If you've been following my blog for the past couple of weeks, then you've probably seen a few of my noobish charcoals. If you've read my blog's purpose statement, you might see the connection (if not, you can read it here). I do not consider myself an artist, nor do I pretend to be... nor will I ever, probably. I'm just a guy who's extremely fascinated by art - more so, by the beauty behind the art. There're two terms associated with this appreciation that I've come to learn: the aesthetician and the aesthete. The former is someone who's knowledgeable about the essence of beauty, the latter is someone who appreciates it. As my studies in philosophy have helped me grow as an aesthetician, the momentum for it is all due to my being an aesthete... from birth... as we all are.
We are made to perceive. To experience. To be. And with that perception and experiencing, and "being", we find things that we adore, things we detest, and a myriad of things in between. And I don't believe that those affections are trivial, either. I believe they are for something bigger, and more whole.
I often wonder how people can look outside and not be brought to a state of awe? Now, I live in Austin, Texas, where geographically it's full of "southwestern" terrain, which I hate, but that doesn't mean I can't find beauty here. However, my finding it is much more rare than the beauty that I remember in Colorado (I'm a mountains kind of guy). You might like the southwestern look, or maybe beaches, or maybe just the beauty of the sunset. I actually had a friend who would take a picture every night of the sunset, I believe for an entire year, and at the end of that year, he put them all on a wall, making a giant sunset mosaic out of sunsets pictures. We might not all agree with the setting, but that doesn't mean that we don't see the beauty of nature.
A large reason for this, I believe, is because of what nature ultimately conveys. Psalms 19 says
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.
It proclaims the purest and most vivid majesty that we could ever conceive. And that proclamation is but a part of the depth of said glory! His glory, the source, is far more brilliant than the nature we see here in our post Edenic world. But, by grace we've been given more than just the nature around us - we've been given artists (like Bezalel).
As nature is one of the means that God uses to communicate Himself to us, art can be one of man's for man. But it's much more than simple communication. It can be an avenue for release as well. For example, sometimes I'm extremely clueless about what to do in life, or I feel burned out from reading, or I feel like I've watched too much tv, or, bigger yet, I don't know what decision I'm supposed to make for my family - and in all of this, what's simultaneously happening is that I'm ultimately being tempted to forget know who I am. Art can allow me to hear my own soul for a moment. It allows me to quiet the distractions, and gives me a podium to speak from the heart, much in the same way that journaling can do. So why not journal? Theologian Langdon Gilkey sums it up this way,
One significant role... of art is to enhance and direct immediate experience. It so reshapes immediate experience as to make it suddenly an end... an event of intrinsic worth, that... creates immediate and experienced meaning. (Gilkey, Can Art Fill the Vacuum?)
Art allows us to break free from the boundaries that try to compartmentalize us, which seek to pigeon-hole us into one "thing" in life. No matter if you like writing, photography, painting, graphic design, etc., encountering beauty through art can be a freeing event, that allows you to be present again.
Consequently, it begets many affections of adoration, too. This is part of the brilliance that God exemplified in making man. We not only can find joy in perceiving beauty, but we get joy from merely participating in it. As Lewis said,
I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: "Isn't she lovely? Wasn't it glorious? Don't you think that magnificent?" ...I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. (C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms)
Where nature is God's creation for man to know Him, art is man's creation for man to know himself. What's more, though, is that since art is the capturing, presenting, and communicating of beauty, it can simultaneously be an extremely useful tool for teaching man about God as well. However, as it is man-made, the care that we handle art with is of the utmost importance, as, sadly, not all art is theologically edifying.
As nature helps us understand God, and art can help us understand ourselves, what aesthetic tool can help us understand God and man's relationship? This - as the title would suggest - is the imagination. Now, there are dozens of things that the imago dei (or, image of God within us) can teach us about God and man's similarities, but I just wanted to camp out in this one for a moment.
I draw, write, and overall "imagine" because of something inside I have - and that is that "things just aren't right." I think we all want a perfect world - which is idealistic, implying that it's not real... yet. But I can at least imagine what it would (or will) look like, just as I can read Genesis 1-3, Ezekiel 1 or Isaiah 6 and get a basic idea of just how striking God's glory is. Ultimately, I can imagine because it is vital for communication.
As I listen to my wife, friend, or preacher, or even read from my favorite book, I'm building up images of whatever their messages indicate. And not just images of the narratives they are expressing, but of the effects, hypotheticals, and reasonings behind those messages, too. If we couldn't imagine, conversations would have to be a lot more analytical, as well as a lot more exhaustive in clarification and qualification. But that's not the case - we don't only have the denotations of a word, we have their connotations as well. Implication is not the only aspect of communication, but inference works accordingly with it.
Imagination is behind our idealism, our hopes, and our messages, and so learning to wield it into a creation - like a piece of art - moves us from being merely passive agents of beauty, and establishes us as active agents - much like God in the creation. Part of us wants to be in awe; part of us wants to enjoy; part of us wants to create. Like I said, there are probably hundreds of reasons that we can attach to some of these ideas... and I feel like I've already rambled long enough. So, as I might've missed something, I would like to hear from you - where do you place beauty within theology? What role does imagination have for mankind? What does all of this tell us about God and mankind?