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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

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Fall Inspiration

I sit looking out my window at the sunshine washing over rapidly changing leaves. The crabapple tree outside my townhouse is loaded with red apples, yellow and orange leaves, and a few patches of green foliage that steadfastly refuse to change colour. It can mean only one thing: fall is here!

I love when the seasons change. Usually at that point, I have become a little tired of whatever season we are coming out of and am ready for something new. Each year, Fall brings a vibrancy of colour, warm drinks, and long coats.

For those seeking to create art these days, the season change can bring a plethora of inspiration. I thought I would give you a few jumpstarts to get you moving:

Autumn in Paris
Source: Valerii Tkachenko via Wikicommons

“Great art picks up where nature ends.”
-Marc Chagall

“Nature is not only all that is visible to the eye…it also includes the inner pictures of the soul.”
-Edvard Munch

“No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.”
-Oscar Wilde

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”
-Leonardo da Vinci

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
-Scott Adams

So this week, go out and paint! Sit in a coffee shop with a pumpkin spice latte and write. Put on some leg warmers and dance. Just Go! Do! Art!

Blessings,

How I Know God Loves Art

My wife and I were walking to our community garden this morning when I was struck by how amazing all of the new flowers are. They have popped up over the past two weeks, bathing our neighbourhood in colour. I turned to my wife and said, “This is how I know God loves art: why else would the world be full of flowers and sunsets?”

Beautifultrees

You see, there are many, many beautiful things in this world that seem to have no real use other than to make life better. Colour is one of these things. We could be just fine without colour (dogs seem to do just fine without it), and it doesn’t at all seem necessary in and of itself. I can imagine a far simpler universe that had no colour. Yet, we do find colour, and we are often blessed by its inclusion in our lives.

For me, artists prove that God is alive and well. We do not strictly create things that are necessary for the survival of ourselves or our species, but no one I know would like to live in a world without art. Even those who don’t think art is very important probably wear clothes designed by an artist, listen to music created by an artist, and live in a building designed by an artist. A life without art would be like living in prison, and we tend to save that fate for those people we really, really don’t like.

So, if no one needs art to survive, but we all seem to need art to really live, I must ask the question: why? Why are we so drawn to art? I argue that it’s because God is an artist who designed us for more than mere survival. We are designed to feel, and to emote and to worship. And art allows us to do all of these things.

I’ve heard it quoted that art (or music, I can’t remember) is feeling made manifest. It allows us to put our feelings down for others to experience. In experiencing art, we can join in with the feelings of others, drawing us together as a people who are on the same journey: the journey to find meaning and purpose.

Art can also draw out our emotions, confront us with our fears, our joys, and our angers. Each time we engage a piece of art, whether it is music or a painting or a theatre show, we are given the opportunity to explore our emotional range, giving sustenance to that which makes us human.

In this place of emotion and feeling, when we are taken away from our own little world into something bigger, something beyond ourself, we are able to turn from ourselves to God. When we embrace His joy, His love, or His grace, we enter into an act of worship. When we walk with others through their trials, even through the medium of art, we are worshipping. When we let the world and all of its problems fade and focus on the divine eternity of heaven, we worship Him who created all of these things.

Many throughout the millennia have tried to define what the Book of Genesis meant when God tells us that humanity is created in the image and likeness of God. The imago dei has been argued to be our ability to reason, or our ability to love, or our ability to live in community. I don’t think these answers are all wrong, but I would put forward one other: our ability to create. Up to this point in the story, all that God has done is create the universe (all…) and judge it to be good. He then creates humankind, a being that is to be like Him in some way. Perhaps it is this very creative nature that makes us the bearers of God’s image.

As the summer continues to move forward, I am excited to revel in the beauty of God’s creation. I love the serene beauty of winter as well, but as a Canadian, we see far too much snow and far too little green, so I will enjoy this temporal beauty as long as it lasts. Like everything else of this world, our art will fade and be destroyed, but the moments we experience beauty and art can, if we let them, show us a glimpse of a perfectly beautiful, perfectly artistic God.

Blessings

Quotes Revisited

Earlier this week, I posted 10 quotes to help inspire your artistic endeavors. Today, I want to look at a few and expand on them. It is my aim to interpret what these thoughts can mean for the faithful artists of today as they seek to find God and maintain artistic integrity. We will explore what art can offer the world one small bit at a time.

