Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Case for Creativity: Man as Image Bearer

 

Wandering along the creek with camera in hand, there were no other sounds to intrude on the melody of water playing across boulders. The scent of earth and forest was intoxicating to me. I found endless visual fascination with wet rocks, moss growing on stumps, fallen leaves strewn about the creek, and I responded in childlike wonder by making images with the camera. I was twelve years old.

On another day I found myself wandering along a different creek near an aspen grove. The tranquil sound of gently flowing water was the only voice in the woods. I scampered across fallen logs and large rocks, the kid in me feeling the wonder and awe of creation’s glory along this simple creek, and I responded in unsullied joy by forming compositions with my camera. I was forty-eight years old.

 

Lee Vining Creek cascades over rocks in California's magnificent Eastern Sierra

Lee Vining Creek cascades over rocks in California’s Eastern Sierra [click photo to enlarge]

 

Wide-eyed childlike wonder overflowed from within recently as I traveled to the amazing Eastern Sierra region of California. I shared images last week of that diverse glory, and today share more compositions made while wandering along the creeks and through groves of trees in the Eastern Sierra as autumn draped majestic color over the region.

I am blessed beyond measure by my Creator to have been allotted a life of creativity stretching from my pre-teen photographic explorations to my current vocation as a landscape photographer. There have been many bumps and detours along the way, and seasons where I questioned the worthiness of being creative. I began forming for myself a case for creativity and wrote last week that the first reason artistry matters is because God himself is a great artist. Now I’d like to share thoughts on the implications of that truth, which is the second reason I believe it’s meaningful to create – because people are made in the image of God.

Imago Dei is the term theologians like to use. It simply means ‘image of God’ in Latin. The book of beginnings, Genesis, tells us that ‘God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (1:27, New Living Translation). Theologians unpack many profound truths that flow from this doctrine, but for my limited scope in considering a case for creativity I see that creativity matters for humans because God the joyful Artist created us in his image – we are his image bearers.

 

A big beautiful ponderosa pine artfully decorates Lee Vining Canyon

A big beautiful ponderosa pine artfully decorates Lee Vining Canyon  [click photo to enlarge]

 

In Scripture I see image bearers being unleashed to create from the start of the human race. After God had fashioned his jaw-droppingly gorgeous earth brimming full of life, the Original Artist allots to the first man and woman a vocation and life lived out as artists themselves – freedom to sculpt and care for the most beautiful garden ever to be found on the planet, and the linguistic delight of thinking up names for all the creatures. If you have ever walked through a truly lovely garden then you know how much creative work goes into it. And if you have ever use words to express and communicate and found it challenging, you can imagine how much artistic effort goes into forming names for each animal.

I find this incredibly freeing and exciting! After years of self-doubt, I’ve learned to embrace the creative life because I see in Scripture that God loves being an artist himself, and as his image bearers he’s delighted when we engage in creating also.

Now some readers may be thinking the way my wife used to – that you are not an artistic type, that your personality or your work are not suited to creativity. I hope to encourage you by saying that 1) to create is a far broader definition then making art like a potter, a painter, or a photographer, and 2) being creative is not limited to what we do at work – it can encompass all of life. I believe all of us can engage in creating in ways that align perfectly with our individuality.

For example, my wife is an excellent high-level tax accountant with the world’s largest accounting firm. As such she always considered herself good with numbers, but assumed she had not a single creative bone in her. First, I’ve encouraged her to see that she actually does engage in a creative process every time she thinks through problems at work and proposes solutions to solve them, or thinks of ways to effectively communicate with difficult coworkers. Second, she has discovered that you don’t have to be a ‘professional’ artist to try your hand at photography, scrapbooking, and other crafts, and in experimenting with traditional artistic pursuits she has found a great outlet for stress and much fun.

 

Aspens reveal their visually graphic skeletons as golden autumn leaves drop

Aspens reveal visually graphic skeletons as golden autumn leaves drop [click photo to enlarge]

 

Whatever your job, I believe there is almost always some creativity you are engaging in to effectively and efficiently do your work, from remodeling homes, teaching, maintaining computer systems, homeschooling your children, developing successful strategies for corporations, debugging software, fundraising for a nonprofit, helping fit a department store customer for clothes, to running a home-based business. Your work may involve creating a product, or creating value. A janitor starts with dirty chaos and creates a fresh clean environment, which then allows workers coming into a clean workplace to more effectively do their work.

And apart from our vocations, consider how we can be creative throughout all of life – thinking of fun ideas for your family to engage in together on weekends, creating a delicious and eye-appealing meal, being artful in your choice of words to a friend so you can encourage them, dreaming up a vision for the future of your marriage, singing even if you have no audience, learning to play a guitar, sculpting and maintaining the landscape around your house, writing out your thoughts in a journal or blog, or diving into a traditional ‘artistic’ hobby with a camera or clay or whatever strikes your fancy.

