On being creative
This article is a short appendix to a talk James Krohn did at the DOCTRINE OF CREATION webinar for the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics (Nov 2020)
Artists are not fatally cast upon their inner brilliance (or lack thereof), but called to the diligent use of their peculiar insights into the givenness of what God has created; a world budding with potentiality in anticipation of his image-bearers to explore and celebrate.
In an article simply titled “Creativity,” renowned aesthetician Calvin Seerveld makes a bold opening charge:
“I spell creativity ‘d-i-s-c-i-p-l-i-n-e,’ discipline. I believe ‘inspiration’ is a hoax, and artists who accept the Western Romantic tradition of needing to be ‘inspired’ and ‘creative’ have bought into a bankrupt bank and really handicapped themselves in the performance of their task because it inflates and isolates yourself as an artist.” (1)
He continues by noting that the Old Testament word for being ‘creative’ (bara) is used only with reference to God, while human beings on the other hand, ‘fashion’ (‘asah) or make things. As God’s image-bearers, our cultural acts follow in the wake of His and are only comparable by degree. In fact, in the sequence of Genesis 1 it is conspicuous that God ‘creates and then sees that it is good,’ (cf. vv.3-4), while we are called to ‘behold its goodness’ (v.29f.) and thus to rule and cultivate. God makes and sees; we see and make.
In the simple linguistic distinction between bara and asah, there is for the artist both tremendous relief and great encouragement. Relief, because the curse of having to be ‘inspired’ or ‘creative’, or to lament the absence of ‘genius’ has been lifted. Encouragement, because all that God has created in its unfathomable beauty, harmony and diversity is ours to work with. Furthermore, the artist belongs to the collective community of humanity amongst whom and alongside of whom this enterprise enfolds. To apply the words of the apostle Paul to this context; “what do you have that you did not receive … why would you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor 4:7). As Seerveld notes;
“’Creativity’ puts the pressure on artistically isolated you to come through with something novel, or fail all by yourself because ‘inspiration’ did not strike. … [Rather,] walk around free, unencumbered, as a working artisan trained to see nuances in the world. Artists are called by God to be professional imaginators in society, skilled at bringing surprising insights to their neighbours’ attention. Doing art is a certain kind of job; you don’t have to be ‘creative’.” (2)
To cut a long story short, artists are not fatally cast upon their inner brilliance (or lack thereof), but called to the diligent use of their peculiar insights into the givenness of what God has created; a world budding with potentiality in anticipation of his image-bearers to explore and celebrate. As Terry and Lister put it:
“All creativity begins and ends with God. God is your creativity’s origin story. This is the testimony of creation. Many know creation to be the theatre of God’s glory. But don’t miss the fact that His theatre is a product of His creativity as well. In fact, the entire world, from beginning to end, reflects God’s creative agency. God builds the stage, fashions the cast, pens the story, and directs His characters to His good and glorious ends. To know creation, then, is to know God, not in full, but in truth. He signs all He makes with His character and purpose. His creative work bears the seal of His eternal power and divine nature (Rom 1:20). Simply put, everything He makes sings His creativity.” (3)
Because theology and creativity are so intimately connected, it can do the artist no harm in engaging the dramatic (and ultimately imaginative) plot-line of the Scriptures, proceeding as it does from Creation to Re-Creation (4). The promises of God fulfilled in Christ are our final safeguard against fantasy. But just to be sure we get Seerveld’s point; “Making art, like leading a political party or kneeling for genuine prayer to God, is work.” (5) ♦
1) Seerveld, Calvin. “Creativity” in The Big Picture, Trinity ’99, 5-6, 31-2.
3) Terry, Thomas J and Lister, J Ryan. Images and Idols: Creativity for the Christian life (Moody Publishers, 2018), 26.
4) A good example is the way Terry and Lister arranged the chapters in their book: Chapter 1, The Creator of Creativity; chapter 2, Created to Create; chapter 3, The Corruption of Creativity; chapter 4, Creativity Re-Created; and chapter 5, The Crescendo of Creativity. Ibid, 8.
5) Seerveld, Ibid.