The Derivative Artist
Artists are often attracted to the arts because it is perhaps the one area in life that best convinces us of the illusion of originality, or better said, autonomy. Everything in life is derivative… the natural sciences study physical creation and derive theorems from them, social sciences study how people interact and then make assumptions about how to best organize society, medicine tries to replicate created matter, and theology explores spiritual realities. Art, as we experience it today, constantly tries to take us somewhere new. It tries to propel us farther than before into ecstasy. It is defined as "creating" something original. In short, it often tries to be above created order and set ourselves up as little gods. Perhaps this is why I often find myself simultaneously repulsed by and drawn to other "creatives"… including myself. This idea of being unique and above all the other areas of life is pathetic when you really think about it. Practically, all the best art is %99.9 a rip-off of someone who came before you and maybe %0.1 new. In fact, ownership of art is a relatively new thing in the grand scheme of history, and the glorification of originality is even newer.
What if we started to think about art as representing, not "creating" something. What if artists were instead "communicators" of nuanced truth. We can not out-create God, or think outside the boxes that he has already set. If contemporary artists, especially Christian ones, started to let themselves be created, or re-created, more and stopped trying to always do something new, our art would be far more effective and relatable. Artists would stop being elitist snobs (myself included) and start acting like the humble "enablers" of both human emotions and the natural world that we were created to be. In this sense, I think we can draw a distinction between the Christian and non-Christian artist. The non-Christian artist essentially functions as his own god and constantly tries to break out of created order. The Christian artist, in a sense, should be a worship leader. By this I mean that the Christian artist should enable the people around him to fully express emotion and experience creation in its complete and fulfilled design. This means that "creatives" need to see themselves once more as derivative beings, but once we do, I think a whole new world will be open to explore. Once artists start to see themselves as being contained, or dare we say limmited to, God's creation (including what some call the "metaphysical"), then we can more fully express art and lead others in worship the way David does in Psalm 19:
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.