Having instilled in His creatures the same creative qualities whereby He Himself made them, God justly holds us, His image-bearers, accountable to mirror His greatness. Thus reflective, we inevitably discover surfaces (like watercolour paper) on which our own creative expression can in turn reflect our inner nature. In this process we discover, alongside the joys of service, also our fallenness and inadequacy. In contrast to the Creator’s brilliance, our oil-and-dirt-stained brushes indicate the darkness of our hearts. Our own creations exhibit a creativity that’s lowercase, mirroring some glimmer of His greater brilliance, but falling short of the capital Fullness of He whom our actions seek to worship.
Can a painting ask its creator for forgiveness? Perhaps its colours and unity speak as loud as prayerful words. But even if we’ve embedded “soul” into our work, the products of our hands themselves have no real hands and hearts with which to pray. Even robots and automatons, our supposed evolutionary offspring, are repulsive when we find out that they’re not “real”. The Creator though, in moulding you and I, did verily embed a real, and free, and human soul into our being. The creature rightly says of his Creator “Lord”, but our own mere creations lack the the capacity to say the same of us. Our attempts to play God serve only to show the cracks we’ve introduced into the clay that is our formerly-full (fallen) frame. And so it is that He, our Potter is allowed to hold accountable these pots for their cracking, but our own pots can remain our very own responsibility: the sum of their beligerent crackings manifest nought but our own inattention to the hotness of the kiln: and this is just. For unlike their lowercase creators (you and I), our paintings havent the capacity to choose.
The striking result is that no Christian art exists. If a painting can’t be saved, how could it possbily be [Christian]? And anyway, we aren’t here to “save” our creations. But in this world there are Christians, whose fallen natures do require redemption and renewal and regeneration to revive that wondrous mirroring of the Creator’s glory on which their creativity is meant to contemplate. It is I, and not my work, that needs a mediator to remove the stains of these idolatries in which I ceaselessly engage. And in Christ, even my miss-allocation of funds has been forgiven. As a creator without capital, I remain ever in debt to my Lord and Saviour.
This debt inspires (or provokes, in a good way) a thankful, exhuberant response. The reality that it is people and not paintings that are made in God’s image is a freeing reality, opening the door for us to create contemplative visual responses to the primacy of God’s Word: the image not illustrating but applying the text, the painting not replacing the divine revelation but worshipfully responding to it. Perhaps the Christian’s art points to the gospel, but it needn’t explicity: more than that it can just live out the gospel – reaching out, loving and caring for weary souls with the ointment of faithful imagination. And it can use the Bible as its source. Moving beyond the kitsch and heavy handedness of the bible-verse-on-a-sunset-photo aesthetic, we can represent the valley of the shadow of death as well as the quiet streams, as if to say, “yes Lord, we understand and acknowledge your full deep reality; Your complete saving plan for your covenant people.”