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Part 7: Back to the Garden

September 20, 2012

(This is the seventh and final post in a series of articles entitled DIVINE CREATIVITY that will present a Biblical apologetic and study on why people are creative. This series contains Scripture passages to read and questions to answer.  Recording your insights in a creative journal may be a valuable exercise.)

We have just two short chapters in the Bible describing life as God meant it to be.  And creating the world is simply the great canvas for the real story: the idyllic relationship between Creator God and those made in His image as they reveled in His Creation.  Working together naming the animals, caring for the garden, and bringing Eve to life was the beginning of something wonderful.  God devised the creative process and the creation for the same purpose— to spend time with those He made in eternal relationship.

God continues to use His Creation to draw us toward Himself.  Majestic mountain ranges, delicate spring flowers, powerful lightning– all display their Maker’s glory, declaring who He is, and giving us reason to relate to Him as we observe creation.

The same is true for the works He creates through us.  Each piece of art is a potential transcendent portal for the audience to be carried into another dimension to which our physical existence can’t take us. 

The art, the finished product, however, is only one half of the opportunity for fellowship with the Master Artist.  When we create with God, when we allow Him to guide each creative decision, each stroke of the brush, each pen scratch, He is there communing with us.  On composing Messiah in 1741, George Frideric Handel remarked, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me and the great God Himself!”[1]

In contrast the first big sadness in the Bible is when God calls out to Adam and Eve, “Where are you?”  The anguish God must have experienced at that moment when the relationship was broken between Him and His beloved was no less deep than when Jesus hung on the cross, forsaken by His Father.

Our Creator’s greatest joy is for us to commune with Him.  He designed creation and the creative process to spend time with us, His image bearers, His creative assistants.  While we can no longer physically walk with Him in the cool of the Garden, we can return there in spirit as we create together, side-by-side, works imbued with His power that will draw men and women to Him for His glory.

>>Go commune with Him as you create side by side with the One who created you with inherent creativity.  Revel in the process and the relationship!
This is the last post in this series.  Please leave a comment about any post or all seven.  Thanks for journeying with me.

[1] Smith, Jane Stuart, and Carlson, Betty, A Gift of Music, Great Composers and Their Influence, Good News Publishers, 1978, p.59.

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Part 6: The Master’s Assistant

September 14, 2012

(This is the sixth in a series of articles entitled DIVINE CREATIVITY that will present a Biblical apologetic and study on why people are creative. This series contains Scripture passages to read and questions to answer.  Recording your insights in a creative journal may be a valuable exercise.)

Back in Eden, when everything was pure—truth and beauty, creation and motive, God and man—all the glory belonged to God.  At the end of six days, after completing the vast array of the heavens and earth, including man “male and female”, He saw that what He had made was “very good”, and He rested.  Finally, at the beginning of the second week, we get a glimpse of why God created.

>>Read Genesis 2 and note reasons why God created the world.  Also make a list of the interactions between God and Adam.

Many aspects of earth suggest it was created just for humanity.[1]  The distance of the sun from earth, gravity, mean temperature, amount of oxygen in the atmosphere, and many other delicately balanced forces and elements are just right for human habitation.  The first two chapters of Genesis confirm God’s intention to create a place for mankind to dwell from the declaration in 1:28 when God gives Adam and Eve dominion over creation, to the specific provision of food for them in 1:29 and 2:16.

Right before and after God gives Adam the plants to eat, however, there are clues as to why God created the earth— reasons far deeper than merely sustaining man’s physical existence.  In Genesis 2:15 God gives Adam the responsibility for caring for His creation.  He brings Adam into His work, into both His creation and the process of creating.

God also brings the animals He made to Adam and lets him name them in 2:19-20, again, bringing him into both the created work and the creative process.  I imagine this event as the first art show—God presenting His works to His assistant.  I can see God leading the horses toward Adam, then standing back, proud of His work, as Adam admires a steed and mare, looks up at God, and smiles as if saying with his eyes, “You made this?  Incredible!”  Each time others are brought— colorful parrots, massive elephants, delicate beta fish, comical penguins—the wonder on Adam’s face and delight in God’s eyes bind them close as they create together, the Master and His assistant.

And finally, when the last animal scampers away, something, or someone, is discovered missing—a suitable helper was not found for Adam.  Was this an unintentional omission, a divine oops— or perhaps an opportunity?  The latter, I think.  In making Eve, God uses a piece of Adam.  He saved the making of Eve until Adam was present, to allow Adam the privilege of giving of himself in her creation.

>>Describe your creative process.  How does creating with God change your process?  What can you do to spend more time with God while you are creating?[2]

Next week: Back to the Garden

[1] The Anthropic Principle is both scientific and controversial.  See Answer 93.

