Monday, 2 June 2008

Our Creative Mandate (Part 1): Before I am an Artist I am a Human

After several attempts at starting this blog entry I realised that I was jumbling into something that would be better worked out through a series of entries. So bear with me, good people. Here’s jumble number one with more blogular rambulations to follow in good time.

There’s a sub-plot to Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner that emerges as Harrison Ford runs for his life across the rooftops of the futuristic distopian city trying to escape Reutger Hauer’s brilliantly portrayed replicant human. In the climax, Hauer crouches before his Nemesis and delivers his eulogy: a dying monologue on the subject of mortality. What does it mean to live? What does it mean to die? He articulates one of Phillip K Dick’s favourite questions, What is a human? Where have we come from? How long have we got? The questions beat down like tears in the rain... Rain. There'll be more of that later.

As I’ve been thinking through what it means to make art beyond air guitar I’ve found myself coming back again to the story of Genesis and our creation mandate. Of course, our understanding of the freedom and responsibilities we have as artists stems from our understanding of the freedoms and limitations of being human.

We have life but we are finite: so we can create and bring renewal through our art but only within the limitations of fallen and broken people. We can make art of celebration, wonder, and praise: proclaiming great joy but we should also lament in our art: recognising that not all is good in the world. Our art, like all humans, exists in the tension of a world that is wonderfully created yet deperately broken, awaiting the hope of Christ's return.

The nature of man’s existence has been the subject of countless writing and has perplexed the greatest minds of philosophers and scientists for centuries. Not surprisingly, the bible has much to say on the issue. As Christians, we believe that our purpose and identity are ontologically entwined with the likeness we bear to our creator God. The jewel in the crown of God’s creation is the only creature privileged to bear His image, man.

God created man in His own image.
In the image of God He created him.
Male and female he created them.
(Genesis 1:27)

As image bearers to God, we inherit many of His attributes. God is a spiritual being, therefore we have a spirit. God is a physical being and so we have physicality. God is a moral, relational and social. In the same way we each have the ability to make decisions about what is right and wrong, we all look for relationships to find fulfilment and would mostly all want to belong in some form of community whether that be a family, friendships, peer groups or some other form of society. All these attributes of our humanity originate from the blueprint God, fashioned for us when He created us like Him.

In the same way just as God is creative so we are creative. There is no need to justify our creativity. To make art is as human an activity as eating a meal, going to sleep or enjoying being with family. Art is a gift from God, poured lavishly upon us and in making art we fulfil something of our purpose on this earth as human beings.

We are not just free to create, however: we have a mandate. As those made in the image of God we must be creative. Just as we are spiritual, physical, moral, relational and social beings so likewise we are creative. To suppress our creativity is tantamount to denying our humanity. This does not give license to acts of creativity that are irresponsible or harmful. By no means, the gift of creativity is given that we might praise God and bless (bless = enlarge) His creation, including one another.

In Genesis 2 Adam and Eve are placed in the newly created Eden and commissioned them with the unique task of cultivating creation:

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
Genesis 2:15

The work cultivate comes from the same root word as culture: as Adam and Eve take care of God’s creation they are commissioned with the stewardship and handling of culture.

What were Adam and Eve commanded to take care of? In traditional illustrations of bible stories we often see Adam as a gardener (with Eve standing naked behind a conveniently placed bush and holding a rabbit). Adam and Eve were not just to cultivate the garden, however, they were commissioned to subdue the whole earth (Genesis 1:28). The rivers under their charge would flow out of Eden and beyond to Cush, Asher and Havilah: a region rich in gold and precious stones. In other words, their curation would have a wider effect on the cultivation of future societies. In Eden itself, there was a plethora of vegetation and animals but also the rather mysterious trees of life and also tree of knowledge of good and evil. Whatever we understand this tree to represent it is clear that it was more than just a plant and the first human beings were charged with it’s care even though they were prohibited it’s fruit.

So what do we make of this mandate to work and take care of creation?

First, we say again that the mere act of creativity reflects the image of God's character in us. Being creative is part of the human expereince God inteded us to enjoy. As such, we don't need to justify making art any more than we need justify riding a bike or eating a meal. Second, it is clear that we work to cultivate all creation, including the arts. Third, we understand that to cultivate creation is to make culture (the two words stem from the same root). As I paint, write and work I am reminded that, like Adam who wrote Eve her first love song (see Genesis 2:23), I am commissioned with the stewarding of culture: defending it and making it. As I try to be a husband, son, friend and brother I am likewise reminded that Adam administered an intimate culture through Eve and his children. To be an artist is to be human, to be human is to cultivate, to cultivate is to work in and take care of culture.

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