In defining “subdue” let me quote from the ESV study bible,

The term “subdue” (Hb. kabash) elsewhere means to bring a people or a land into subjection so that it will yield service to the one subduing it (Num. 32:22, 29). Here the idea is that the man and woman are to make the earth’s resources beneficial for themselves, which implies that they would investigate and develop the earth’s resources to make them useful for human beings generally

chairTo “subdue” this beautiful and bountiful world in which God has placed humanity, does not suggest exploitation or misuse but points creative development for mutual betterment.  I try to imagine all the things which our first parents would need to develop and how this process may take shape.  Think even of a chair, no, a stool and all that is required to make one.  It is not only the raw materials of wood, but all the tools for cutting, shaping, smoothing, and joining the pieces together.  I imagine Adam thinking about something to sit on, other than the ground or a rock, and how the wheels began to turn.  At what point did chairs enter the imagination of mankind?  At what point were they made, not simply for utility but also carved and decorated?  When did the lines become graceful?  From the very origins of humanity, God commands creative development of the natural world and the arts is a natural extension of this command.  Moreover, it is in our role of imaging, reflecting and representing, God that we exercise creativity and develop this world.  God is the one who first creates, shapes, rules, and names and we follow after him.  Thus, there is great significance in the creative process, whether it is in a traditionally defined artistic field (sculpture or painting), or a different realm (coding for software, making omelets).   This also helps us consider the goal of “the arts” and simply based on Genesis 1, we would have to say that it is to reflect the creativity of God and to benefit people.  These are both generic but provide foundations for further thinking.  How does this challenge and affirm the phrase, “art for art’s sake”?  How about “art as self-expression”?  Does this concept of making and developing, broaden our understanding of art to include more people or diminish it so that “art” can be mean anything or nothing?

Photo Credit: AnnaMaja42 via Compfight cc   Photo Credit: jen_kels via Compfight cc

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The Arts and Faith – Beauty and the Presence of God

light

In mid-march it looks like I’ll be giving a talk on faith and the arts and today I started talking through the content with a friend.  I’m going to tease out some of the ideas from this conversation in the next few posts.

It wasn’t until I went to seminary that I knew much about how the Bible ends.  In Revelation 21 and 22 (the last chapters of the last book of the bible), heaven comes to earth.  God is present and from his throne makes all things new.  The scene shifts to the new Jerusalem – a city where God and a restored humanity will live in joy, worship, and peace forever. The city is described as

having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal….     The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

There is a lot happening here, but what we see about the heavenly city is that it is a place of beauty and wealth.  If you look back to the worship of the old testament with the tabernacle and then temple (along with all the furnishings and garments) you see incredible attention to aesthetics, the use of precious materials, and the operation of human skill and creativity in construction.  If God’s presence in this world and the next is tied, not only to goodness or to truth, but also to beauty it must be significant.

I think about this wall, which in an ancient city would have denoted protection and security.  It likely has such a symbolic meaning here, but if it is only about safety, why is it decorated in such a fashion?  In a similar vein, many of the decorations of the tabernacle (moveable Israelite sanctuary) and the Israelite temple, have no function or utility.

I also think of a section from 1 Chronicles 16 (not at the top of most reading lists), when the temple is dedicated and David says, “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness…”

One of the starting points for talking about art and faith, is the existence and significance of beauty.


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