Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Human Creativity As a Reflection of the Creator

Many of us remember occasions when we’ve been enthralled by the beauty of forest, meadow, seaside, or desert.  For me, it’s the more “natural” or “wild places” of God’s creation that thrill the most; and generally not the urban environment.  However, this past weekend, I was enveloped in a literal sea of human creativity in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, Ann Arbor, MI
The 2014 Ann Arbor Street Art Fair occupied numerous streets in downtown Ann Arbor and extended onto the beautiful campus of the University of Michigan.   What a feast for the eyes as my wife Abby and I, and our son Brad and his wife Raquel walked the tree-shaded streets, each lined on both sides with the booths for artists from all around the country to display their creativity.  Paintings and photographs framed in all sizes and shapes; and in all manner of style and coloration.  Wood, delicate plant stems, and metal of all kinds were carved, shaved, pressed, twisted or imprinted into lifelike forms or intriguing abstractions.  Clay pottery was displayed in a rich variety of shapes and sizes, frequently glazed to produce inviting colors and patterns.  A memorable booth looked like a garden of colorful flowers and foliage fashioned in the finest detail-- out of clay!

Landscape necklace pendant, L & M Arts
Leather products and different fabrics were fashioned into garments, shoes, and hats.  I was intrigued by what appeared to be oil paintings on canvas that were actually collages of carefully chosen, dyed fabrics pieced together to represent portraits and beautiful landscapes.  Dean Myton’s booth from his Ironwood & Vine Studio in Akron, OH displayed lamps and other “functional art from found objects, unique recycled materials, and fabricated steel.”  Dean’s aim is to apply his creativity to give new beauty and functionality to materials otherwise destined to the scrap heap.  His slogan:  “Recycle, Rethink, Reuse, Rejoice.”

Many booths featured fine jewelry fashioned from metal and/or mineral components.  Abby and I were particularly drawn to a booth provided by Laurel and Michael Davern, owners of L & M Arts, in Lancaster, NY.  Abby chose a landscape necklace of Argentium sterling silver, hand-pierced to form wind-swept trees with a bird in flight, accented with copper and brass plating.  Of course, with such subject matter, friendly artisans, and the sweet smile of my lovely wife, how could I resist buying the necklace for her?

Larry and Elaine Schneider, Naturewood Art
Larry Schneider from Pittsburgh, and his wife Elaine, greeted us with warm enthusiasm as we admired their Naturewood Art featuring “paintings of nature on nature’s canvases.”   Larry paints birds and other wildlife on tree trunk cross sections.  Then, he produces a 3-D effect by adding appropriate objects from the landscape—driftwood, barbed wire, dried bones, etc.  My favorite was his Meadowlark painted as if singing while perched on a weathered fence post.

As we walked from booth to booth along the shady streets filled with art admirers, three things stirred my heart in praise to God, the Eternal Artist.  First, I began to realize that the amazing creativity on display here was an expression of the image of God Who created and endowed humankind with many of His personal traits.  These God-given traits include our creativity—and to our ability to admire the creativity of others.  Our admiration of the creative arts reaches deep within us.  Much deeper than the cognitive level, artistic expression can reach into our wellspring of joy and satisfaction, or it may stir up sadness or compassion.  I wonder if any other creatures can “enjoy” the wonders of creation like we can; I doubt it.

Meadowlark, by Naturewood Art
Second, I was reminded of the lavishness God has displayed in His creation.  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).  Both God and humankind in His image are “creators” but only God created matter ex nihilo, “out of nothing.”  And, from that original formless and void state of creation (Genesis 1: 2), the Master Artisan and Engineer shaped the landscape of Earth and populated it biologically.  Every element of creation is designed like a deep treasure chest from which humans as stewards can draw out a seemingly endless variety of forms.  Among animals, God created basic kinds (canine, feline, bovine, etc.), each rich in genetic potential from which both natural selection and human artificial selection have produced widely divergent forms.   Likewise, humans have developed plant varieties through horticultural and genetic procedures.  The rich variety of biological, mineral, and metallic resources of God’s creation provides a marvelous “palette” to supply both the substance and the inspiration for the artisan.

Finally, I was most inspired by a sort of “one-act drama” performed at each booth we visited along the streets of Ann Arbor.  Each artisan that participates at the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair first displays his or her creative work within their booth—work that represents tireless hours of creative effort.  Then, the artisan sits and waits for people to come by the booth, admire their work, and perhaps purchase a piece or two as we did. 

As visitors to many booths at the fair, we were participants in the “drama” with the artisans, and we observed how they responded to our appreciation of their work.  They know that most visitors will stop to admire but few will buy.  Yet beyond the monetary gain, they surely must enjoy the satisfaction of seeing many admiring faces and hearing words of praise for work well done.   I realized two things:  that, the artisans are creative and industrious like their Creator God Whose image they bear; and, like their Creator God, artisans gain a sense of joy when they receive praise for the work of their hands.

And so, our visit to the art fair with our son and daughter-in-law was both very enjoyable and inspiring to me.  I left with great respect for the creative ability and skills of the artisans, and also a great appreciation of God our Creator for providing the richness of the material world as a “palette” for His creative image-bearers. 

The psalmist in Psalm 104 recognizes the awesomeness of God and the grandeur of His creation. Then, he marvels that his God Who lacks nothing should find joy and gladness when He looks upon His creation—just as an artisan finds joy in looking over his own finished work:

O LORD, how many are Thy works!
In wisdom Thou hast made them all;
The earth is full of Thy possessions.

Let the glory of the LORD endure forever;
Let the LORD be glad in His works;
He looks at the earth, and it trembles;
He touches the mountains, and they smoke.
- Psalm 104: 24, 31-32

A few verses later in Psalm 104, the psalmist displays the kind of awe and praise that comes spontaneously from one who bears God’s image and can appreciate the beauty and wonder of creation in some imperfect way like our Creator.  But, the psalmist also understands that his heart of praise is both a fitting response to God’s greatness and a “pleasing gift” to his Creator and the Redeemer of his soul as compared to the response of those who deny God and abuse His creation for selfish gain. 

I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
Let my meditation be pleasing to Him;
As for me, I shall be glad in the LORD.
Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
And let the wicked be no more.
Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!
- Psalm 104: 33-35


L&M Arts Jewelry Studio said...

Thank you so much for all your kind words about our work. The Ann Arbor show was a wonderful success for us and we certainly appreciate you giving us the link to your blog.

John said...

Thank you for your kind comment. My wife wears her landscape necklace which serves as a beautiful reminder of a wonderful day in Ann Arbor.