Holy Spirit needed for beautiful art?

Discussion in 'Pneumatology' started by Claudiu, Jul 6, 2012.

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  1. Claudiu

    Claudiu Puritan Board Junior

    The past few weeks I've been discussing the topic of art and beauty with a fellow believer (who is also majoring in Philosophy) here at UC Berkeley. The other day he mentioned something that I didn't quite know how to respond to. He said that for creatures to create, and especially beautiful art, some work of the Holy Spirit is needed. He says this because he can't perceive how fallen creatures can somehow begin to create grand, magnificent, beautiful art without some inspiration. That is, to create something that is not from them. He holds that to create requires inspiration, and since God is good, beautiful, etc., it must come from God in some sense.

    My response was that I don't see why the Holy Spirit needs to be necessarily implicated in this. Why can't it just be that being human, by nature, entails that we can also create. Some create beautiful art because they have a special gift that others don't. But he usually counters that to create something like art requires inspiration, and since it is beauty and goodness that is being created, it must come from God.

    I thought of posting this in the Philosophy forum, but I think it is more relavent to pneumatology, as I'm specifically asking if there is any role of the Holy Spirit in the creation of something like beautiful art.

    What is the orthodox understanding on this issue of creation, and specifically, creating beautiful art?
  2. Tim

    Tim Puritan Board Graduate

    I am with you. I think it is more of an ontological (being) reason. Man is creative because God is creative and man bears the image of God.

    Is it possible that your friend is confused about the different meanings of the English word inspiration, such as these two uses?

    "that person really inspires me"


    "Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the book of Romans"
  3. Andrew P.C.

    Andrew P.C. Puritan Board Junior

    I think you hit it right on the head. Man was created in God's image. There are things that God has given us to use for creating magnificent things, I.E. the human brain. I guess you'd have to think of the implications of this. Would this then mean to the fellow believer that anything not magnificent is the lack of the Holy Spirit? Who defines what's magnificent? What about children or mentally challenged people who draw? Would some of their work be considered magnificent? If not, then do they lack the Holy Spirit?

    I don't think he understands what is the work of the Holy Spirit.
  4. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I can't really be sure where your friend is coming from, but I detect a whiff of pantheism, a little participationism, spark-of-the-divine stuff. I'm not saying he IS pantheist, but as others have already said, this kind of thinking is heading away from revelational theological ground, and toward alien ideas.

    I think you are correct in shying away from your friend's affirmation. God has put his stamp on creation, and he upholds everything by the word of his power. In that sense, God is not so completely transcendent that he does not engage creation. He's also the original cause of everything, and has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass; so in that sense he has already predestined the artist to imagine and create.

    The act of divine creation of the imago dei has built into us re-recreative power. This has not been finally undone (in the intermediate time) by the Fall. It is terminally undone in death, but prior to that creation--even man under condemnation--retains some measure of its good quality. We should even be able to affirm that since man is constituted a "revelation-receiver," then the same man who is judgment-worthy based on his limited-but-sufficient knowledge of God is also capable of receiving all sorts of "external" stimulus, or inspiration.

    The main failure of the proposed idea, in my opinion, is bringing in Holy Spirit as the agent of creativity. Holy Spirit is the agent of regeneration, the as he was the agent of generation in the beginning. He is (frankly) the least "creative" of any of the Three Persons. The Father wills, the Son executes, the Spirit works application.

    One of the failures of modern theology (in many forms) is its fusion of the principles of Creator and created; as if the more significant a part of creation, the more it "participates" in its own creation, having supposedly more of the Creator "invested" in it. I think this is the sort of theology that expects certain works of creation to survive the eschaton. Surely (so goes the thinking) if God would invest himself in his creation, and at least a portion of his creation is going to pass-through to eternity, then it's not unreasonable to expect some subsidiary creation to pass-through as well.

    Well, is man the unique creation? If so, then there is no reason to overinvest eternal values in all other things that are transient. Things of temporary value still have real value, because value isn't intrinsic but imputed. So, God can order man to make good use of creation while we are here, while not intending the products of our creativity to outlast the rest of this universe. The best things our supreme artists create are like children's drawings stuck with magnets to the refrigerator door. These things are truly valuable, because of a child's and his parent's imputation. It isn't false value at all. But it isn't going to make it into the next generation, perhaps not even into next week. All these valued things will be superseded.


    So, does someone think that if he alone thinks his work is "inspired," that it surely is? How about a few other people? How about a lot of other people? How about a majority? What about in a hundred years? Who gets to decide which "works of inspiration" are truly inspired, or are eternal keepsakes? Or is it just this idea that something is bound to pass-through the eschaton, something that man (or even God) has sometime pronounced valuable in its time in the world?

