Recently, I began a book study with Imagine That, the first time I’ve attempted this. It is a little odd, leading a book study with a book I’ve written myself. For example, I’m trying really hard not to quote myself (“As I so eloquently stated on page 38…”) or refer to myself in the third person (a la Brett Favre), and I’m trying to allow people permission to disagree with the author. In general though, the conversations have been engaging, passionate, and real, and I am loving the process.
One of the participants, a painter, recently emailed me a great follow-up question, one which I think all Christian artists ask themselves at some point in their lives, and one for which there are no easy answers. Here is what she said.
“Hi Manuel. I’ve been pondering the question you asked me, ‘Do you sense God in your art?’ or something like that. My first question is if I don’t sense or feel my artwork is inspired by God then is it of no value? Is the art I produce then irrelevant and useless? Should I only be showing pieces that I believe are divinely inspired? My second question is how will I know, or even, can I know, if it is divinely inspired?”
There are many facets to her questions. The mysterious role of God as our Inspirer as well as our audience. Our role in cooperating with or working independently from God in the art. The actual creation of the art itself, as we birth the creation. Then there’s the role of the audience, and their own interaction with God as they perceive our art, which exists quite independent from us.
Here is the quite imperfect answer that I emailed back to her. I invite you to participate in the answer by replying yourself.
“These are good questions to ponder. On one hand, our artwork is an expression of who we are. Hence we are the authors of the artwork. However, we are never the originators of the art, in the sense that all creativity begins with God. He equips us, inspires us, and then creates the universe around us. Humanly speaking then, we are only re-creators. Second, God is the vertical audience for everything we do, including our creations. We’ve never created something when God was not fully present in the creation, through His immanence and as our audience.
“So, with all that in mind…
“There are people who, when complimented for their art, say, ‘Oh no, it wasn’t me. It was God.’ And my response to those people is, “No, actually it wasn’t THAT good!” I am always hesitant to say when ANYTHING I do is inspired by God, because I don’t want lightning bolts coming out of the sky to hit me. At the same time, I know that everything I do has the potential to put a smile on His face, regardless of how good or bad it is (God has a good sense of humor!). And you also never know when something you do can be used by God to touch someone else either. So don’t let your questions keep you from producing art, showing your art, or questioning God’s involvement in it.
“Regarding if something is divinely inspired…
“There is one song I’ve written in my entire life where I have seen the ministry of the song far far exceed my abilities [Note: See the title cut, A Bridge Called Surrender]. It is also one of the simplest songs I’ve ever written, so I know it is not impressive as a work of art in and of itself. That’s the only instance I can share where I can honestly say that the work of art is ANOINTED. For everything else, I just assume it is a mystery, which may or may not be revealed on the other side.”
I do believe that as artists, we need to better develop ears that hear the Small Still Voice when we pick up our paint brushes, our guitars, our cameras, our ballet shoes. Truly, as Christ followers, this ability to tune our souls to those spiritual frequencies should be normative for all of us. And I do truly believe that God really wants to be an invited participant in whatever we do, including the act of creation. After all, He calls us to create, equips and impassions us to do so, and gives us joy in it.
And how cool is that?
[Note: I’m reading a book now entitled, Finding Divine Inspiration, by J. Scott McElroy which has some great things to say about the role of the Holy Spirit in collaborating with us in our creativity.]