We humans are made in the image of the Creator to be creators. So it is little wonder that art in its various forms is an important part of life.
Our purpose and calling as humans is to carry on the work God began in Creation. It is not that He is incomplete or inadequate, in making a world that is incomplete and inadequate. It is that we were made in the first place to work, to steward the Earth and to govern it well. That means developing what exists to make new things, or being creative.
God shared with us the joy of creating things, the pleasure of looking at what we have done and being able to say “it is good!” Mankind gave names to all the animals. Mankind was created to cultivate the garden of Eden, and even before the Fall that involved work!
What do we mean by creative? A common definition is to say creativity is imagining the world in a new way, maybe by finding patterns or connecting things that might not have been connected before, and then turning those ideas into reality. But what does it look like in practice?
We all have ideas and assumptions about what it means to be “creative” and usually limit it to visual arts or music or certain types of imaginative writing. The danger is that creativity becomes divorced from “normal life” and we think ordinary work cannot be creative. But let me give two simple examples of “every day creativity.”
Catherine and I usually took our children on holiday in a touring caravan and picnics (in all weathers) were an important feature. Every meal in the caravan or outside would begin with the table being set, with some flowers or just grasses gathered from a field or hedgerow nearby, presented in a small vase as the centrepiece. The food would then be displayed decoratively around it. She always managed to make the table look welcoming. Whether on holiday or at home, a creative approach to decorations and setting the table can make all the difference to family and friends feeling welcome and at home.
In my last office workplace I was pleased to see creativity was valued by the Chief Executive. He would not claim to be a believer but led by a godly example. He would often ponder problems while driving between appointments or go out for a short walk to think, and then come back into the office asking “Have you thought about …..?” Often he would suggest a new way of looking at a problem or a whacky idea that might seem strange, but when explored further and tested was found to be a great solution.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” wrote Albert Einstein.
Works of art are only part of being creative, then, and everyday ordinary situations can be made beautiful and attractive with some imagination and effort. If we are really made in God’s image then we need to encourage one another to be creative and this includes what is normally recognised as art, an area that seems to have been abandoned by many Christians. Perhaps our problem is that we are so keen to find and express meaning in everything. It means that we are often uncomfortable with visual art that does not represent something and struggle with art that is apparently meaningless.
If we Christians ignore creativity in art, though, we are allowing others to communicate in ways we might not want to see. And we might miss opportunities to communicate things we feel deeply but find it hard to express in “normal” words. Philosopher Edward S. Casey (a former President of the American Philosophical Society) wrote in 1971 “Truly expressive art does not communicate … Its sensuousness provides the foundation for contemplation and, ultimately, communion.” So art can take us beyond a simple “this means that” to sharing feelings and imaginations at a deep level.
If God is a Creator and we are in Him image, we are creators. So let’s use all our imagination and skill to express things in ways that enable us and others to know and worship Him.