Creative Intent: What Are You Thinking?

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This post is a bit of an experiment in attempting an open discussion about the creative process between any and all reading these words. So if you’re up for it, please weigh in with a response at the end.

Odds are you’ve seen a version of Rodin’s “The Thinker.” Have you ever wondered what he’s thinking about? Rodin’s The Thinker (1880, bronze), has been portrayed in a host of ways, ranging from listening to headphones to sitting on a toilet to contemplating his pint of beer.

I’m a pastor. Sometimes when I’m teaching on the authority of Scripture in the believer’s life, we talk about the Thinker. Is there authorial intent or can I interpret what I see in that sculpture any way I wish? Am I free to decide what’s on The Thinker’s mind?

Who’s to say what he is thinking about anyway?

Well, Auguste’ Rodin, actually.

It came as a surprise to me that “The Thinker” is an historical figure. He is Dante’. And The Thinker was sculpted to sit atop a larger sculpture called “The Gates of Hell.” (Here it is.)

gates11.jpg

Rodin wanted to capture the thought process Dante’ must have had to subject himself to in writing “The Inferno.” On close inspection of the Thinker, you’ll see a great burden on the countenance of Dante’ as he contemplates the loss of souls into eternal punishment! And Rodin was captivated enough by the weight of such thoughts that he wanted to try and capture it.

So the Thinker is not just some guy thinking about nothing in particular. He is Dante’ thinking about souls being lost in hell. And regardless of what anyone believes about the afterlife, Rodin is the authority over what’s on the Thinker’s mind because he cast the sculpture. To put him on the commode cheapens Rodin’s authorial intent and, it seems to me, makes it so the beholder will never really be able to comprehend what Rodin meant to say.

Some non-objective and abstract artists today leave the interpretation of their work completely up to the beholder. But if we mean to communicate truth through our art, can we create without intent?

What do you think? I’d love to hear from all kinds of artists on this. Here are my questions, and I’ll number them in to basic categories for the sake of discussion. If you have a particular artistic focus (songwriter, painter, writer, instrumentalist, etc.), do tell, and perhaps we can see how the responses vary according to genre.

1. Regarding the creative process; Is communication an inherently necessary part of the creative process, or can we create good art without intending it to “mean” anything by it?

2. Regarding the presentation of what’s been created; What, if anything, do artists owe their audience? And conversely, is that audience obligated to try to understand the artist’s intent, regardless of whether they agree or disagree? Or, how important is it that when people engage the arts, they’re “picking up what the artist is putting down”?

Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003).

Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.


13 Comments

  1. Kevin Beasley

    I really don’t know how to define my art. I am establishing a new faith community and I lead that. So, I guess my art could be creative leadership. I do not consider myself a pastor in the pastoral (shepherding) sense, but one who is establishing a community of pastors. Verbal communication would be another of my favorite expressions of art. Anyway…

    What do artists owe their audience? Great question. I will deal with the art of verbal communication. Communication is a process of transferring what’s happening in your head (or heart) to another. The art of communication is best expressed when the the appropriate information is relayed. Therefore, communication is not about what I say, but about what you hear and how that is then interpreted.

    I’ll give you one of my favorite examples. We’re in the process of gathering a group of people who want to walk the journey of faith together (a church if you will). In the south, church is part of the culture. Although it is a sub-culture within the larger culture, it is a vital component of being Southern. However, there are many different interpretations of the word church. If I am communicating with someone who comprehends church as a hierarchical, top-down, oppressive organization it is a mis-communication for me to use the word church referring to a group of people who want to journey through faith together. Using this word would be speaking a “language” that the hearer cannot understand. I “owe” it to the recipient of my art to speak a language which they understand. The greatest expression of the concept would be to use a word the hearer can comprehend.

    So, if I could put it into a word, I would say I owe my hearer generosity. I believe that every artist owes the beneficiary of their art generosity. What this looks like may be up to interpretation, but I believe generosity is the sensitivity of trying to communicate in ways in which the recipient may “hear” (see, experience, etc.) what the artist was experiencing when he produced the art. This is assuming a philosophy that art is to be shared.

