Clare O'Driscoll reflects on unseen value in visible
"It has to glorify God or edify others. It can't just be
'art for art's sake'!"
I FELT A COLD CLUNK INSIDE. Having struggled with a lifelong
tension between the free-fl ying desire to create and the guilty
suspicion I should be 'more useful', I'd signed up for a Christian
gifts course hoping for clarity and perhaps permission to nurture
my arty side. Now I frowned at the screen, feeling selfish for my
Perhaps I was overreacting. This was a course about using gifts
for God. 1 Peter 4:10 says, "As each has received a gift, employ it
for one another." I couldn't disagree. Yet nor could I shake the
sad understanding that my creativeness only had value if it was
benefi cial to the church. Weren't they missing huge swathes of the
richness and depth our God-given creativity brings? Of course,
glorifying God and helping others are worthy (if unquantifi able)
goals, but they raise the bar pretty high for a fl edgling artist.
At face value, my amateur creations fall vastly short. Does that
mean everything I love - textiles, scribbling, getting inky fi
ngers - are 'art for art's sake'? And, wait, even if they are... is
that so terrible? When the term 'art for art's sake' was coined in
the nineteenth century (from the French l'art pour l'art), it
wasn't negative, despite the implication here. It celebrated art's
inherent value, concerned that it loses something when moulded
Maybe those who championed this went too far, demanding art's
absolute purity from any cause, but their basic premise that art
has intrinsic value shouldn't threaten us. Surely any such value
was put there by God, provider of all good gifts?
Creativity is at the heart of our faith; a name for God; a way
of relating. Art can help us make sense of the world. Textile
artist Kate André confi rms this: "I understand God's message so
much better when I process it pictorially." She speaks of
responding creatively to the word of God, being revived and being
the person God wants her to be when she creates.
As Christians we can feel everything should have some obvious
benefi t to God, the church or others. It feels frivolous to
'waste' time deepening our creativity when there's so much 'proper
Christian work' to be done. But we are not Christian machines,
pumping out only good works that glorify God and edify others,
however important those ideals.
Author and spiritual director Helen Warwick, who has used art
for her own growth and with others, says, "We need to do what
makesus come alive, as that is what the world needs." Not only is
it a valid use of time, but if we disregard creativity, we can feel
centreless, living a poorer version of life. If ignored too long,
the gentle whisper to create can crescendo into a frustrated
Of course we should examine our motives, but those who wish to
glorify God with their whole life will naturally do so with their
art.Having freedom to create, no strings attached, means artists
will bless God and others because they're at peace with themselves
and their world. Conversely, art which is forced to be Christian
can feel contrived.
Francis Schaeffer's book Art and the Bible describes
how in the Old Testament, God's blueprints for the tabernacle and
temple included features which were simply there for beauty,
serving no practical or religious purpose. And while Rembrandt's
contemporaries depicted religious scenes, he often painted humble
workers, showing their dignity and value in God's eyes.
It is less about making 'Christian' art, more about being
Christian as you make. Kate calls this "being creative in a godly
way"; using her gift in every aspect of life. As well as art
helping her know God's presence, she loves teaching, sharing her
faith with others gently through creativity and seeing them grow.
This echoes my own experiences of soul-restoring afternoons sharing
with friends as we gouge linocuts or collage fabrics.
Art therapy, formal or informal, unlocks doors which were wedged
shut: like the special school where art was a longawaited
breakthrough or the Brighton barista I overheard confessing he
forgets everything, even meals, when painting. The beauty of art's
vivid palette can make us gasp, restoring our life-trampled sense
Through the messy work-inprogress, the self-doubt and questions,
we learn to grapple with deeper issues. Making art into a Christian
tick-list diminishes it, overlooking the joy, the healing and
connection with God that is fostered through the creative process.
All these come full circle and actually do glorify God.
Artist and teacher Audrey Preuss Blessman agrees: "The very act
of making art - creating - brings glory to God. He is the great
creator and when we make things (be it a cake or an oil on canvas)
we are demonstrating how we are made in God's image."
Demanding identifiable Christian benefits leaves the deeper
value of art unseen. The gift is two-fold: something we use for
God, but also something we receive, to enjoy, even to bask in the
love of the Giver.
There is no glory-formula, only a desire to make, put into our
hearts by God. We hope to refl ect the beauty of God's creation,
but even if we don't, something changes within us through
As Kate says, "This is my witness... my glorifying God. I might
sometimes make art for art's sake... but the back story is all for
IMAGE © CLARE O'DRISCOLL