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.
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
To “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?