    That answers most of the questions. Now, the one about importance of “picking up what the artist is putting down”. This ties back into one’s philosophy of art. The first question that must be answered in all these questions is this, “Is the work of an artist for her benefit alone or is it created for sharing?” If it is for the artist alone, there is no responsibility for the artist OR the person who is engaging. Heck, I don’t guess there’d be any purpose in engagement at all if the art was for the artist alone.

    Generosity.

    The Creator of art and the greatest artist… the Word of God… Christ… created the universe to share (I believe). Creation itself is God’s attempt to communicate Himself to humanity. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Romans 1:20 It seems to me here that the art of creation was for the purpose of communicating the Heart and Experience of God. Story-telling (parables) was another art of Christ. The purpose of story-telling seemed always to be communicating truth to His followers.

    If, as artists, we are following the example of the original artist, the creator of art itself, and the master storyteller, it seems that art is for sharing.

    With that assumption, it is imperative that the person engaging “pick up what we put down”.

    This, however, flies in the face of current thought that truth is found in experience, instead of experience reflecting truth. In that case, various “truths” can be communicated and there would be no importance subscribed to what the artist is “laying down”.

    It’s late and I’m tired, so sorry for rambling so.

  2. Stephen

    I think that communication is one of the most intriguing aspects of art. In my case, it has to do with writing songs (with and without words). Every artist communicates something in what they create, even if they aren’t communicating anything personal. If it is designed to reflect reality (or even make believe), it will communicate something. So, in this sense, yes, an artist has control (at least initially) over what his or her art communicates.

    But there is a beautiful open-endedness to art. One can’t anticipate what their song or painting or writing might say to someone once it’s out in the world. An artist really has very little control over this–even if they are very explicit about the art’s meaning.

    On the other hand, some forms of art are so open-ended that it is difficult for an artist to communicate anything specific and can, therefore, get away with creating something with little or no meaning. For instance, I write a lot of instrumental music. Sometimes, I am feeling something specific, and the tune is a resonse to that. Sometimes, I am just playing and the tune comes together without any forethought. Regardless, the only thing I can really give the listener is a title and the song. They may be able to feel the emotion of the song, but that’s about it. In this sense, music is kind of like the Spirit’s groanings for me. If my song communicates anything, it is something you can only feel. You can’t really put it into words.

  3. Kevin Beasley

    Generosity is the key for me. Being generous enough to offer one’s experience through clarity is one kind of generosity. The other form of generosity is allowing the recipient to with it whatever he or she chooses. A fine balance.

    Great thoughts Stephen…

  4. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Russ,

    Great thoughts. In art there is both the artist’s intent and the listener’s response to that intent. Unfortunately, many or most people these days do not receive art; they use it as a means for other things. Music is used for working out, for advertising, for background noise. Paintings are used as wall decor that matches the colors of the room. Music, for instance, in some ways has been vastly cheapened by its proliferation. Elevators, stores, coffee shops – it’s hard to find a place where it isn’t played. So it becomes ordinary to us, and we cease to truly listen.

    A real lover of art listens, looks, reads. He receives the art, music, book first without making judgments, as a child. A child devours a book because it has intrigued him and he can’t stop reading it. He may reread it, and then only later evaluate it. A reviewer, especially the paid kind, often reviews books or recordings because that’s his job. As soon as he presses “play” he is making criticisms and evaluations. With the reviews I’ve seen of my latest record I can always tell if the reviewer first received it and then evaluated. The ones who do that may have criticisms, but they essentially understand the record; the ones who don’t truly receive it fail to understand why I did certain things in certain ways, because they didn’t pay attention to the lyrics and the underlying themes, listening for “What I Mean” – so their evaluations are not accurate. All art is this way, except maybe some of the modern, very relativistic art you mentioned. It both means, and is.

