The Creative Urge: A Biblical Creation Basis for Art
We who accept the authority of Scripture recognize God as Creator. John 1:3 says, "All things came into being through Him; and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being."1 Worship at its height in the beauty of holiness cries out; Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created." (Rev. 4:11) What then do we the created do with the creative urge?
As a Christian artist I keep before me a flame of inspiration from Elizabeth Barrett Browning:
Earth's crammed with heaven. And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees takes off his shoes; The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
The rebirthed artist is "he who sees." The creative urge lifts above the mundane view to a realization that all of life is sacred when there is an eye for seeing,
The creative urge is a gift from the Creator, an endowment. Art, one manifestation of the creative urge, is an attempt to capture and appreciate the beauty as well as the groaning of Creation. Creativity is part of what was breathed into Man from the Beginning. Francis Schaeffer states "because man is made in the image of God ... man not only can love and think, and feel emotion, but also has the capacity to create ... Creativity is intrinsic to our mannishness."2 It sets us apart from the rest of the created. Imagine Adam and Eve before the fall with undiminished capacity for creativity with the inspiration fresh, still wet, from the hand of God surrounding them.
From that long ago garden to the present the creative urge drives us on. Even my nine year old often wonders aloud, "I have to make something! What shall I make?" She must find vent or become totally frustrated. This is mirrored in every artist's soul.
Proverbs 8, a Creation passage, richly colors the imaginings. To look at the ramifications of some of these verses is to give a Biblical foundation upon which to build with creative abandon. The "sound wisdom" of verse 14 means the capacity to accomplish something good. Verse 21 reminds us it is God who endows those who love Him "That I may fill their treasuries." Beginning with verse 22, we get a glimpse of the scene of Creation from the first-hand witness of the Son of God. He concludes in verses 30-31: "Then I was beside Him, as a master workman; And I was daily His delight, Rejoicing always before Him, Rejoicing in the world, His earth. And having my delight in the sons of men," God as Creator gives wisdom to accomplish something good and endows those who love Him. In the great creative process, there was rejoicing in the world, His earth, and delight. I don't believe God has quit delighting in the sons of men who love Him. I believe God shares the delight of creation in the creative urge. After all, the author of Proverbs understood this joint delight in creative endeavor as he, Solomon, built the temple for God's glory.
Exodus 28:2-3 spells out the call for artists: And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. And you shall speak to all the skillful (wise of heart)* persons whom I have endowed with the spirit of wisdom (artistic skill)," that they make Aaron's garments to consecrate him, that he may minister as priest to Me. (*marginal notes of explanation in the NASB.)
This really elevates a Christian view of art to call skillful persons "wise of heart"; artistic skill "the spirit of wisdom." Here again, we see it is in an endowment of God. Could it be a sin of omission to not use it, a talent buried? Finally, we see in this passage that art has a twofold purpose; for glory and for beauty.
For the artist, the creative urge runs deep and strong, C. S. Lewis affirms, "When Christian work is done on a serious subject, there is no gravity and no sublimity it cannot attain."3 In following the urge, however, there is struggle and temptation: to create in our own image, not His; for our own glory, not His,
When God was done creating, He said, "It is good."4 As for the Christian's creativity, C. S. Lewis says, "And always of every idea and of every method he will ask not 'Is it mine?' but 'Is it good.'" There has always been the temptation to worship the created instead of the Creator. C, S. Lewis observes, "The unbeliever is always apt to make a kind of religion of his aesthetic experiences. "5 Hans R. Rookmaaker, head of the Art History Department at the Free University of Amsterdam in Holland, states, "Somewhere between the middle ages and our times art became Art. "6 He continues, "All this quest for endowing art with some special meaning is in itself a sign of the crisis of art... Art is said to be an expression of man's innermost being, But what if there is little inside?"7
H. Richard Niebuhr has rightly said, "So long as we pursue art for art's sake, so long art will be the enemy of morality and of truth."8 This was written long before the National Endowment of the Arts controversy over what is art and what is offensive pornography. Niebuhr explains, "Our inner conflicts seem due to the fact that we have many sources of value, and these cannot all be served."9 It is no wonder Rookmaaker concludes: "Precisely because art had to be Art, it lost its ties with reality."10
