The Artist and the Art: A Theological Relationship

Stephanie Baugh

Stephanie Baugh “Wanderlust”

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.”

9348489_orig

Stephanie Baugh “Philosophy”

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.

Stephanie concludes:

“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”?

326157_orig

Stephanie Baugh “Balance”

Where might the muse lead God after contemplating the aspects of “Present.”

Stephanie Baugh

Stephanie Baugh “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.