Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Art is Knowing Where to Point

“The truest tendency of art is toward the exaltation, not the reduction, of its subjects. The highest art, as William Blake said, is able ‘To see a World in a Grain of Sand, And a Heaven in a Wild Flower.’”

–Wendell Berry

Genesis 1:1-3

“First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss. God spoke: “Light!” And light appeared.”

Genesis 1:26

“God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature. . .”

Genesis 1:27-28

“God created human beings; he created them godlike, Reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female. God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!"

A guy I know from my home town of Columbia, SC, named Drew Bunting, is a musician who also happens to be a Christian and a priest. He has a lyric in one of his songs Madhouse that I love. It says, “Art is knowing where to point.” This has got to be one of the best definitions for art that I have ever heard. The reason why this definition is the best I have heard is that artists, or people who create, are creating out of something. We are also creating out of who we are. We are created beings that are creating out of an already created order. We are pointers. Anything that we create is an assembly of what already exists in some form or another already because of God.We are simply pointing to beauty or assembling beauty from God’s creation, through God’s inspiration. We point to God in our art.

The very nature of our desire to create and build comes from the image of God that we ourselves are created in. Creation speaks of God. Our desire to create speaks of God. The creations that we create, our art, is through the image of God, and from God’s creation. All of creation, including the art that we create, speaks of God as well. If art is knowing where to point, and I believe that it is, then when we find the art we are pointing at, we find that the art is pointing back to God, or it is at the lest speaking of God in some fashion.

Art is a narrative of God’s story. In the rawest of essence of artistry we are plagiarists of God, who has created everything, unless of course we give credit to God as being our source. This giving credit to God turns art from being an act of plagiarism to an act of worship. After all, we were created in God’s image. We are designed to create. We are also designed to worship.

God is the master craftsman. God is the ultimate artist, and we are living in a grand piece of art.God’s creation, our selves included, is a piece of art.

In His book On Earth as it is in Advertising, Sam Van Eman states that media is pirating the gospel narrative and is selling a stolen bill of goods in order to generate revenue. The gospel narrative is being stolen and twisted for advertisers to sell products. In this work Van Eman coins the term SimGospel to describe this phenomenon. He defines SimGospel as “All messages that simulate the biblical narrative through advertising and popular media (art included) for the purposes of selling products and ideas (Van Eman, p. 4).” What ideas are we selling when we produce our art? Are we pointing to God saying, “Look!” or are we pointing to ourselves saying, “Look at me! I am a god.” Art can be a medium to worship God and to make Him known or it could be self seeking and self promoting. This is idol worship.

Creation Begins in God

John 1:1-4

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

In The Beginning, God

God created out of nothing. Any time we create, we are creating out of something. We were also created by God, but we were also created in the image of God. Being created in the image of God, we are by nature creators. However we create out of what exists already. We do not create out of nothing. The first sin of Adam and Eve was one of pride. Humankind desires to be like God (Gen. 1-3). The idea that we can create anything outside of God is a prideful idea (John 15:5).God is the creator. If, and/or when, we create, proceeds forth from God’s creation and creativity that is in us because of who God is.

In an illustration of creation called In The Beginning, God, Fred J. Meldon asserts that “The ancient Egyptians believed that a flat world rested on four pillars of stone and the ancient Hindus believed that a flat world rested on the back of a huge elephant, the elephant stood on the back of an enormous turtle, and the turtle stood on an immense coiled snake! (This begs the question, “What is holding the snake up and how is it not being crushed?”) Instead of promulgating such childish theories, Moses, who was educated in Egyptian schools, but who was inspired by God to write the creation account in Genesis, gave us the true, God-breathed account, in words of grand simplicity, matchless beauty and exquisite accuracy: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’” (Tan).

God has to be the creator of the world and everything in it and it must be God who holds His creation together. Moses understood this idea that these lesser constructs and beings, pillars, elephants, turtles, and snakes, could not hold up or hold together the enormous created world.After all, these were created as well and were of less substance than what they were holding up.God had to be doing the creating and holding together, something greater than creation must be its author and sustainer.

