My husband, Kyle, dips his brush into a carefully balanced blend of Cadmium Red and Hooker’s Green. He slides the brush across a white canvas, leaving a dark, reddish-brown streak. That streak will soon be joined by others. Other colours and other sizes, applied in a deceptively random looking fashion until, when he’s finished, the canvas will sport an easily recognizable image.
He is an artist. He is creating.
Not in the same way that God created a living, feeling world, of course, but in the same spirit.
“I don’t know why I feel compelled to paint,” he replies when I ask him about his motivation.“It’s something I think we all have in us – this yearning to create something. Some people do it through artistic means and some through more logical means like inventing or building, but we have something in us we want to express and that’s the only way we have to get it out. We create because we want to express ourselves and communicate something to others. We want people to look at it, relate to it and appreciate it.”
I wonder, as I study this week’s Adult Sabbath School Study Guide, exploring the idea of God as Artist, what, if anything, He is trying to communicate to us. Could it be that, like the people He made, God creates as a way of self-expression and an attempt to connect and relate with those who see his work?
I like the thrust of Monday’s lesson, which notes that the detailed instructions God gave the Israelites in Exodus for building the sanctuary are an indication of a) God’s love of ornate beauty and b) a shadow of the even more lavish splendour of the Heavenly sanctuary.
But I think there’s more.
Genesis 1:27 tells us that we are made in God’s image. While it’s generally assumed that that means we share a physical resemblance, it also means being something like him, including being blessed with the desire and ability to create.
Human beings are the only species who have the inherent desire to create simply for the joy of creating. Yes, if you give a chimpanzee a bucket of paint it might throw some colours on a canvas for you. I’ve also seen video footage of elephants in Thailand who paint whimsical, if primitive, pictures of elephants, by holding the brush in their trunk. While it’s certainly a novelty, the training and reward-based “artworks” are not an expression of what the elephant sees. They’re simply following the cues of their trainer and probably don’t even know what they’re making.
As a whole, the modern art world favours humanism over Christianity as a driving philosophy. But I would argue that God giving us an artistic impulse was intended not just as a source of pleasure for ourselves, and an excuse to celebrate our abilities, but as a link that can bring us closer to Him and help us understand His love and devotion to us. When we create something, whether with paint or clay, words, architecture or music, we experience something that must be similar to what God felt when he created this world and us. God’s empty canvas was a world that was without form, and void (Gen. 1:2). Each time he added a new layer of colour and texture, like we do, he stood back, maybe squinted a bit, and felt a rush of satisfaction.“And God saw that it was good,” is repeated throughout the creation story in Genesis 1.
We also feel a certain protectiveness for something that’s made by hand – whether ours or someone else’s.For example, if something happens to an empty canvas, Kyle will have to go out and buy a new one but there’s otherwise no real loss. Once some colours are applied, however, that same canvas takes on a new value. He becomes protective of it. “Do NOT let the kids near this painting,” he’ll admonish as a finished piece dries in the corner of our living room, his makeshift studio. There is something of him splashed across the canvas now. A piece of something from inside of him. His vision. His imagination. His soul. It is now worth far more than the $7 he paid for it.
If we feel so protective of a bit of paint on a canvas, whether it was put there by Kyle or Michelangelo, imagine how God feels about the once perfect world that he created. A living, breathing, intricately detailed masterpiece that has not been completely destroyed but certainly blighted. There must be something of Himself in this temporarily damaged work of art. His vision. His imagination. His soul.
Our lesson study noted that not a lot of Christians know a lot about art. Of course, collecting artwork is infamously expensive. And I think there’s a perception that it’s just a tad frivolous. But could making art be a form of worship? A way of paying homage to the ultimate artist? The original master?
If nothing else, I want to remember, the next time I look at the natural world, that life doesn’t imitate art; it is art.
Lori-Anne Poirier is a freelance writer and art lover based in Canada's Okanagan Valley. Her husband, Kyle, is a graphic designer by day and acrylic painter by night and weekends. You can see his work at www.thepeartree.ca/kyle.