I lump those terms together because I'm not focusing on just one, rather the one thing that connects them all: the expression of skill and imagination in its own creative form. I think art and creativity are a way for us to deepen our understanding of what it means to be human.
The other day I made a coffee table out of second hand bits of wood; I got into the zone, and it was exciting to make something from nothing. I do enjoy an outlet for my spatial and creative cravings as well as having the table to use and rest my feet on while on the couch, but the process of creativity felt like it pointed to something more, and so I was inspired to write down some thoughts on the idea.
Tom Wright argues that beauty matters almost more than spirituality, and even justice. The world is full of beauty and goodness that in and of itself promises that there is something more than what we're experiencing in the tangible realm. There's something deeper about beautiful things, as we're captured by a small tangent of transcendence that can be as simple as colour on canvas.
It's like when you look at a cheetah at the zoo and you notice that it's quite beautiful with its spots and you compare its size to your ordinary house cat. There is, however, a deeper appreciation at the fact you know the cheetah can run at crazy speeds. You know it's capable of something more, there's some hidden beauty in its potential. It's like an engagement ring that has an otherness attached to it, because it's not just gold and diamonds, it's the symbol of two hearts making a promise.
English doesn't have a single word to describe this, but the German word Grenzbegriff describes the moreness I'm trying to articulate. Grenzbegriff means, "that which is real, but beyond analysis and description, or one's conception of an unattained ideal, something just out of reach." Whether that something more points you in the direction of some kind of higher power or not, I believe that beauty and art and all creativity needs to be enjoyed for what it is in the present moment.
So what is it then?
The creative process of art as it is before you learn about the history, the concepts and the theory of art (which I haven't studied much at all) and before you start attaching brands and adverts to brilliant ideas and imagery, is a process for our soul and stands alone. Before it becomes a commodity or a way of selling products by talented and witty advertising companies, art is art for art's sake.
Something good like creativity can easily be corrupted and there's the ever lingering danger of vanity staining the essence of what it means to create. I think in men especially, we want to feel a sense of achievement and accomplishment for our 'brilliant' ideas, but the means of the creating rather than the end result is where true satisfaction lies.
Although Christianity doesn't have a monopoly on art and creativity, not by a long shot, I think the church does have a huge advantage in that it doesn't usually seek to turn the arts into a money spinner. Many incredible artists in history have used art to paint a bigger picture of a higher idea or the Grenzbegriff beyond which we do day to day.
Ancient churches throughout Europe have art adorning their walls and ceilings, with a rich history of reflecting some of God's beauty and story through religious imagery. I think the concept of the ancient art of icon painting from the very early church stands out as a great mark of a true work of art.
Imagine an old artisan, a true full time career artist who meticulously spends his whole life creating masterpieces of pure genius, weaving in hidden scriptural references using gold leaf as he or she works to give something to the church or monastery that employs them. They're not crafting the art only for a sense of worth, or accomplishment, but rather working and creating with a sense of awe and worship as the process unfolds.
The old icons each had specific symbolism and meaning placed within the work itself, hidden in the shapes and forms of the subject painted. The famous icon from the sixth century of Christ Pantocrator, (you've probably seen it) has a subtle grimace like he's been beaten just on the left side of his face. You don't notice at first, but if you cover the right side of his face you realise the difference. The pain and distortion on his face is meant to show that he suffers alongside of us in this life.
So often, words can't explain a need to find some deeper meaning to our suffering, and to explore the questions of where is God in our pain, but art has the ability to allow reflection, even if it doesn't offer answers.
The most powerful photography of today often captures moments of anguish, sorrow and contemplation along with elation and contentment. We need the arts to help explain and articulate our deeper longings; otherwise we're left stranded and undone.
Creativity in the garden
You may not consider yourself arty in any shape or form, maybe your idea of participating in beauty is to appreciate a good view, surf a good wave, listen to a good bit of music or to enjoy the company of your favourite friends. Whatever the case, I think we were all made to partake in the dance of life, in some creative and life-bringing way.
We were made, as it says in Genesis, to be gardeners. God placed mankind in the garden to be a little more organised and set apart from the rest of creation, so when we work and create, prune and name things we will profit from it, and we'll hopefully become more whole. We were made not for the completion of any task, or for any set of answers but for meaning, and I think the best way to express our search for meaning is through creativity.
Not perfect, just good
When God made the world with its mountains, trees and animals, he looked at it and said it was good. God looked at mankind, the peak of his creation and he said we were also good. He didn't look at us and say we were perfect, he didn't stand back and say we're his masterpiece, that it's all done, let's call it a day and go home.
Perfect is a mathematical and Godly term, while goodness is a beautiful human term that includes us all. We were made good, not divine and complete, as only God is.
It may sound like a tangent, but to me this idea is freeing when thinking about creativity: this means we're made to grow, to work, to stumble, to learn, to play, to love and we're given purpose. I don't think anything we do must be perfect, and in learning that there is beauty in simple things if we do them well means we can be content to be the piece of the puzzle for the space we were made for; we don't have to be the next Claude Monet.
To sum up
It would be awesome to be fully living every day out of that creative space, to wake up and say wow, I get to do this, and I'm made to do this. Whatever 'this' is, I hope we're all able to find meaning in the mundane and beautiful things around us. As raw and insightful works of art inspire us to find deeper understanding and connections with the otherness of humanity, may we be inspired to explore our own creativity and roots in the garden of culture and fabric of life.
I believe we were made to create, to order, to describe things and participate, and I believe that when we do those things we're truly living. When through us heaven becomes more real and closer to earth, we become works of art ourselves where something bigger can be displayed.
Brad Mills enjoys the outdoors and almost any sport... For a day job he's a journalist who works at the Rhema Broadcasting Group in Auckland New Zealand.
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