Paul says it this way in Colossians 1:15-17, concerning Jesus and creation: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

This same idea can be transposed to the art that we create. Does our art encapsulate who we are? Does our art exist outside of our having created it? Is our art larger than our lives, or is it in submission or subjection to its creator? The answer could be debated, but the obvious answer is, “No.” We exist outside of our creation of art. Our art exists because we willed it to be. However, we willed it to be and we created, because God Himself created the world, everything in the world, and God created us. Without God, there is no art. It is God that has created and it is God who holds all things together.

Artist or Plagiarist

Ecclesiastes 1:9-11

“There’s nothing new on this earth. Year after year it’s the same old thing. Does someone call out, “Hey, this is new”? Don’t get excited—it’s the same old story. Nobody remembers what happened yesterday. And the things that will happen tomorrow? Nobody’ll remember them either. Don’t count on being remembered.”

Plagiarism is defined in the broadest sense as being when an author or artist presents words or ideas as his or her own, when in fact; they were someone else's ideas. It is God’s idea to create and to allow us to create. All things are from God’s Hands (Psalms 84:11, Proverbs 28:10, Matthew 7:11).

I believe that to be an artist is to be a plagiarist of God. The idea that being an artist is being a plagiarist is a direct assault on our pride. One cringes when they read the statement. Again, pride is the first sin. We want to be God (see Genesis 1-3). This is why we wince at the idea that we may not have an original creative thought in our heads. But if we cite our creative source as being God, our artwork ceases to be plagiarism and becomes an act of worship and obedience that brings God Glory. After all, we were given stewardship over God’s creation and we are invited by God into His creation to labor with God in His creation.

God has created the world and everything in it. The author of Ecclesiastes takes this concept a step further and asserts that the there is nothing new under the sun. Yet, we can create new buildings, new pieces of art, new music, poetry, and so on. There is a paradoxical existence between there is nothing new and the fact that we can create. Both are true.

A Great Artist Comments On His Art

“Michelangelo is considered one of the greatest Renaissance painters and sculptors.

In talking about his sculpting, he said that he never created his great works; he discovered them.He said he uncovered them.

Using his famous statue of David as an example, he said God placed the art in the stone, and it was Michelangelo’s job to bring out what God had created. Trying to see what was waiting to be uncovered, he was known to stand in front of an unfinished piece and yell in frustration, “Come out!” (Youth Specialties, Uncovering the Art)

The Dirt in Art

There is a story of a man who wanted to compete with God in a man making contest where he would show God that he could create just as well as God could. Here is how the story unfolds:

“One day a man decided that he had come a long way and no longer needed God. So he told God that he was done with Him.

The man walked up to God and said, ‘God, I've decided that I no longer need you. I am to the point that I can go about creating on my own and I can do many miraculous things, so why don't you just go on and get lost.’

God listened very patiently and kindly to the man and after he was done talking, God said, ‘Very well, how about this, let's say we have a man making contest.’ To which the man replied, ‘OK, great!’

But God added, ‘Now, we're going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam.’

The man said, ‘Sure, no problem’ and bent down and grabbed himself a handful of dirt.

God just looked at him and said, ‘No, no, no. You go get your own dirt!’" (http://www.getyourowndirt.com/)

Art is Worship

Art is an act worship. Creation itself speaks of God and to God. Paul picks up on God’s creation being a megaphone for God to speak. Paul also picks up on an exchange of worship from creator to creation, which is idol worship, in Romans 1:21-23.

Romans 1:19-20

“But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse.”

God’s creation speaks of God. We see this reality in Paul’s declaration in Romans 1:19-20. God’s creation and the beauty it displays speak volumes about the character of God Himself. We cannot see the attributes of God, but His creation lets us know of God’s character and attributes.Because God is completely other, and exists within, and outside of, His creation as completely other, we know God to have eternal power. We know God to be larger than that which He has created. God existed before time and outside of our sense of time. God is infinite. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Because we see these attributes in creation, we are without excuse. The world, and everything in it, is a billboard for God’s existence. God’s artwork is speaking volumes about Himself.