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“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.”
– Stella Adler

I don’t know of anyone who can claim that life is always easy and care-free. Life is hard for everyone. It is harder for some than others, but we all face pain, suffering, and adversity throughout our years. Unfortunately, the unstoppable wearing of life can, as Adler so eloquently puts it, “[beat] down and [crush] the soul.”

Yet, life is not a long, dreary march toward oblivion. It is a struggle, to be sure, but it is a struggle that is full of beauty, hope, love, and joy. These are the things that feed our souls, allowing us to continue on our journey through this life. And art, fortunately, has the opportunity to remind us of these moments of glory. It can remind us of the times when we were full of joy, or fill us with awe at the majesty of the Creator. It can be a light-filled respite from the darkness that threatens to encroach on our lives.

If for this reason alone, I would argue for art’s value in our lives. Yet it has many other amazing qualities.

“Sacred art draws man to adoration, to prayer, and to the love of God.”
   – Catechism of the Catholic Church

For those who have been reading with me since the summer, you know that my aim is to seek God through the avenue of art. I acknowledge that there are other ways to connect with the Creator, but as one called to create art, it is the path I know best. In this quote, the Catholic Church affirms art’s capability to draw us to a place to meet with God.

As we enjoy the beauty of a created object, we can be lifted up to look at the Creator of all objects. A beautiful landscape, a symphonic masterpiece, or a delicately folded piece of origami each show part of God’s majesty. If we keep our eyes, ears, and minds open, we will soon see God’s fingerprints in the works of all great artists. If the aim of art is to portray truth, then all great art should, in some way, point back to the Greatest Truth.

In this way, art is an invaluable tool to help us along the greatest journey we ever undertake: the search for God.

“The world is but a canvas to our imagination.”
   – Henry David Thoreau

This one was probably my favourite of the bunch. My imagination is one of my favourite qualities about myself. I am easily swept into stories of swashbuckling pirates or fearful runaways or dashing knights that occur nowhere except my mind. I often fall asleep immersed in a world I have created. It may be part escapism, but these worlds are also places to explore greater meanings of life without the danger of actual conflict or injury.

Yet none of these imagination-led wanderings would be capable without an exploration of the real world. Many are based on the question “What if…” as I look around me each day. I see a person at my work and wonder “What if that girl was a spy escaping from an evil plot?” Or I read a novel and think “What if the character had done something else?” I often wonder what our world would have been like if certain changes in technology had never occurred, or if extra technology was at our fingertips. These additions to reality are the jumping off points for a plethora of stories I have that are waiting to be written or staged.

The ability of art to express the imagination and its relation to the real world is the real reason I call myself an artist. I can, like my Father before me, create worlds for His glory. I can mimic God as I create stories and images, beginnings and endings. This is how I relate to God.

But what do you think? What quotes inspire you to create? And how do you use your inspiration and art to seek after God? Or, if you prefer, what do you think about the quotes I delved into today? Do you see something else in them that I missed, or do you see something completely different? Join the conversation!

Blessings

10 Quotes to Inspire Your Art

I want to start off this week with some quotes that I’ve found to inspire your art. No matter what your discipline is, spend some time this week making art. Make good art, make bad art, just make it with all you’ve got.

I haven’t been able to confirm that all of the quotes are attributed to the correct people, but the research so far seems pretty good. I hope you enjoy!

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“None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands.”
Pope John Paul II, Letter to Artists

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which gives value to survival.”
C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”
Andy Warhol 

“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”
Aristotle

“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.”
Stella Adler

“Sacred art draws man to adoration, to prayer, and to the love of God”
Catechism of the Catholic Church

“Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make. Good. Art.”
Neil Gaiman

“Dancers are the athletes of God.”
Albert Einstein

“Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The world is but a canvas to our imagination.”
Henry David Thoreau

Do any of these quotes inspire you? If so, go and be artistic for the week. Come back on Thursday, when I will discuss my top three favourite quotes from this list.

A Response to Mark Driscoll

As it turns out, I am not the only one writing on art and faith.

Mark Driscoll, a pastor in Seattle, has written on Four Ways Artistry Can Become Idolatry. I deeply respect this man for his faithful preaching of God’s Word throughout his ministry, and I appreciate his in-your-face, take-no-prisoners style of teaching. Not everyone has the respect for him that I do, and people seem divided on whether or not Mark Driscoll is a good pastor or not. Even though I do not agree with everything he says, I am on the side that defends his ministry.

