A Reformed Vision of the Visual Arts - part 2 - page 3

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From the Summer 2014 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

A Reformed Vision of the Visual Arts: A Conversation with Abraham Kuyper, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and the Word of God
Part 2 of a Two-Part Series on the Arts and Theology

by Connally Gilliam
C.S. Lewis Institute Fellow

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  Made in God’s image, humanity is undeniably unique from the rest of creation. Many have debated what comprises this uniqueness. The Greeks thought it was humanity’s ability to reason. Those of the post-Francis Bacon era believed humanity’s uniqueness lay in its capacity to make and use tools. Others have attributed our uniqueness to our ability to communicate with symbols, while others (think of Dorothy Sayers) have pointed out our God-imaging capacity to create.
  Wolterstorff gives another answer. Humanity’s uniqueness shows up in our “responsible” nature. We alone must account to God for our actions and thoughts. This separates us from the animals. We are responsible to God because God, by His very nature, has authority over mankind. But we are also responsible to God because God created us, seeks our good, and is responsible to us. Or in simpler terms, like it or not, we are responsible to God because we are in relationship with Him (with the possibility of that relationship being reconciled in Jesus Christ).
  Being responsible, continues Wolterstorff, means having responsibilities. We know the creation mandate: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Gen. 1:28). Our calling as human beings (whether we want to listen or not) has been, from the outset, like that of our Creator: to bring fruitful order out of the chaos. Adam and Eve were called to cultivate the garden. So too, the artist is called to be a cultivator, bringing order out of the surrounding chaos:

The artist takes an amorphous pile of bits of colored glass and orders them upon the wall of the basilica so that the liturgy can take place in the splendor of flickering colored light . . . He takes a blob of clay and orders it into a pot of benefit and delight. He takes a disorderly array of pigments and a piece of canvas and orders them into a painting richly intense in color and evocative of the South Seas.13

  But we do not do this cultivation in some kind of absolute vacuum or isolation. Rather, in the words of Jesus, humanity is always responsible to: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt. 22:37–39). The artist, therefore, must aim to exercise his or her calling to create within the responsibility of loving one’s materials, one’s audience, and, most important, one’s Creator. Knowing that such an approach stands in stark contrast with the contemporary vision of the autonomous artist as intrinsically free from any constraints. Wolterstorff suggests that we must be intentional about building our understanding of the artist around this idea of responsible love.

Hors D’oeuvres of Shalom

  Admittedly, this view of the artist as “responsible servant” could be misinterpreted. One could accuse Wolterstorff of tilting toward the utilitarian. But he recognizes this threat and instantly takes us back to the Scriptures. Responsibility or even order is not the end in itself. Rather, we in our creative cultivation are working together toward a higher end—helping move men and women and creation toward the condition that God intended: Shalom. Peace—with Him, our selves, our fellows, and with nature. This Shalom is not simply negative (i.e., the lack of hostility because everything is in order); it is a positive, “a peace which at its highest is enjoyment.”14 The words of the prophet Isaiah capture this Shalom poignantly:

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