Sometimes, when I feel creatively dry, I venture over to our college’s art gallery in search of inspiration. Yesterday morning I made this excursion with Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Essential Writings tucked under my arm.
Upon entering the gallery I paused first to scan through the binder that held the resumes and statements of the artists. The statement of my friend and colleague, Stephanie Baugh, caught my attention immediately. She wrote:
I am interested in the felt experience of small and quiet aspects of life. I am curious about how we can lay meaning and import over activities that are often seen as mundane or merely practical. I regularly spend time in reflection about my experiences or about states of mind in which I find myself. I give these reflective thoughts form as artworks. The process of creating the artworks extends my examination of the conditions of my consciousness and how I encounter the world.”
I resonated with Stephanie’s desire to pay attention to “the small and quiet aspects of life” as well as the meaning she finds as she creates. I have often said that I don’t know what I know until I write it out. There seems to be, then, something extraordinary about the act of creating—how through it we come to know ourselves and our world in a more profound and intimate way. There’s something mystical about this act of creation. Something wholly “other” as we surrender to the muse and follow wherever she leads. And apparently where she leads is often to a new version of ourselves.
“It is not only that I am making art; the art is also making me.”
In the introduction of the book tucked underneath my arm, I have underlined and tabbed a particularly interesting passage. Here Abraham Joshua Heschel’s daughter writes:
“Like his Hasidic forbears, my father turned religious assumptions upside down. It is not just that we are in search of God, but that God is in search of us, in need of us. We are objects of divine concern.”
The idea that God is in need of us is somewhat startling, but also intriguing. How might God need us? If God does need us, what would God not be able to do or be without us?
Because these questions arose in an art gallery I began to contemplate God’s role as a creator and maker. God’s art clearly includes us. We are an element of God’s beautiful creation. If what Stephanie and Heschel say is true—“I make the art, and the art makes me” and “God needs us”—then does our art, our acts of creation, somehow make God? Are we so entwined—Creator and created, art and artist, that we influence and inspire and even evolve each other? Do we feed off each other’s creations?
Walking slowly around the gallery I imagined God in that space as well. What might God create after pausing to gaze at “Balance”?
Where might the muse lead God after contemplating the aspects of “Present.”
I left the gallery abuzz with ideas and energy—my brain playing with all the new questions in my mind. The sun warmed my body as I walked across campus brightening the trees, the grass, the white cement of the sidewalk beneath my feet. Everything in that sunshine was more beautiful. It was as if God had been inspired, even as God was inspiring.
4 responses to “The Artist and the Art: A Theological Relationship”
I have been playing with my granddaughter and helping my daughter start a new career. In both I am supporting the becoming of two beautiful souls. I love this work. Loving my work creates well-being in me. Would God choose to remain outside and unchanged by the outworking of love or dive into the heart of it?
Teri, this is marvelous. Sure, why not? Art creates us. I don’t know if “our art, our acts of creation, somehow make God,” but I would say that God needs us as an artist needs her art to discover who she is. And God needs us as you need your children; not in order to be, but in order to be more.
Heschel’s religious preoccupation was, the re-centering of subjectivity from the self to God. For most of us, we are subjects and God is an object of our contemplation. Heschel wants us to turn that around: to pray and reverse the polarity. In prayer, Heschel says, we find that God is the subject and we are the objects of God’s contemplation. “Religion begins where experience ends, and the end of experience is a perception of our being perceived.” God needs us because love needs a beloved.
There is no theologian I trust more than Abraham Joshua Heschel. The only book of his I don’t have is the ESSENTIAL WRITINGS, which is okay with me because it’s all essential.
The quote is from MAN IS NOT ALONE (FSG, 1951), p.127.
Thanks for your thoughts and added words on Heschel, Dan.
“God needs us because love needs a beloved.” Love this!
I thought you might like that. Blessings to you my dear, for your lovely thoughts and for your discipline and setting them down and sharing them.
BTW, I saw a picture of Ella in the car from yesterday. She looks like trouble!! Adorably so.