    Dorothy Sayers’ brilliant book The Mind of the Maker, says that every creative act of the artist models the Trinity. The Father: The Creative Idea. The Son: The Outworking of the Creative Idea in sweat and blood. And the Spirit: The Response to the Outworked Idea. A true response is one that is in accordance with the outworked idea. Therefore it is critical as a listener to pay attention to a cd, to hear the lyrics, the production values, the playing, and to be able to listen to all the details. Only then can we truly have the response that the artist intended. CS Lewis, in his Experiment in Criticism, said that to truly receive the work is like having someone guide us on a bicycle trip along new, unfamiliar roads. Our horizons are broadened; we see a bigger world than we knew. Our thought and heart are provoked. Using the work he likened to putting a motor attachment on our bicycle and going down all our same familiar roads. Using is inferior to receiving.

    Unfortunately our society in general merely uses art and doesn’t receive it; that’s why the various popular genres of music are in many areas getting more and more shallow; also in much popular writing the sentences are getting shorter and shorter. Compare George MacDonald, or Bunyan, or even on up through Lewis, with some modern books.

    Relativism is really an abandonment of the search for absolute meaning and a retreat into “what it means to me.” That ends up translating, “How I feel about it.” It closes off effective communication between the artist and the people he’s attempting to communicate with. I’ve been dealing with that on a music discussion list I’m on. Those who are relativists don’t want to hear about absolutes in music that great musicians strive for: Pitch Headquarters, or Timing Headquarters. It’s easier to say, “Well, that’s just your view. It has no intrinsic truth, because truth doesn’t exist; it’s all relative. Here’s my opinion…” Of course, no one’s opinion really means anything if we are not engaged in a search for truth and attempting to more closely conform our views with It, so why even discuss anything at all.

    But as I said in the discussion group, there are very few pure relativists; you can tell by how outraged they are when their car is stolen.

  5. Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    Ron, this is really good stuff. I lived in Nashville for a while and worked for a leading musician/producer (Charlie Peacock) there in town, and was exposed to the music industry in that way. He was and is a great guide to thinking about the creative process.

    It always struck me that Nashville is not a very friendly town to songwriters because hardly anyone listens to songs there, but instead listen for what they can do with songs, and who might be able to make a hit out of it. So I’d play one of mine, and someone would invariably say, “That sounds like something so-and-so could record.” It feels like hardly anyone listens to songs in Nashville. They listen for things in them.

    I’ve got a couple thoughts on sparked by your post. First, it seems to me that artists need to have courage to create with integrity. If the whole “system” tells you that you need to write certain kinds of songs or center on certain types of themes to be marketable, the artist has a decision to make.

    Can they, with integrity, choose that road? (Sometimes I think they can, by the way.) Or does choosing that road mean they lose their artistic voice (or intent) in order to make a living. (It kills me when I’m a longtime fan of someone’s music, but then along comes a new record backed for the first time by a big label, and you can barely tell its the same person you used to connect with.)

    It takes courage, and I suppose “pluck” to make an honest living as an artist. There’s myspace pages to be set up, blogs to be written, street teams to be formed, miles and hours to be logged, self-promotion, etc. And I suppose a willingness to wait tables, substitute teach, wear a Pier 1 smock while shelving boxes of rose scented votive candles (that was autobiographical), etc.

    But I digress. I was on a two point response. First, artists need to have courage to create with integrity.

    Here’s point two. Artists should say what they mean. I belong to a generation (I’m 34) who is increasingly using ambiguous language (words like community and authentic come to mind), and padding much of what we say in metaphor. I’m all for metaphor (that was cool to write, just there), but I fear relying on imagery can be like standing in a fog (I’m using imagery now) and describing the glory of the landscape the fog conceals, only to find that when the fog eventually does dissapate that its not much different from the room in which Neo took the Red Pill (or was it the blue one).

    What I’m driving at is that there is artistic safety in presenting oneself as an artist who is all about asking questions. But it seems it’s becoming more and more rare to find artists who will actually say what they think– to actually offer some answers– and to say them plainly– and to mean it.

