On Art and Christ


Often times, Christian artists justify their craft with phrases like "God created, so I will create." While this carries some truth and the connection between human creation and divine creator is undeniable, the reason for creating could be more direct than the inductive justification above. The first command God gives to man is to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. The Lord desired mankind would spread throughout the earth, in order to make use of his full creation and to be master and care taker of it. At first glance, "subdue" holds a harsh and oppressive tone. In context, however, the command follows the Lord instilling his image in man. If our subduing the earth is drawn out of the imago dei in us, human dominion reflects the Lord's rule over the Earth, characterized by superiority but also goodness and light, equally. The appropriate definition of subdue in this context might be this: "to bring under mental or emotional control." Essentially, God commands man to lord over nature, as opposed to allowing nature to rule over man. Further, the Lord's dominion extends over all things(Col 1:15-19), thus over art as well. Under this definition, the visual arts reflect human dominion over earth. We attempt to master the arts as an expression of the imago dei in us. 

An obvious way artists express this dominion is through materials. Artists, unlike the Lord, do not and cannot create from nothing. They draw from the world around, reforming and refining original creation to express beauty. The ability to master nature through the  materials around us, presenting them in new and beautiful ways stems from dominion. 

Dominion extends to an intellectual and emotional level, beyond only physical. Art not only refines materials, but idea and thought as well. Subduing in this case signifies understanding the world and the life around us, in the way a student masters a subject. The artist interprets the world around him intelligently, becoming then the master and teacher of his subject. The master of a subject, as we are master of the created world, cares deeply for his subject and desires to see it promoted, taught to more people and understood more fully. The task of an artist, to present the world and the ideas in it for more to think about is deeply rooted in dominion over creation. Art ought to promote questions and wonderings about creation, with the hope they might lead to deeper knowledge. When combined, the physical mastery and conceptual dominion inherent in art-making present a wholistic picture of healthy dominion. Intellectual mastery of the created world, when presented beautifully, demonstrates the imago dei, reflecting the way God knows all and creates beauty all the time.