    I just don't see that idea in the Bible, anywhere. It is an inference drawn from the fact that man will pass-through (either to heaven or hell). Why will he? Because God has imputed value to him; not because he has something of intrinsic worth about him, or invested (ontologically) in him like the "divine spark." God judges the man worth eternal life, or eternal death, because God has valued his own Justice, and his own Mercy, on his own terms.

    By parallel reasoning, therefore, the claim that man's work might pass-through to eternity doesn't have anything to do with a divine contribution (inspiration) to it; but rather has everything to do with MAN's attitude about the intrinsic value of his work, the idea that something of his own "worth" has been left inside his creation. But this is a false notion, because the work-of-art isn't intrinsically worthwhile, but imputationally worthwhile. (By the way, this observation is not the same thing as saying that all value is subjective, or that there is no such thing as objectively good or bad art; because all opinions are not of equal worth, and God's opinion/standards found in creation or in special revelation are the highest ranking of even temporary worth.)

    So, it is not necessary to have a special intervention by God (inspiration, miracle, etc.) to have an exceptionally fine work of art, one of "lasting" value, admired by many, even for multiplied years and generations. We have no way of measuring the degree of God's imputed value of any such thing. Scripture tells us how much value he imputed to those he saved; and this is a unique valuation. Scripture tells us that the elements of this world will, to an atom, melt with fervent heat in the renovation. Scripture tells us that only the "unseen" is eternal. Scripture tells us that everything that can be shaken, will be shaken and utterly removed. My personal judgment about what should pass-through to eternity is about as accurate as a child's estimate of his "inspired" crayola production now ensconced in honor on the refrigerator.
  5. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    I have two objections to your friend's position. One is that "inspiration" is almost certainly the wrong word. The other is that aesthetic values must not be confounded with moral values. The entire approach, in other words, I find wrong-headed.
    But I think it does bear witness to something of value: that all of the refracted, scattered, broken, and shifting patterns of light and shadow come from the same source of light. The glimpses we have here of beauty, like something just flickering past a mirror, ought to remind us that there is someone whose reflection we didn't quite see.
  6. Claudiu

    Claudiu Puritan Board Junior

    I think you put it right. That is exactly why I was worried with his notion. First, the work of the Spirit is in regeneration. There is no need to imply Him in the act of creation like art. Secondly, it's not like creating art is something meaningless. God is still involved because he is the Creator (and we were created in His image). And, in a stronger sense, God is still involved in His creation because He continues to uphold it.

    To be fair to my friend, he did say that these were just some ideas he was thinking about, and not something he holds to. He held that if it runs contrary to orthodox theology he would easily drop these ideas he's toying around with.
  7. a mere housewife

    a mere housewife Not your cup of tea

    Handel spoke of not knowing whether he was in the body or out of the body in writing the Messiah; Brahms claimed not only to be in contact with God in writing music, but that the same power which enabled Christ to do His miracles enabled the great composers to write music. Mozart spoke of his music streaming down upon him. Charlotte Bronte (whose novel Jane Eyre stands out as something quite different and far more brilliant than her other works) spoke of an influence that rests upon a writer when they are writing their best, which insists on its own words and dictates its own hitherto unconceived ideas, and which she is unsure it would be wise to resist. (Perhaps she could have done more to resist it in her other works, or perhaps she resisted it least in Jane Eyre: whatever the case, there is something very uncanny about the quality of that book, especially as compared with her other writings.) And I do not think this testimony to artists feeling that they are in touch with something greater than their own creative faculty and energy in a great work is at all anomalous. Perhaps this influence or energy is more easily credited to the Holy Spirit because He hovered over the formless void and cherished it into form and beauty.

    Whatever the case may be with divine activity in great works of art, we do know that the least and most humble act of charity by those who rest in the righteousness of Christ is more directly 'wrought in God' and utterly transcends all the great works of creative beauty. 'Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am nothing.' The beauty of holiness is a far more amazing work of the Spirit than aesthetic beauty. I don't personally find any reason to doubt the Spirit of God's energy in great creative endeavors, when those people possessing the faculties have testified to more than the energy and ability of their own faculties. And there is a quality of goodness in them. But I think perhaps it is a quality like what Ruben said above -- a reflected quality; or like the Northern lights, an effect of a great light on the dark curve of the atmosphere. The reflection or effect, however beautiful, are a way of rendering the presence of something, but they are not the thing itself. I think aesthetics is a scale on which one can to some degree feel the impact of the beauty of something else. And I think the something else is holiness -- not only the holy presence of God, but even (by His working in us) the beauty of those seemingly menial and lackluster good works He taught us to do while he was among us, when (knowing He was from God and going back to God) he girded himself with a towel and washed the disciples' dirty feet. This has been my understanding of the relative value of aesthetic works and moral works for some time anyway -- I don't think it's unorthodox, but of course would wish to be corrected if so.
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