    I love artists who are willing to say, “You know what I think? I think it’s this and not that. I think it’s here and not there.” Even if I think they’re wrong, at least we’re in a conversation talking about something with teeth, and not tying to nail jello to a wall.

    I recognize that there are often more questions than answers, and this post itself is essentially one big question. But I also think there is a pretty big temptation for artists to abdicate their responsibility to say what they mean, and to do so under the guise of “not having all the answers,” when, perhaps the truth is, it’s more that they’d rather not be held accountable for what they say.

  6. Kevin Beasley

    I don’t mean to dominate the discussion. It’s just an area of interest for me.

    Is it relevant to think as art as experience or thought incarnate? Does art come from within or without? I believe art is the expression of the artist of what is within. It is intangible thought or experience or belief taking on flesh and blood. If the receiver is not able to experience or hear or see the intangible then it is random clutter as opposed to life (or death) incarnate. Not all art reflects truth, for within us resides untruth and that untruth can have flesh and blood as well.

    Ron, thanks for your thoughts on relativism. Relativism and “postmodernism” has absolutely influenced the way we perceive art. I’m not sure that the discussion about communication and art would have been relevant in years past. Now, it is a BIG DEAL because if truth is subservient to experience then art is raped. Artists are used as vendors of experiences that can be used for whatever the receiver wants to use it. That is a perversion of communication through art.

    When art is divorced from communication of what is within, whether truth or untruth, it loses it’s power to impact lives and becomes just another distraction to get our minds off of the emptiness of our heart. I would rather art be the embodiment of untruth than of nothing at all.

  7. Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    Kevin, I’ll take a pass at your opening questions. You asked, “Is it relevant to think as art as experience or thought incarnate? Does art come from within or without?”

    I think sometimes art is the outcome of experience of thought incarnate. But I also think there’s an aspect of art that is very blue collar. Ben Shive wrote this bit on that idea in Andrew Peteron’s blog. Sometimes art is the result of what is bubbling beneath the surface– just waiting to come out. Other times, though, its the product of long, hard, honest labor– taking an idea and working to frame it a certain way.

    Some great art seems very much to have come more from without than within. I think of Rembrandt, for example. He was a master, and a student of light, shadow, skin, negative space. And his works, though very evocative, are also very deliberate, precise judicious. DaVinci was in many ways a mathematecian who could draw and paint. Van Gogh was a devotee of movement and color (and even as expressive as his works look, he talks very impersonally about them, often commenting on the quality of the paints he was able to afford rather than the picture he painted with them.) Escher, Michaelangelo, Poe, (I’d even put Norman Rockwell in this category as perhaps the king of blue-collar art, even though it seems few take him seriously as a “real artist.”)

    Lots of the classics hanging in the museums were studies as much in what was as they were in what the artist felt about it. And that’s often the result of “getting it wrong” a dozen times before getting it right. And it’s also often the process of setting self-indulgence aside for the sake of the end result having a voice that could be comprehended by the masses.

    There’s a fine line between creating art from within and narcissism. Its the difference between “know this” and “know me.” An artist can reveal themselves and what they believe through what they create, but if all they create is self-expression, eventually won’t most of us get bored with that?

    For honest artists, this is a job you clock in at, and sometimes to do the job, you’ve got to do some heavy lifting. In writing, sometimes you’ve got to take the story or experience you thought would drive your point home and remove it entirely because muddies what needs to be said and how it needs to be presented.

    Perhaps Andrew Peterson might weigh in on the “blue collar” aspect of songwriting if he’s available.

  8. Kevin Beasley

    Great thoughts. So, it seems then that there may be a balance between a natural overflow and the tedious technique of expressing it with clarity. Or maybe even a balance between art as overflow and art as re-creation of something that already exists. It sounds like you are a student of historical art (which AP mentions in your bio). Do you think that the experience of art has changed relative to the prevailing culture? In other words, did classical artist view art as measurable and technical, while modernists view it as reasonable, while post-moderns view it as experiential?

    That’s also where I think genre comes into play. Intention may very well be related to genre. And maybe, as mentioned earlier, prevailing culture.

