On Reading FINDING DIVINE INSPIRATION

Just a couple weeks before 2019 came to a close, I finished reading Finding Divine Inspiration: Working with the Holy Spirit in Your Creativity by J. Scott McElroy. Much more than a book, it became the inspiration behind a deep spiritual assessment of why and how and with Whom I pursue all of my artistic and creative endeavors.

I know now that, if I truly want to make the most of my time and to produce anything of significance, I’m best to apply what I read in Finding Divine Inspiration. Here’s what that would mean—and here’s the challenge I set for myself in 2020 and beyond…

Why I create
I’ve mentioned it in previous posts: Making a living, making money, and making a name for myself are sure and certain temptations. But there’s so much more power in making for making’s sake—to revel in an idea, then the process. The end result should place a distant second to the truest heart of creativity: how and with Whom I create.

How I create
To be the person God created me to be, I need to discern and live into what He wants me to create for this world. In other words, creativity is a discipline. If indeed I believe I am a unique channel of the Holy Spirit and His purposes, then I should take that business to great heart. This is where my faith is tested, of course. A woman of true faith follows through with passion and energy, but I regret to admit that the Spirit’s leadings often fall on deaf ears and among a multitude of distractions. There is a different way—and I’m determined to find it. This year, I commit to take intentional steps in addressing the “how” of my creativity.

With Whom I create
It probably goes without saying, but part of my “how” is also to acknowledge the almighty “Who” right up front. In the companion journal of Finding Divine Inspiration, McElroy suggests a habit of dedication—to offer a routine prayer or to make some type of special mark on all pieces of art to acknowledge the creative process as a cooperative effort.

How easily I forget the constant presence and pursuit of God. How little I trust God—the Divine Inspiration who formed my passions and sparks my ideas—with an effort’s entire and ultimate purpose, be it personal time well spent with Him or a profound message to share with the world. As my church sings regularly in worship, “I will rest in the Father’s hands, leave the rest in the Father’s hands.”

Why? How? With Whom? These questions now shape the what of my creativity. Such enlightenment certainly doesn’t mean that my work is now ultra-theological or spiritual. In fact, I think my latest endeavors couldn’t be more rudimentary and secular. But, for me, they bear much more depth and meaning than many past projects simply because of the God-given purpose I now yearn to fulfill in my artistic time. Amen. May it be so.

On Reading THE GIFT OF ART

Though my latest read was written when I was just twelve years old—in other words, decades ago—it speaks so profoundly to my interests today. The Gift of Art: The Place of the Arts in Scripture by Gene Edward Veith, Jr. celebrates the biblical purpose of art: “glory and beauty.” At the same time, Veith considers art’s place among the more practical aspects of life: food, clothing, shelter, customs, etc. Veith says, “All of these are valuable gifts of God, essential parts of our humanity.” As I learn more about art and marvel at all of its forms, I couldn’t agree more.

The book cover also describes The Gift of Art as having a “liberating spirit.” I remain convinced by Veith’s arguments that God encourages creativity with very few, but very firm, boundaries. Here are a few of my very favorite key points from the book that support this theme and others:

[God] is the original abstract artist.”
In His making of the world, God also invented shapes and colors and concepts. No models or patterns to follow, just His good and perfect will. The ultimate creative process!

“Art is powerful because it heightens perception.”
Veith continues, “It does this partially by lifting an object or experience out of its normal context so that it can be apprehended freshly and more fully.” I expect to take this insight into my next visit to an exhibit—to appreciate even more the subject matter of an artist’s work and to stretch my understanding of the subject as to see it differently later in its “normal context.”

Art can never replace the Word of God.
Some Christian artists may feel pressured to portray the Gospel in their works. However, it’s essentially impossible—the Word is the Word is the Word. Art can definitely be inspired by it and founded on it, but the Word’s power is intrinsic to its medium and form. I love how Veith describes art as having the capability of being “sacramental,” communicating portions of God’s Word “not simply as an abstract doctrine but as a living and concrete reality.”

Art can help us understand a concept in a revitalizing way.
Veith offers this insight in a section titled “Recovering meaning.” He opines that art can help us recover in our hearts and memories the significance of our faith. The crucifixion. The resurrection. These, for instance, may be contemplated anew when observed in art.

“When art and religion are distinct, they can reflect each other.”
It all comes down to this: Enjoy God’s gift of art, be it a blatant expression of one’s faith or a whimsical seemingly unrelated experiment in color, texture, dimension, etc. God delights in it all, as long as they remain distinct—”…for the artist as a person, faith in his or her art alone leads to spiritual death,” says Veith.

Furthermore, Veith encourages our interests outside of religious doctrine; such interests actually help illuminate its relevance and timelessness and necessity. This is liberating indeed, just as promised at the beginning of reading The Gift of Art. So I plan to continue to immerse myself in any art and all art, trusting that it is one of the most divine gifts we are given in this life. I gladly receive it.

An Artist’s Bookshelf – October 2018

Once again, I’m traveling the “mixed media” route when it comes to my learning more about artists and artistic practices. Here’s what’s on my bookshelf, screen, etc., this month:

“Abstract: The Art of Design” series on Netflix
In short, this series is so cool! The first episode is about Christoph Niemann, a German illustrator who has many New Yorker covers and several books to his credit. I love the observation he makes at the beginning of the episode: given how it’s produced, the show is both by and about him; Niemann’s illustrations actually sew the documentary together. It’s hard to explain but so worth a look. I can’t wait to follow Niemann’s work from now on and to check out the next artists featured in the series. 

The Creative Call by Janice Elsheimer
This book was described to me as The Artist’s Way for Christians. It promises “creative renewal” through readings, journaling, and other exercises focused on getting closer to God and, at the same time, discovering what He designed me to be and do. I look forward to seeing how this book will speak into my artistic endeavors and their intersection with my faith.

Finding Divine Inspiration: Working with the Holy Spirit in Your Creativity by J. Scott McElroy
Like The Creative Call, this book and study guide duo is focused on harnessing the spiritual capacity of art. “Collaborate with God,” reads the back cover of the study guide. What I specifically like about this collection is how it offers real-life examples of other people who have attempted this and, by all appearances, who have done it well. I can pray to add myself to their number.