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I Can’t Ask Dorothy L. Sayers

Writer AmyLu Riley explores the question of whether artists, such as Yo-Yo Ma, are the makers of their own creative work

Reading Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker has gotten me thinking of something about which I wish I could pick her brain: whether I’m really the one doing my own creative work. I imagine we’d have a lively discussion, and that Dorothy would surprise me with her input. But I can’t ask her, so I’m going to write about it, and look for my answers elsewhere.

In The Mind of the Maker, Sayers explores how God the Father, Son, and Spirit are active in the work of a human artist, and in what proportion to each other, and—by extension—how they contribute to and affect the end product of that artist. Sayers also explores the ways and degrees to which an artist is expressed in his or her own work. By all appearances, Sayers assumes the artist to be a central actor in the making of his or her own creative output.

But my question is one that Sayers doesn’t touch on at all in The Mind of the Maker. It is this: In light of Galatians 2:20, does the human artist—submitted to the Father, Son, and Spirit—actually do his or her own work?

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In light of Galatians 2:20, does the human artist—submitted to the Father, Son, and Spirit—actually do his or her own work?

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Allow me to explain what I mean.

In Romans 7:18, Paul wrote, “And I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh….” And in Galatians 2:20, he wrote, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Since Scripture asserts that there is no good in me and that I am dead and that it is Christ who lives in me, then when I create something, is it even I doing it? And if so, how is it I? Does God alone do the creating, using my mind and body as instruments? And if so, then what part did I really have in it? None? Am I, as Mother Teresa said, but a pencil in the hand of God?

What if I—my person, and my creative capacity—am a unique combination of some several selected facets of God (chosen by him to be instilled in me); and when he creates anything through me, it is all him doing the creating, and the process is only unique to me because the end product was only that which could arise as a function of his limiting himself to working through only those facets? It would be a way of his creatively focusing his own expression, as an artist might choose to work only in charcoal rather than using a full rainbow of oil paints plus orchestral music and a laser light show all at once. Yet, it is still all Christ living through me in that case. I would have had nothing to do with the selection of what facets were instilled in my own being for use in my projects. In that case, my only actual involvement would have been that of my will having given permission for my participation in the process of creation that was done through me. (And perhaps not even that. Election is a factor which may even negate the idea that the giving of my own permission really had its source in me. But that is not a point that needs to be followed up here.)

I am still left wondering how much of me is really even doing my own work.

My mind scans the Scriptures for any answer. I think of Bezelel and Oholiab being given artistic ability to make the articles and furnishings of the Tabernacle and to teach others to help them with the work (Exodus 31:6). But everything they made was according to specific patterns and instructions given by God, and derivative of what already existed in heaven. So did it even matter whether it was Bezalel and Oholiab—or any other two people—who did the crafts? Wouldn’t the pieces have looked exactly the same, given this situation, regardless of whose hands they passed through? I can think of two possible answers for that.

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It mattered to them. It made a difference to Bezalel and Oholiab as individuals, and to each skilled worker who received such gifts, that they were chosen to do the work and that the gifts were worked through them. It mattered to their experience of God and to their personal relationships with God.

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First: It mattered to them. It made a difference to Bezalel and Oholiab as individuals, and to each skilled worker who received such gifts, that they were chosen to do the work and that the gifts were worked through them. It mattered to their experience of God and to their personal relationships with God. It also mattered to them because it shaped the course of their lives in a daily way while they worked on their assigned projects, and probably, if I had to guess, for a long time after the Tabernacle was completed.

Second: Each person’s unique human stamp would have necessarily been put on the work.

One reason for this uniqueness is the human artists’ lack of perfection, which would have varied in each person. Even being gifted as they were by the Holy Spirit for the task, and working with excellence, their human imperfection would have meant that Bezelel and Oholiab could not have perfectly made the prescribed copies of what exists in heaven (Hebrews 8:5). They may have come close—the work perhaps even being so excellent that no human eye would have ever detected any flaw at all. (It is doubtful even that human would have been able to notice any deviation from the original in heaven—not having conscious memory of having seen the original, and having only human eyes with which to see at all.)