    I agree that narcissism is a very relevant issue in this discussion and directly relates to intention (motive). So, in relation to the previous post, not only can the receiver rape the gift, but the artist can do the same, using it for something other than generosity.

    It’s fun to hit on different aspects and I’m sure, like everything else, it’s simply a complex mish-mash of intentions and purposes. Sometimes just for fun, sometimes to convey truth (or untruth), sometimes to re-create, etc… That’s the beauty of the gifts of God, they are inexhaustible if kept in perspective.
    I was in a two day intensive Master’s course on Worship the past 2 days and the professor began with the statement that Worship is one of those topics that we can sometimes talk (or analyze) the life out of.

    Thanks for the topic Russ.

  9. Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    Kevin, This may be just me, but in the interest of saying what I mean, when I think of Classical, modern and then post-modern art, I can’t help but think of the three little pigs and their houses of straw, wood and brick. The winds of time will blow as they do and reveal the structural integrity of what’s there. Each era use all three, I know, but I wonder how history will remember my genertion of artists, and what will still be standing the test of time.

  10. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    I’ve been on this discussion thread on the on a banjo site about technique vs communication. People sometimes want to rationalize bad habits by saying “I just play from my feelings,” but that will have no meaning to the listener without some technique – timing, tone, pitch, etc. Like martial arts or sports, we first learn through repetitive action done to such an extent that it becomes subconscious and we no longer have to think about the move. Once we do that long enough, we are able to express emotion through the art, to be spontaneous and improvise like a black belt can improvise during a fight. Our guitar player Dan said to me the other day, “Sure, when you are playing in a band, everything is relative. But you don’t want to practice that way.” We practice to absolutes, a drum machine for instance, and by relating to the absolute we are better able to relate to one another in a band situation. If no one can relate to the absolute at all (meaning if they can’t play in time with a drum machine) it’s likely we won’t be able to relate to one another very well (messy timing in the band). The same is true in our interpersonal relationships. Someone who makes no attempt to conform to the Absolute (do not steal, do not lie, do not commit adultery, do not murder, etc) will likely have serious problems in his relationship to other people.

    So my point on the banjo site is “Sure, things are relate-ive. But there are absolutes or constants that we reach for, and in doing so we become better players.”

    Also, on “self-expression.” Of course the artist is expressing his thoughts. But, for me at least, songwriting is a cataloguing of my search for truth. And Russ is correct. I wrote the gospel song A Living Prayer on our last record after totally giving up on writing a gospel song for the record; I’d been “trying” (there’s that awful word) for months, to no avail. So I let God know that if he didn’t come through with a song that it was no longer my problem to worry about it; I quit self-effort, and handed it all over. Less than an hour later I picked up my guitar and wrote A Living Prayer in 30 minutes. I’ve gotten more email over that song than any other that I’ve written.

    It doesn’t always happen that way – for me, optimally, it does. The best songs I’ve written have happened just about that quickly. AP gave me L’Engle’s book, Walking on Water, and she mentions writing every day as a discipline; I’ve never done that with songwriting and plan to when my current project is over. Sometimes songwriting is a laborious process, a combination of flashes of inspiration and then incarnating those flashes into something definable and listenable. I wrote a two-part instrumental awhile back that I put on my latest record; I based in on a passage in George MacDonald’s Phantastes, where Anodos, running from the Ash tree, falls into the arms of the protective and loving Beech. She makes him a belt of her hair for protection, and in the morning he wakes up to find himself sleeping against a beech tree. With regret and longing in his heart, he leaves her and goes on his journey. The passage is very powerful, and one day I decided to read it, entering fully into it in my imagination, feel the feelings, and then play the first series of chords that came into my mind. The result was Secret of the Woods and I See Thee Nevermore, both on my latest record DoorWay. For a listen to the tunes go to my site, http://www.ronblock.com and hit the music section. It’s on the jukebox.