Today, I want to discuss the article I’ve linked to above. If you haven’t read it, please stop, go click the link, and read the post. Then come back to join the conversation. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Now that you’re back, let’s dig through what Pastor Mark has to say about art and idolatry.

Smashing Idols

Driscoll begins with a brief personal and church history as it regards art. The Catholic Church has always approved of and utilized art for the glorification of God. In the Middle Ages and through the Renaissance, the Church was one of, if not the biggest patron of the arts. Works such as Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel have rarely found their match outside the world of the Church. There have been dark times (such as one pope removing all “indecent” parts of sculptures in the Vatican), but nothing compared to the iconoclasm associated with the Reformation.

When the Protestants saw some church-goers worshipping the icons of the saints, they decided the best plan was to remove and destroy all art in their churches. Many pieces were smashed, burned, or torn to shreds to protect the laity from falling back into pagan-like worship. Mark Driscoll understands this. As an artist, I think it is a great shame. We are left without thousands of masterpieces, the spiritual work of artists trying to worship God through their talents. There had to have been a better way than to destroy everything that COULD have led a brother or sister to old and sinful ways.

God Loves Art

I totally agree. God is a Creator and gave us the commands to create beautiful works of art. We have a tendency, however, to worship that which we have created, including pieces originally intended for the glory of God. The point of icons, however, is not to be an object of worship, but as a means through which we are able to draw nearer to God. We are to look through the piece of art to the Creator who inspired it, and perhaps learn a little of His majesty, power, and beauty in the process. This is a matter of teaching this appreciation of icons to our congregations and helping them to not worship the object but the God it points to.

As for Mark Driscoll’s four ways art can become idolatry:

1. When We Claim That Art is Mediatorial

I really think this is a misunderstanding of what an icon is. Nothing about the icon itself is more holy than anything else in creation. It is a tool, not to bring God closer to you, but to draw closer to Him. Just like a set of worship songs at the beginning of a service can help bring a congregation to an emotional place to hear the Word of God, so too can art allow us to place ourselves in a place to hear from our Creator. We must be careful, I admit, but I think all of our spiritual endeavors must be undertaken with a certain degree of caution. It is so easy to substitute the creation for the Creator, and vigilance is necessary.

2. When Any Attempt is Made to Portray the Father

Adam and God from the Sistine Chapel
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

I don’t think I understand Driscoll’s argument on this one. As long as we do not worship the created portrayal of the Father, I don’t see this as idolatry. I agree that God the Father cannot be accurately portrayed, but part of the work of the artist is to explore the unportrayable. We often depict Death as a person, which is wildly inaccurate. I think it is perfectly acceptable for the artist, whether he or she works on the stage, in film, or on canvas to try to communicate his or her idea of who the Father is.

3. When there is Confusion Between the Creator and the Created

I completely agree. There is only one Creator. Everything else is created. Nothing that I, or any other artist, can create will ever come close to the awesomeness of God. And we need to be very careful that we recognize this fact and keep it in our minds when we appreciate great art.

Labyrinth_at_Chartres_Cathedral
Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

I don’t know, however, if Mark Driscoll really knows what Prayer Labyrinths are for. They, like art, are a tool to be used for contemplation. The end goal is not to turn completely inward, but to go on a spiritual journey. They were created as a substitute for pilgrimages for those unable to travel long distances. When properly used, they allow the believer to follow along a path that leads them through the prayers and thoughts of those who have come before. The aim is to draw nearer to God, not deeper into oneself. If it was, I could completely agree with Pastor Mark, but my understanding of this spiritual practice does not allow for that interpretation.

4. When the Gathered Worship of God’s People is No Longer Word Based

While I agree that the creation of art should not replace the preaching of God’s Word in Sunday or Saturday worship services, there are other ways to gather and worship God. Perhaps artists come together on a Thursday night to draw or paint together for God’s glory. I would probably include some Bible reading during this event, but would usually forgo formal preaching.

“I am for artistry when it is subservient and obedient to God’s Word.” As a faithful artist, I couldn’t agree more. My art is not my God, it is one of my paths to glorify Him.

I love Pastor Mark’s preaching and respect what he has to say. I hope this post has allowed another voice to enter the discussion. Now, I would love to know what you think about Driscoll’s four points above. Where is the line between art and idolatry? How do we honour God with our calling while maintaining a safe distance from worshipping the created thing? Please chime in!

Blessings

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