What does our artwork say about God? What does our artwork say to God?

Idolatry or Art

Romans 1:21-23

“People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand.”

Paul begins to unpack the human condition right from the start in Romans 1:21-23. We are prideful human beings. It has been said that “God has created us in His own image and that we have returned the favor.” As sinful human beings, products of the fall, our sinful nature and our creative natures have put us in a prideful place of desiring to become gods, with a little “g.” We have decided that we will create for ourselves gods of our own making. These gods are merely extensions of ourselves, and we thereby end up worshiping the self (see Counterfeit God’s by Timothy Keller).

Psalm 135:15-18

“The gods of the godless nations are mere trinkets, made for quick sale in the markets: Chiseled mouths that can’t talk, painted eyes that can’t see, carved ears that can’t hear—dead wood! Cold metal! Those who make and trust them become like them.”

I love art and am an artist myself. My art is poetry. I am a poet because God, the first spoken word poet, spoke the world into existence. I am imitating my creator in whose image I was created in. When I create art it is an act of worship. I am saying to God, “I love the beauty that you spoke into being and I want to speak words of beauty about your creation as a gift to you, recognizing that all has been given by you and all is yours.” I do not trust in things of my own making or I would be placing myself in the position of the God who created me and the things I have made. I would also never worship or think too highly of the words that I put together when it was God’s words that assembled the universe and all that is within it.

When I trust in the created order rather than the creator, I put myself in a position of worshiping a false god. When this created order comes forth from my own lips and I worship it, I am worshiping nothing more than a god of my own making. As Timothy Keller put it, “If I am worshiping a half god, I am not worshiping God at all.” This is idol worship. When I worship a lesser god, I become like that god, I become dead. When we live to worship the true God and attribute all to God, we have life in Him.

Paul puts it this way in the following passage from Romans 1:25: “They traded the true God for a fake god, and worshiped the god they made instead of the God who made them—the God we bless, the God who blesses us. Oh, yes!”

Worshiping God in Art

Art is a wonderful thing. We are a creative people who were designed and created in the image of God to create and to participate in creation. Creation, art, has everything to do with the author of it. Art speaks of God and to God. God desires to be worshiped and glorified and we live fully into our purpose when we are worshipping and glorifying God. I can think of no better way to worship God than by creating and enjoying art. What I want to always be on guard for is thinking that I am god by not citing my source in my creativity. Plagiarism is taking credit for what is someone else’s work. I should never take credit for what is ultimately God’s, or for what is ultimately from God’s hands. There is nothing new under the sun.

Idol worship is giving the worship and regard to created things when it belongs to God. Idol worship is worshiping the created and not the creator. This can happen in focusing too much on the art, and it can happen when we put too much focus on the artist when that artist is not God.

All our works should be a tribute to our creator. Our lives and creativities should be acts of worship and service to our God. As the Apostle Paul said in Colossians 3:23-24: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”

Creating to the Glory of God,


Robbie


Bibliography

Bunting, Drew. Madhouse. On Treat Your Buggy Well. © 1997

http://blog.beliefnet.com/crunchycon/2009/08/art-science-and-ways-of-knowin.html

http://www.getyourowndirt.com/

http://www.counterfeitgods.com/

New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA : The Lockman Foundation, 1995, S. Col. 1:15-17, Col. 3:23-24

The New King James Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1982, S. Jn 1:1-4

Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Gen. 1:1-3, Gen. 1:26, 27-28, Eccles. 1:9-11, Rom. 1:19-20, 21-23, 25, Psalms 135: 15-18

Tan, Paul Lee: Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations : A Treasury of Illustrations, Anecdotes, Facts and Quotations for Pastors, Teachers and Christian Workers. Garland TX : Bible Communications, 1996, c1979

www.robbiepruitt.com

www.robbiepruitt.blogspot.com

Uncovering the Art. Youth Specialties Hot Illustrations 1.0., www.youthspecialties.com. © 2001

Van Eman, Sam. On Earth As It Is In Advertising. Brazos Press. Grand Rapids, MI. © 2005

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