    That process really works for me – the more intuitive kind, I mean. But sometimes working out that intuition means hard labor. Like making a record; I like to carve away anything that will distract the listener from the heart of the recording. That’s the hard part. How far do I go? If I overdub this solo five more times, will it have any feeling? Balance is necessary – over-perfect it and it might end up without any heart.

  11. Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    My head. Oh, my aching head.

    You guys have really, really thought about this. I’ve thought about it too, but I’m not sure I’ve dug in as deeply as you have. One of my great intellectual weaknesses, one that I’m hoping that this site will help me outgrow, is that I’m smart enough to recognize a good thought (whether it’s epiphany or opinion or a knee-jerk reaction to something I intuit is wrong somehow) but I lack the analytical tools to follow that thought to its end.

    I don’t know if it’s laziness or left-handedness that keeps me from digging deeper, but I can feel a sense of agitation flare up. The closest analogy I can think of is that it reminds me of how I felt in high school with complex mathematical word problems (“If a train leaves Boston at 2:15 am and travels east at 75.2 miles per hour…”). Excuse me. While typing that I just threw up.

    I say all that to say that your thoughts about the questions Russ raises are fascinating. I’d love to add something equally fascinating to the discussion but I don’t think I can. I don’t think.

    Here’s what I do think.

    Art, like the artist, and like the Artist (capital A), is mysterious.

    There are a few ways to look at it. Maybe art is meant to be appreciated and interpreted privately, in the confines of your soul, where its work is most potent. Trying to nail the meaning of a piece of art down is, frankly, like driving a nail into a piece of fine art. It’s like handling fine china: the more you turn it this way and that, the more chance there is that you’ll chip it. We can get so carried away looking for the meaning of the dandelion that we have forgotten to delight the simple, unpretentious, serendipitous beauty of the flower itself. There is a kind of art whose beauty is in its plenteousness. It pervades our days and makes them brighter and more bearable. Ron, you mentioned elevator music in an appropriately pejorative sense. In another way, though, God’s beauty is also littered all about, and it makes splendid what would otherwise be mundane.

    There are songwriters (Katy Bowser for some reason comes to mind) whose music isn’t meant to be disseminated but enjoyed. Some of Alison Krauss and Union Station’s music (the jamming bluegrass songs like “Little Liza Jane”, for example) don’t mean something in the heady, beatnik, pipe-smoking way. They’re just beautiful splashes of light in the world, made by sub-creators who were compelled to make the musical equivalent of God’s dandelion or waterfall or gazelle. (I think contemporary Christian music is sorely lacking in this department. We’re so burdened with wanting every song to change the world that we’re not bothering to try and change the sad guy on the eighth row’s countenance. It’s hard not to smile when you listen to Chet Atkins play “Centipede Boogie”.)

    But there’s another way to look at art, and I’m mainly going to be thinking of it from a singer/songwriter standpoint. I want my music to communicate. What drives me to make music is that I’m lonely. I’m (very) happily married, I have three (very) amazing kids, a good church, great friends, and yet I sometimes feel as lonely as a bone on a sand dune. I have Christ’s spirit in me, I believe (deeply) that there is a God and that he knows and loves me. But I’m hammered with doubt, sin that shocks even me, inconsistency, and the deep ache in my belly that reminds me that this world has yet to be made new. When I write songs (not the kid’s songs or the funny songs; those are to me like those simple, pretty dandelions) I want those songs to call out into the darkness and be heard by someone. I’m crying out in the hopes that someone will hear, and answer, and that that someone who also feels alone will be comforted. I’m looking for a connection between me and the audience. When they respond, when they applaud or feed me with that intangible sense of graciousness that tells me that they see who I am and that they like me anyway, I feel joy. I feel satisfaction. I feel God’s pleasure.

    When I first started playing concerts, I felt a sense of urgency with my songs. I knew that I didn’t have a CD for them to take home and live with, so I only had one shot to communicate what I wanted to say. I worked to make sure that the point of the song was understandable on the first listen. Having a record takes some of that pressure off because you know (hope) the folks will listen to the CD again and again and what may not have been clear the first few times will snap into place finally and the listener will experience that “Aha!” moment that I so love in my favorite songs by Rich Mullins, Andy Gullahorn, Randall Goodgame, or the Weepies. For that moment to happen, though, there has to be an idea that the songwriter is trying to communicate.

