Comparing Divine and Artistic Creativity (Part I)

In a series of five blog posts, I would like to suggest that comparing divine and artistic creativity is a very important component of a Christian theology of art. Christians compare God and artists in common speech (saying, for example, that God is like an artist who uses his imagination and makes a world of rich diversity), and they also do so in their more academic and theological writings. In our contemporary setting, the word ‘creativity’ is democratized to the extent that anyone (perhaps anything?) can be creative. A typical definition of creativity goes like this: the production of something new and valuable.[1]  This definition is a very wide net, but in this series of posts, I am only interested in the way that artists are creative.

It is often argued that comparing divine and artistic creativity is a symptom of modernity. The argument is true enough, but one should not forget that Christans have been comparing divine and artistic creativity for a long time, and even the Bible is no exception (e.g. God as potter, God as farmer, God as architect, etc.). Modern comparisons between divine and artistic creativity are different, however, because they more powerfully shape the artist’s sense of self and the artist’s creative practice.  In recent years, many thinkers have proposed a variety of comparisons between divine and artistic creativity that serve as key elements in a theology of art.

It  is not difficult to see the potential dangers of comparing artistic creativity to divine creativity.  Many Christian thinkers, most notably Calvin Seerveld and Nicholas Wolterstorff, argue that comparisons between divine and artistic creativity are at best trivial, and, at worst, dangerous for a theology of art. For one thing, Christians traditionally affirm that God creates from nothing (creatio ex nihilo), and setting up God’s act of creation as an ideal for the artist is a burden too great for human shoulders. Furthermore, theologians are sometimes uncomfortable with comparisons between divine and artistic creativity because they might obscure the real nature of divine creativity.

While these concerns are important, they are not serious enough to discourage us from making comparisons between divine and artistic creativity, and from allowing these comparisons to play an important role in a Christian theology of art. In the next three posts, I will show how three responses (acceptance, rejection and redemption) to the problem of comparing artistic creativity to divine creatio ex nihilo are connected to three theological approaches to the image of God (structural, functional and relational). In the fifth, and final, post, I will argue that comparisons between divine and artistic creativity can play an essential role in a Christian theology of art by providing a theological basis for an ethic of artistic creativity.


[1] See Berys Gaut and Paisley Livingston, The Creation of Art (Cambridge University Press, 2003), 1-32.

 

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