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.
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.
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.
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)