However, work may also vary from one artist to the next in ways that is not negative:

Work of two artists may also be of the exact same level of quality, yet different. I must allow for the possibility—although I do not know if this was the case—that some image of a pomegranate rendered by Oholiab may have been distinguishable from an image of a pomegranate worked by Bezalel (Exodus 28:33), in that same way that a famous musical composition, played impeccably by two different accomplished pianists may still somehow be distinguishable as being played by this one, or that one—not even as objectively or subjectively better—but just in a noticeably different style.

Work of two gifted artists may be of excellent quality, yet there are times when the creative output of one of the artists is perceivable by everyone to be unmistakably superior. Even an untrained eye or ear can recognize this (as anyone who has listened to The Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s The Messiah can appreciate). However, this principle is not limited to original composition. It is even true in the execution of some “pattern” by two different outstanding artists, such as in the previous, visual arts example of a pomegranate, or in the performance of the same musical score by two musicians. Isn’t it easy to distinguish between the playing of Yo-Yo Ma—and any other cellist alive, no matter how accomplished?

None of this answers the original question, however, but just brings me back to it. If two pianists are equally good, yet different, I still don’t know whether that difference is because of their own contributions, or solely because different facets of God are on display through them. If Yo-Yo Ma is a better cellist than other cellists (and I think it is so), is that difference really Yo-Yo Ma himself? Or is it the genius of the divine working through him?

This is where Dorothy would jump in.

 

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Copyright 2018 by AmyLu Riley. All rights reserved.
Cello image © Jeffbanke | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Published inThe Spade and the Spirit

6 Comments

  1. Joyce Fulton Joyce Fulton

    In reading your comments and question my thoughts go to the fact that God created us in His image. In light of that I believe that He gave us creativity in our make up. He gave us natural resources such as trees and let our creativity figure out the table and chairs. He let Adam name all of creation and there isn’t any evidence of God giving him ideas on it.
    I can see how there may be circumstances where God desires something particular or special and He gives strong leading on it.
    As an artist I feel like the Lord gives me ideas but not the how at times. As I’m seeking the answer maybe He gives me the ideas that come, but He uses my life experiences to show me. Kind of like His parables of wheat applies to the locals in Galilee.
    Anyway, I think it’s both Him and us creating.

    • admin admin

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Joyce. I appreciate your comments.

      I wonder if, in the sense that Galatians 5:20 talks about our being dead, we must consider art as separate from life. (I think Sayers would say so.) But I’m not sure that’s possible in the practical sense: I consider Noah as an extreme example of how this separation may not be possible. For practical purposes, his life and his work of creating the ark–with all its systems and implements, which, to your point, required a great deal of figuring things out and creating things that were not specified in God’s pattern–were very bound up in each other for the time it took him to create; so how could his art have been considered as separate from his life (physical and spiritual life) during the time he was designing and building? I’m not convinced that the answer to the question is separating one’s spiritual life from one’s art: I just don’t think it’s possible to do so.

      My gut and experience tell me that God and I are co-creators in my work, but I’m still looking for the way to connect the truth of Galatians 5:20 to the experience of the artist. How does it fit?

      I’d be interested in hearing your ideas on how you connect Galatians 5:20 with the concepts you shared.

      – alr

  2. Joyce Fulton Joyce Fulton

    Hmm. Galatians 5:20 talks about idolatry, hatred, selfish ambition. Perhaps you mean 5:24, “Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Which, to me is clear that he’s referring to the flesh. Our creativity is not in the flesh but more of the mind and perhaps a little soul. And it’s not just art but the creativity we pour into our jobs, our marriages, our children. And I do NOT believe art would be separate from life. Our creativity is part of being made in his image. The distortion of sin that we die to isnot part of his image but the distorted / perverted area that sin has taken hold of- yet control of the flesh.
    Truly still it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me. He lives in my heart, renews my mind and makes me a partaker if His divine nature. I am seated with Him. He still calls me to live out my purpose here and glorify Him. He has defeated the enemy and let’s me live more fully in Him. (With my creativity He gave me.) 🙂 Love you AmyLu.

    • admin admin

      Joyce,
      I’m sorry my typo muddied the waters there! I’m referring to Galatians 2:20, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
      Love you, too, friend!

  3. Joyce Fulton Joyce Fulton

    I figured. But my response is the same. Old self-has crucified the flesh as in 5:24. But not the mind. He tells us to RENEW the mind and crucify the flesh. The mind is the best part of how we are made in His image.

    • admin admin

      Joyce,

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this. I appreciate your taking the time to dialogue on the topic!

      – alr

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