[2] For ideas see Finding Divine Inspiration, by J. Scott McElroy.

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Part 5: Art Idols

September 5, 2012

(This is the fifth in a series of articles entitled DIVINE CREATIVITY that will present a Biblical apologetic and study on why people are creative. This series contains Scripture passages to read and questions to answer.  Recording your insights in a creative journal may be a valuable exercise.)

The context of Jeremiah 10:12 and Exodus 36:1 (from last week’s post) contains serious applications for artists.

In the book of Exodus after God led the Israelites out of Egypt, He gave them the plans for the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and chose the artists to make it.  The Tabernacle was the meeting place of God, where they would worship Him until they reached the Promised Land.  The chosen artists had a sacred duty to give their best creative efforts for the glory of God.  Although art created today will not be placed in the Tabernacle, giving one’s best is the only way for a Christian artist to create regardless of the intended venue.  God gives creative gifts to be used for His glory.

After Israel was settled in the Promised Land, the people began to worship idols instead of the One True God.  The idols were a stark contrast to the glory of God in the Tabernacle!  Described in Jeremiah 10 they were everywhere in Israel, much like the traps in our society for artists today.

Jeremiah’s comparison of pieces of sticks that cannot speak or walk to the living God is almost comical.  It most certainly is ironic.  The idols have to be fastened with nails so they won’t fall over, yet the earth shakes when the living God is angry!  The Israelites worshiped their art of wood, silver, stone, and gold, but their creations had no power.

Today the idols of pride and selfish ambition also have no power, but their lure is more subtle and clandestine.  Socially acceptable attitudes for artists— Bohemian moodiness and self-absorption— are tottering fakes for selflessness and giving the glory to Almighty God.  Why exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised?  Amen

>>What are your art idols?  Pride?  Moodiness?  Your art?  Notoriety?  Fame?  Something else?

>>What will it take for you to destroy these idols, walk away from them, and give all the glory to God?  What will be the cost if you don’t?

Next Week: The Master’s Assistant
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Part 4: Deep Wisdom and Understanding

August 29, 2012

(This is the fourth in a series of articles entitled DIVINE CREATIVITY that will present a Biblical apologetic and study on why people are creative. This series contains Scripture passages to read and questions to answer.  Recording your insights in a creative journal may be a valuable exercise.)

Throughout the Bible there are many passages that refer to God creating the world.  Two of them are particularly interesting to us as artists: Jeremiah 10:12 and Exodus 36:1.  The word made (asaw in Hebrew) used in these Scriptures is the same word used in Genesis 1, closely linking all three passages.

>>Read Jeremiah 10.  How did God create the world as described in 10:12?

>>Read Exodus 35:30 – 36:1.  How are Bezalel and Oholiab described?

According to Jeremiah 10:12 God created the world with power, wisdom, and understanding.  Each of these words is worthy of careful study; especially as they apply to us artists as we imitate the one in whose image we are made.  However, since the same Hebrew words for wisdom and understanding are also in Exodus 35:31 and 36:1[1], we will focus on the latter two.

Deep Wisdom

The Hebrew word translated as wisdom in Jeremiah 10:12— “He founded the world by His wisdom,” is translated as skill in Exodus 36:1— “Bezalel and Oholiab, and every skilled person, to whom the Lord had given skill….”  That God gave these individuals[2] the skill to create works of art for His Tabernacle would be enough.  But He chose the same word that describes how He created the world—linking His creative ability to the same ability He gave those making the Tabernacle!

In these two passages the English translation results in two different, but highly-related, words.  In Hebrew, however, it is the same word, chokma, which means:  intelligence, wisdom that brings success, and a manner of thinking and attitude concerning life’s experiences, including—everyday matters, prudence in secular affairs, skills in the arts, moral sensitivity, and experience in the ways of the Lord.[3]

The idea here is that the deep wisdom of God works through us in very practical and mundane activities, as well as in special times and ways—through the ordinariness of prepping a canvas and mixing paint, to the extraordinary flash of inspiration and creative energy of the artist’s hand.

This is the source of the power mentioned at the beginning of Jeremiah 10:12 inherent in divinely inspired art that transports paint and canvas, paper and ink, carved marble and other media into the transcendent spiritual realm.  The wisdom of God, working through the artist He has gifted with skill, creates the art, which in turn speaks to the viewer with an inherent power greater than the combination of materials, technique, and subject matter.  The work created with God bears the soul of the artist and the image of God.

Discerning Understanding

The same connection that exists between Jeremiah 10:12 and Exodus 36:1 with wisdom/skill is also true for the Hebrew word tebuna translated as understanding, ability or intelligence, depending on the Bible version used.  God stretched out the heavens, as an artist stretching a canvas, with His understanding, and gave Bezalel, Oholiab, and their assistants understanding to know how to make everything for the Tabernacle.