As Christian artist Scott Stearman says, "It seems to me that the world is in little need of another message of confusion or chaos."11 The Christian artistic endeavor should reflect something of beauty rather than out of the chaotic abyss or void. Stearman goes on to voice
the role of the artist in society, among all the "sound and fury" of life, is to stand patiently aside with quiet confidence, waiting, knowing that when all the noise and activities subside, someone will need a moment to pause, to reflect, to remember, to be filled with wonder or touched with emotion.12
He concludes his testimony with these words, "My desire is that when someone looks at the work i have produced over my lifetime, they will see a sincere body of art that reflects the dignity of the human spirit, the glory of God in creation, and the wonder of life."13 It is no wonder that this artist's work is greatly endowed with exceptional talent,
Yet, even for the Christian artist, there is a struggle before one can say it is good. One of the most respected young contemporary wildlife artists. Rod Frederick, describes it as the missing piece to the puzzle when speaking of the creative process of approaching his work:
It's almost as if photographs and sketches and emotions are the individual pieces, and what's in your mind is the whole puzzle. What happens is you're trying to fill in the little missing pieces to eventually come up with the concept, but there's always a piece missing. So it always falls somewhat short of what I want to convey.14
Rod Frederick found this to be true from his secular perspective. He, if anyone, should be able to say, "It is good." Yet, because of the fall, I believe, creativity has its limits. It too must groan with the whole creation (Romans 8:22). There is always a missing piece, a struggle between the vision and the product. I have always felt this to be true of even my best work. But, it is a good struggle. As Scott Stearman puts it, "It seems the pieces with which I struggle the most are the ones I find the most satisfying."15
Then there is the ecstasy. Because it is an urge, a divine gift or endowment, there is deep fulfillment, gratification, As "one who sees" there is much beauty to behold in the heart, in Creation, in the eye, with the pen, on the paper, on the canvas, in the clay. It is beautiful, glorious. N. C, Wyeth wrote as a young man, "Life at times seems almost too good, too rich for my spiritual digestive apparatus ... were it not for my slight ability to vent my feelings through the medium of paint, I would burst."16 G. K. Chesterton "likens God's perpetual fresh delight in creating to a child's unwearied 'do it again'."17
From the deeps of my thought while composing this article, an incessant small voice of the six-year-old size begged, "Come see my show!" There she stood in make-up and gown all glittery with excitement. I relented. She sang her original creation: First I thought I could do nothing. But now I know I am strong. With Jesus' power down in my heart
1All Scripture quotations are from the NASB.
2Francis Schaeffer, Art and the Bible, Two Essays (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), p. 34.
3C. S. Lewis, "Christianity and Literature," Genesis, Journal of the Society of Christians in the Arts, Inc., Vol, I, No. 2 (Gordon College Press, 1975), p, 22.
4Ibid., p. 21.
6Hans R. Rookmaaker, "Art Needs No Justification," Genesis, Journal of the Society of
Christians in the Arts, Inc., Vol. 1, No. 1 (Gordon College Press, 1975), p. 4.
6Hans R. Rookmaaker, "Art Needs No Justification," Genesis, Journal of the Society of Christians in the Arts, Inc., Vol. 1, No. 1 (Gordon College Press, 1975), p. 4.
7Ibid., p. 6.
8H. Richard Niebuhr, Radical Monotheism and Western Culture With Supplementary
Essays (New York, NY: Harper Torchbooks, Harper and Row Publishers, 1970), p. 121.
8H. Richard Niebuhr, Radical Monotheism and Western Culture With Supplementary Essays (New York, NY: Harper Torchbooks, Harper and Row Publishers, 1970), p. 121.
10Rookmaaker, p. 5.
11Dave Anderson, "Art -- Not a Pastime But a Priesthood, a Visit With Nazarene
Sculptor Scott Stearman," Herald of Holiness. Vol. 80, No, 2 (February 1991), p. 47.
11Dave Anderson, "Art -- Not a Pastime But a Priesthood, a Visit With Nazarene Sculptor Scott Stearman," Herald of Holiness. Vol. 80, No, 2 (February 1991), p. 47.
12lbid., p. 46.
I3lbid., p, 47.
14Marie Bongiovanni, "Rod Frederick: In Pursuit of the Elusive,"
Wildlife Art News, Vol. X, No, 1 (January/February 1991), p. 28,
15Anderson, p. 47.
I3lbid., p, 47.
14Marie Bongiovanni, "Rod Frederick: In Pursuit of the Elusive," Wildlife Art News, Vol. X, No, 1 (January/February 1991), p. 28,
15Anderson, p. 47.
16Stephen May. "N. C. Wyeth," Southwest Art, Vol. XX, No. 9 (February 1991), p. 98.
17Daniel Loizeaux, "The Imagination of God," Genesis, Journal of the Society of
Christians in the Arts. Inc., Vol. I, No. 2 (Gordon College Press, 1975), p. 74.
17Daniel Loizeaux, "The Imagination of God," Genesis, Journal of the Society of Christians in the Arts. Inc., Vol. I, No. 2 (Gordon College Press, 1975), p. 74.