I believe God has designed and enabled us to make our very lives art. I love how The Message version of the Bible emphasizes this theme in Galations chapter 6:

“Live creatively, friends.

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.” (vs. 1, 4-5)

 

Focusing close on an autumn aspen leaf reveals the intricate veins and intense color

Aspen leaf closeup reveals intricate veins and intense autumn color [click photo to enlarge]

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The Case for Creativity: God as Artist

 

Excitement ran high as I drove toward the Eastern Sierra in California.

The Sierra Nevada mountains are one of the truly great ranges in America, and the east side of these behemoths holds many treasures. As I drove south down U.S. Route 395 toward the tiny town of Lee Vining I caught my first glimpse of one of these jewels sitting at the base of the mountains – Mono Lake. My excitement turned to tension as the end of the day was fast approaching with little time to find an appropriate campsite for my travel trailer and still make it down to the lake for a photograph before dark. The technology of a smart phone and Google once again proved useful as I was able to locate a campground nearby, set in a canyon among peaceful ponderosa pine punctuated with aspens making their autumn color change from green to yellow.

I rapidly set up my trailer in a new personal best time and jammed back toward Mono Lake ten minutes away. Sunset was in process as I hoisted my photo backpack and tripod out of the truck and quickly made my way down to the lake’s edge. The lake is well known for its tufa formations – essentially common limestone formed over time under the surface of the water and now exposed by lower water levels – and I hoped to utilize the special light of dusk to make a compelling composition featuring some of these tufa protruding from the still water.

As soon as I had the camera set up on the tripod in front of a visually pleasing group of tufa the dusk light I had hoped for had begun and I started exposing images. Often times at dusk you will see a pretty band of blue develop on the horizon where the earth is casting its shadow, along with a lovely band of pink directly above this blue from the very last afterglow of warm sunset light. On this night that tasty dusk glow occurred with wonderful clarity, enhanced by the lake’s surface reflecting those blue and pink layers.

 

Layers of pink and blue light at dusk highlight tufa formations in Mono Lake

Layers of pink and blue light at dusk highlight tufa formations in Mono Lake

 

After this sublime evening at Mono Lake more days followed of exploring and shooting in the Eastern Sierra, and I realized just how spectacularly diverse this region is – from the other-wordly tufa formations in the lake, to cloud-kissing peaks as high as 14,505-foot Mt. Whitney, lush streams and waterfalls, groves of aspen, tall ponderosa and Jeffrey pines, a virtual playground of huge characterful boulders and rock formations called the Alabama Hills, ancient bristlecone pines thousands of years old in the nearby White Mountains, a jaw-dropping drive over Tioga Pass leading to renowned Yosemite National Park, and much more.

 

Colors of autumn decorate a peaceful mixed forest in Lundy Canyon

Colors of autumn decorate a peaceful mixed forest in Lundy Canyon

 

I only scratched the photographic surface on this trip compared to all that the Eastern Sierra encompasses, but the diversity of landscapes I did see shouted unequivocally of the work of the great Artist, God himself. My mind was drawn to thinking about creativity and why it’s important, and I realized with new clarity that, foundationally, creativity matters because it’s important to God – being creative and making art is part of the very character of God. We see it most profoundly on the first page of Scripture – “In the beginning God created” (Genesis 1:1a), and after his work is done he examines what he crafted and feels the satisfaction of an artist – “Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!” (Genesis 1:31a, NLT).

That the Creator is a great Artist who practices and values creativity is further seen in the magnificent design of our bodies, which caused the Psalmist to exclaim, “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous–how well I know it.” (Psalm 139:14, NLT)

Later in the story of scripture we see God’s creative nature reflected in the vocation of his son – and very God himself – Jesus Christ, who makes his living as an artisan of wood, working with his hands in the craft of carpentry.

And God’s creative work continues in the present in his creatures, in the lives of those who have turned to him in faith: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Yes, despite our failings that appear all too clear to most of us, we who trust Jesus for salvation are being creatively formed into the very masterpiece of our Artist-God!

 

A bright moon rises over a rugged peak in Lee Vining Canyon

A bright moon rises over a rugged mountain peak in Lee Vining Canyon

 

So for me, this first and foremost is the case for why creativity matters – because God himself is the great Artist who loves to be creative, as his vast array of amazing works shows. And next week I look forward to unpacking what I see as the far-reaching implications for how we can live out our lives…

 

Lee Vining Creek spills over rocks in the Eastern Sierra

Lee Vining Creek spills over rocks in the Eastern Sierra

 


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