    There are so many different kinds of art. Some art communicates beauty. It doesn’t aspire to anything more, and that’s perfectly fine. Other art strives to communicate ideas, beautifully. (Some art doesn’t really try to communicate anything, and is called self-expression. This to me is self-important and vain. To create something for public consumption without a thought for the listener, without meeting him halfway, is like babbling in a nonsense language about how no one pays you any attention.)

    I don’t want to beat the dandelion analogy into the ground (though it’s not really an analogy), but I think that God communicates to us in artistically diverse ways, too. He communicates beauty to us for its own sake in nature. His goodness is expressed in this, his eternal power and divine nature, as Kevin pointed out from Romans. We can look at the things God has made and infer that he is good. Rich Mullins: “The thing that’s cool about music is how unnecessary it is. Of all things, music is the most frivolous and the most useless. You can’t eat it, you can’t drive it, you can’t live in it, you can’t wear it. But your life wouldn’t be worth much without it.”

    But then, God also communicates ideas, beautifully. Communion. Baptism. Marriage. There is a poetry in his sacraments that communicates a specific revelation that a dandelion could not.

    God knows that we are a hard-headed, forgetful people, so he pares down the analogy of the seed descending and rising again and gives us baptism. We are lowered into the water and are raised again in a perfect picture of both our death to our old life and our rebirth to a new one and the promise of our resurrection to come.

    He knows that it is hard for us to believe that the story that happened two millennia ago is true so God gives us communion so that we might remember that it was real, palpable flesh and blood that Jesus sacrificed. He knows that we are hungry and need to be filled, that we need to be reminded in communion both that he is the king and that his outrageous love invites us to feast with him at his table.

    His love for us is a sacrificial love, and we were made to be lifted up only when we lay ourselves down, so he gives us marriage. He invites us to be bound to him, and him to us, he teaches us about covenant and dying to self and abiding love and deep affection.

    These two kinds of art–the flowers and the sacraments–communicate and express and create; they remind us that we are not abandoned; they can evoke sadness or gratitude or joy or sorrow; they enrich our days; they summon our thoughts to higher things, deeper things, holy things.

    This is what art can do. What it should do.

    The finest artists the earth has ever known have failed to come close to creating something as remarkable as a dandelion. Still, we fumble along, making because we have been made, tethering the worlds of our imaginations to earth in stories and pictures and songs, and our father in heaven is glad.

    I don’t know if this answers any of the original questions, but there’s my left-handed, non-mathematical brain’s answer.

  12. Kevin Beasley

    Enough said… Andrew, what ticks me off about you is that the complexity of your profound simplicity and beautiful imagery puts an end to self-indulgent “mathematical” reason like the braking system of an over-accelerated roller coaster at the end of a two-minute joy ride. (smile real big) (reminds me eerily of an old Ragamuffin named Rich) Thank you so much for the beauty of who you are and thank God for the beauty of how you see life. Speaking of Dandelions!

    I mean… “Trying to nail the meaning of a piece of art down is, frankly, like driving a nail into a piece of fine art.” Good Lord, how do you do that stuff!?!

  13. Chris Morris

    I’m too lazy to summarize myself – here’s some of my own blog thoughts that at least get near to the topic:

    http://cministries.org/blogki/index.cgi?page=/TheArts/TheValueOfArt
    http://cministries.org/blogki/index.cgi?page=/TheArts/BakeItIn
    http://cministries.org/blogki/index.cgi?page=/TheArts/ArtAndTrust
    http://cministries.org/blogki/index.cgi?page=/TheArts/QuotesOn

    — the last including a favorite quote of mine from CS Lewis:

    When an artist is in the strict sense working, he of course takes into account the existing taste, interests, and capacity of his audience. … Haughty indifference to them is not genius nor integrity; it is laziness and incompetence.

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