In part 1, we observed that God is an artistic God, and that our being made “in the image of God” denotes not only a certain likeness to Him but also the fact that we are (and were made to be) visible representatives of the invisible God and his promises.
This good news for the artist, for several reasons. Firstly and most obviously, it meaningfully validates our creative impulses in deeper and stronger ways than even many Christians tend to assume.
Secondly, it liberates us from the sense that these creative impulses must be used in the service of some sort of Christian propaganda. If “the image of God” from which our creativity springs were something purely internal, we would likely sense that our “ordinary” creative endeavors don’t satisfy Christ’s call to witness to Him: we would be tempted to contrive ways to try to make our art witness, and the results would likely become very kitschy very quickly. However, because “the image of God” necessarily has an externally-oriented component, we can witness to the Creator’s new creation simply by existing as artistic beings whose creativity (however great or modest) is informed by the hope of redemption.
Which brings us to the third way Christ’s call is good news to the artist: it does not allow the spring of our creativity to diffuse into a quagmire but instead channels it as a stream by helping to guide our creative efforts. And it does this not in the way a propaganda mandate does—by compelling the artist to produce something that is not his/her artistic “vision”; instead, Christ’s call guides us by conforming our vision to itself in all its majesty and grandeur, so that it is Christ and his story that impel our creativity and give us that inner necessity to “have to” sing or write or paint or whatever God has given us to do.
This means that just as the beginning and foundation of the coming kingdom is Christ’s earthly ministry culminating in His death and resurrection, so this ministry and the principles it exemplifies will be the foundation of the art we create if the gospel is truly what is most fundamentally stirring our hearts. Which in turn means that wonder, grandeur, and irony (to name a few) are qualities that will likely be trying to find their way into our creative output.
This gospel-centrality also encourages us to create art that is both hopeful and realistic. Like the disciples in verse 9, we look Christ-ward to the cloud of glory even while we are left in the here-and-now, surrounded by the aching realities of a broken world with no indication of when all will be set right (verse 7). We are left with unfulfilled hopes, but yet we are told to witness to what has been fulfilled and to the promise which that fulfillment confirms.
But more than simply unfulfilled hopes, we are left with expectations that are defied in the most wonderful ways. In verse 6, the disciples are still hoping for the imminent political restoration of Israel, not yet grasping how much vaster God’s intentions are. Likewise, great art tends to defy our expectations in ways that lend greater, not lesser, coherence and grandeur to the whole: clearly that is something that strikes a chord with humanity; it is something that we find deeply satisfying, perhaps because we are wired to recognize, even unconsciously, that it is a fundamental principle of God’s reality.
But expectations can be defied by more than mere contradiction. Idealism itself is kind of defiance of expectation. In fact, while realism regarding the present age is fully fitting in art, so is a kind of redemptive idealism that seeks to distill beauty to the utmost possibility of the human imagination—because I guarantee that not only is God’s imagination more potent than our own, but his love of beauty is stronger than our own, and His desire to see it realized on earth and in our lives is greater than our own. However much beauty our faculty of idealization can create, that which God will realize is far greater.
The gospel also calls Christians to create art of allusive breadth. Where we deem it artistically satisfying, it is fitting that the beauty of a work of art should recall other beauties: nature, loves human and divine, the great thoughts of other thinkers, etc. The new creation is one of comprehensive redemption: all things will be made new by God through Christ and united under His headship in the kingdom. Just as Christians are in a sense all one by virtue of being in Christ, so the wonders of the new creation are interrelated by virtue of being by Him, through Him, filled by Him, and subject to Him.
And finally, art should be created with the awareness that it points beyond itself. Great art is much like the cloud that hid Jesus from the disciples’ sight: it seems to contain the transcendent just beyond the surface that our senses encounter. And as such it is valuable in calling us to lift up our eyes to Jesus. But if we stand looking after the work of art as though it contained what we longed for, we might remember the angels that on more than one occasion directed the disciples: “Why do you look for Jesus in the empty tomb? Why do you look for Him in the cloud? He’s not there!” Yet the empty tomb and the cloud of glory—and the work of art—provide powerful reminders of Jesus’ story, but only so long as they never become ultimate in themselves.
And if our art is not the ultimate creation, it means that we are not the ultimate creators. These reflections on nature of artistic creation are not a self-help manual but are rather intended to point toward Christ. Remember Acts 1:1—“Jesus began…” The work is His, not ours: He accomplishes His purpose in us through the indwelling of His Spirit, which is promised to all who are in Christ. Ephesians 5:18 tells us outright to “be filled with the spirit.” And in Scripture, the mention that someone was “filled with the Spirit” often accompanies their being stirred to prophesy: the Spirit fills us, and the overflow is a proclamation of God’s truth. May the same be true of the art we create through the power of the Spirit of God.
In conclusion, I’ll note that Richard Wagner, a nineteenth-century composer and very nearly a self-proclaimed artistic messiah of German art, spoke about his art as “the music of the future,” which he envisioned as a Gesamtkunstwerk or “total art work:” a dramatic production representing a synthesis of poetry, music, visual art, stage arts, etc. I’d like to suggest that the true Gesamtkunstwerk is in fact God’s new creation and that “the music [or art] of the future” is what we engage in whenever our artistic creation is informed by the gospel principles discussed above: such art is nothing less than the visible “incarnation” into the present age of a future hope that is still largely unseen. At some level, then, any meaningful art is a small instance of heaven invading earth and the future breaking into the present age, with beams of glory that illuminate both this world’s brokenness as well as the hope by which we long for that which is broken to be restored.