Art as Idolatry

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I have a love-hate relationship with the “creative” world. On the one hand, human creativity, in whatever expression it manifests itself, is a wonderful gift from the Lord. Because God is THE Creator, we imitate Him in our small-c creativity. On the other hand, I really hate the “culture” of creativity. While attending the 2012 Story Conference in Chicago, the impression I got of what the creative ideal could be summed up something like this: A true creative is a non-linear thinker; someone who doesn’t like rules (or in some cases logic), and is driven by a passion to just “create.” They want their work to matter—and in many ways, they themselves want to matter.

One of the things I noticed most throughout the event was a trend toward that sort of thinking—the kind that really wants to affirm the specialness of the creative mind. And to be sure, creatives (just like the rest of humanity) are a unique bunch, I wonder if identifying creatives as a “class” of people does them more harm than good.

Here’s what I mean:

Unnecessary Divisions

People have a tendency to say, “oh, I’m not creative” if they don’t make music, pictures or books. Which is bunk. Creativity manifests itself in so many different ways that setting it into its own class of people devalues any form that doesn’t fit neatly into that category.

The Seedbed of Idolatry

This same line of thinking can also lead to the creative class turning their art into their idol. Kyle Idleman addressed this concern well at Story in one of the events two highlight moments (the other being Phil Vischer).

During his session, Idleman warned that, “We need to be most aware that our creations can replace our creator. Creativity can define who we are and replace God himself.”

This is important because, as he notes, there are more than 1000 verses speaking directly to idolatry, including the first two of the Ten Commandments. While the Bible primarily depicts idols in the form of graven images, it also draws implicit connections to our affections—that an idol can be anything, even a good thing like art. Whatever we try to use as a cheap substitute for God in our affections, that is our idol.

4 Questions For the Creative’s Heart

As a heart check for the Christian creative, Idleman offered four questions intended to help them discern where their art sat in their affections:

Is my art the means or the end?

The end is the glory of God. The question is: Does what I create point to the glory of Gd? The danger for us is that what we create becomes the end. We measure to effectiveness by the response to the thing we’ve created.

Does the text win?

If I’ve got this great idea and this Bible passage, and they’re not quite meshing, which wins? The text always has to win. Our creativity is to be inspired by the Word of God, not be the inspiration itself.

Do I have an audience of one or many?

The question is who am I doing this for? The importance of art, creativity, being that no one going to see but God, and just doing it? It is an audience of one, not many.

Is it what I do or is it who I am?

Many of us would define ourselves as artist or creative, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but is it possible that we are deriving our identity from that? When that happens the gift dries up. God will not bless our efforts in an area that is replacing Him. He will not bless anything that takes away from Him.

We all want god to bless what we do but don’t expect Him to bless His competition.

Creativity is a wonderful gift, but a cruel master. Art must never become idolatry.

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  • Mike Erich the Mad Theologian

    I think one of the sources of this is the modern idea of art for art’s sake. Art originally was seen as being a means to an end, even if it was something simple like entertaining an audience (for the Christian the ultimate goal is the glory of God). But the modern idea of art for its own sake helps lead to this subtle idolatry.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Agreed.

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