Note the shades of meaning of tebuna: the ability to discern between, to be perceptive, to use the senses to perceive pertinent data; perceptive insight demonstrated by the use of knowledge.[4]

I often I describe my art-quilt classes as “Decision-Making 101”.  Decision-making permeates the creative process.  When faced with a decision for each phase, my students sigh and ask me to decide the colors, the piecing pattern, or where to quilt.  I shake my head and say, “But the deciding is where the art happens!”  What is not used in a painting, quilt, or drawing can be a more important decision that what is included, and so, God gives us His tebuna, His understanding, in order that we are able to make these distinctions.  Yet, while “understanding is a gift of God, it does not come automatically. The possession of it requires a persistent diligence. It is more than IQ; it connotes character.”[5]

The first and most important work of an artist, then, is to seek Him.  How else will we have his understanding and wisdom?  How can our art have the power to transcend the physical world if that is where we spend all of our time?   Before Bezalel began work on the Tabernacle, God completely filled[6] Him with His Spirit (Exodus 35:31).  God’s primary desire is not for us to be skilled artists, but for our hearts, for us to continually be in His presence.  Thankfully, we have His faithful promise in James 4:8, that if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us.

How can you draw nearer to God?  What do you need to change in order to create with His wisdom and understanding?

Next week: Art Idols

[1] See also Exodus 31:1-11.

[2] The phrase “every skilled person” does not specify gender.  In fact, since the term is vague, it probably includes women.

[3] Harris, R. L., Harris, R. L., Archer, G. L., & Waltke, B. K. (1999, c1980). Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed.) (282). Chicago: Moody Press.

[4] Ibid., p. 103.

[5] Ibid., p. 104.

[6] The word filled is the same word in Jeremiah 23:24:  “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the Lord.  Other uses of the word suggest: to completely fill, replenish, and overflow; to be ended.  See Strong’s Concordance, H4390.

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Part 3: God’s Creative Process

August 24, 2012

(This is the third in a series of articles entitled DIVINE CREATIVITY that will present a Biblical apologetic and study on why people are creative. This series contains Scripture passages to read and questions to answer.  Recording your insights in a creative journal may be a valuable exercise.)

 >>Read Genesis 1 and 2  and make a list of everything you learn about how God creates.

While there are some aspects of how God created the world that we can’t copy (speaking physical entities into being, for instance) there are several principles in Genesis 1-2 that we can imitate.

The first is repeated six times: God worked within a 24-hour framework that He established from the beginning.  Whether you apply this to giving yourself a project deadline, determining a limited palate, or some other parameters, the truth is, limitations are an important part of the creative process.

The irony makes my spirit laugh!  That which seems to work against creativity is often the catalyst to greater expression.  I have begun to embrace limitations as a challenge to resolve the apparent clash between them and artistry.

>>What are some limitations that chafe your creative impulses?  What are some limitations you (or others) can impose on your work to force you to be more creative?

Another aspect we can copy from God’s creative process is His indistinction between beauty and function.  As God created the various aspects of the world, He combined the two: their function was essential, and their form was beautiful.  The lights in the sky determined the days, season, and years and glowed in brilliant beauty.  The plants fed Adam and Eve and provided a feast for their eyes.  Function did not disqualify beauty; both were valid.  Even today we see this inseparable combination in our fallen world.  The sun must still set to mark the day’s end, but the accompanying blaze of color transports its function into the realm of glory.

God also created lavishly and abundantly.  Not content with just one kind of tree, He created tree after tree by changing the leaf shape, the branching pattern, and bark texture.  Then he moved on from deciduous to coniferous to palm and to shrub before He began His “flowers” series, which was followed by his aviary phase and pachyderm period.

Each kind He created had numerous, and sometimes innumerable, variations.  Entomologists continue to discover new insects on jungle floors; marine biologists are still finding marvelous new species in the ocean depths.  Each unique organism is a pointer at God’s profuse imagination and ability, as well as His systematic approach, unveiling another seeming contradiction— that imagination and organization can not only co-exist, but influence and contribute to each other’s success.

>>What benefits are there to working in series?  What parts of your creative process would benefit from better organization?  List ideas and people with expertise in those areas who may be able to help you.

Next week: Deep Wisdom and Understanding
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Part 2: Image Bearers

July 25, 2012

(This is the second in a series of several articles entitled DIVINE CREATIVITY that will present a Biblical apologetic and study on why people are creative. This series contains Scripture passages to read and questions to answer.  Recording your insights in a creative journal may be a valuable exercise.)

>>Apply the Principle of Repetition and The Law of First Mention (both explained in Part I) as you read Genesis 1:26-27.   What is repeated?  What is important about the first mention of people?

Creating man and woman was the pinnacle of God’s creative week.  The Creator created us (repeated four times).  There are many implications to this foundational concept, but we will leave that for another time and move on to the next truth God reveals in these verses, as it is especially important to us as artists.  God created us in His image (also repeated four times).

Arranging the previous ideas into an informal logical syllogism we have:

  • God is Creator.
  • God created us in His image.
  • Therefore, we are creative.

Taking the conclusion one step further:

  • As we exercise our creative gifts, we bear God’s image.
  • As we are true to who God created us to be, which in large part includes being creative, we, and by extension, our art, reflect the One in whose image we are made.

>>What do these concepts mean for your relationship with God, for you as an artist, and for your art?

Next week: God’s Creative Process
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Organization for Creativity

July 7, 2012

Creating is difficult for me when I’m surrounded by chaos. Creative messes I can handle, but if I can’t see the project I’m working on for the supplies and unrelated paraphernalia, I get distracted. When I get distracted, I can’t give my full attention to my work, and to be creative, I need ALL my emotions, brain, and soul.

Maybe you work differently. In fact, you probably do, because we are different people. But at some point cleaning up becomes necessary. The following principles grew from my heart out of necessity. You may think it weird that my heart would come up with something as mundane as rules. But like I said, order helps my inner being.

My hierarchy for sorting and organizing:

#1 – Put stuff you use often where you use it: tools and supplies, files and books, phone numbers and data, etc.

I constantly use paper bags for patterns, so I keep a supply of them in my studio. (The rest are by the recycling in the garage with all the other bags.) This saves time and steps for rounding up supplies.

And it motivates me! Think of it this way– if an elf came into your studio, office, or home and put everything you need right where you need it to get started, wouldn’t you just love to jump right in and make something?

Getting organized, however, can also take away an excuse for procrastinating. You’ll HAVE to start creating if everything is waiting and ready!

#2 – Group items according to type.

All writing implements go together. Bills to be paid are in one box. Supplies for baking (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, spice, oil) live in one cabinet. Writing resources are in one computer file. Supplier sites are in one bookmark folder. Etc.

I group my collage “found” supplies by material: tin can tops and old keys are in a box marked “metal”; plastic tags, lids, and old credit cards are in another marked “plastic”.

Your stuff will be easier to find, making creating more enjoyable and faster.

NOTE: There is a negative corollary to this principle: if it’s not related to near-by items, put it elsewhere where it is. Screwdrivers go with other screwdrivers, not next to the laundry detergent on top of the washing machine.

OTHER NOTE: Rule #1 overrides Rule #2. For instance, if you always use a screwdriver to pry off the laundry detergent lid, leave it by the tub.

#3 – If stuff in containers is hard to find, split the category.

Too many writing utensils making it difficult to find your favorite highlighter? Separate the group into sub-groups: pencils, markers, pens, crayons. Tiny brushes always getting lost among the big ones? Grab another can or jar out of the recycling for the 00’s. Scrap wood pile to big to see what’s on the bottom? Stand longer boards near-by with 2’ or less in the pile.

#4 – Keep your absolute favorites close.

This is a variation on #1, but sometimes hard to define until you pay attention next time you are working. As you create (or during a break if you are on a roll and can’t attend to something else) notice what you use all the time. Make a space or container for these items near your workspace. This is what I call my tool kit. Everything I use constantly and can’t work without is in this category.

For baking, it’s my recipe card file, spices and measuring cups. For painting it’s a rag, my favorite brushes, paint can opener, stir stick, and plastic cups. For paper art I have a box with rulers, scissors, masking tape, my favorite markers, and a craft knife.

Summary

The info above is to explain two simply-stated concepts:

  1. Keep the tools and items you use most frequently together and in a convenient place.
  2. For everything else, put like items together.

Practical Suggestions

These two concepts are simply stated, but more difficult to implement.  You could tackle your studio or home in one grand organizational effort– that would overwhelm most of us!  More realistically, work in stages, and your workspace and supplies will gradually become easier to use and find.

  1. Work on small areas at a time. The one or two where you work the most often make a good starting point.
  2. Always (ALWAYS) put items where they belong when you are done with them in the areas you have organized. If you don’t, you’ll lose the ground you’ve gained.
  3. Analyze how you work until you know what your favorites are. Gather them together. For other tasks notice what supplies need gathering and could be stored near the appropriate workstation.
  4. Organize other, less-used areas once a week until you’re done.
  5. Have a garage sale with all the stuff you find you don’t want anymore.
  6. Create with clutter-free freedom!
  7. Share your success stories and questions here.

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