“Art is an uncovering of what is uniquely human.” –Rowan Williams (82)
This week in class we continued our journey though Rowan William’s Grace and Necessity. We are now in the second part of the book titled “David Jones: Material Words.” While there was a lot of great material in this section, the part I want to focus on here comes from the fourth section of the chapter.
Williams writes about humans having the capacity to make choices in creating and he briefly compares it to the work of animals such as spiders or ants. On page 85 he writes, “Animals (the ant, the spider, the nuthatch) produce work of outstanding beauty, but it is like the beauty of the natural world because it is ‘transitive’, it has a definable and general function; human activity aims at the embodying of meaning by deliberative choices, and this gratuitous element in what is human makes the difference between us and other creatures.”
Animals naturally create beautiful things without even having to make choices about lines, composition or colors. For humans, creation of beautiful things often requires so much though and decision making. “We choose because an act has potential meaning for us or others, not because we are bound to exercise these specific functions.” (Williams, 85).
After reflecting on this for a bit, I began to wonder if our inability to naturally create beautiful works is because of society’s structured learning systems and standards that are forced upon us – systems that teach us how and what to create. Is this what is hindering our ability to create? Maybe. But I think there is something more fundamental here that can’t be forgotten.
What I believe is really preventing us from creating beautiful things can be traced back to the fall of humankind. As artists we are always referring to how we are created in God’s image and how that makes us creators too!
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
Genesis 1:27 (ESV)
But the fall of man changed everything … including our ability to create. This makes me wonder what kinds of artists we would be like without the fall. I think that we would more capable of spectacular work if not for the fall.
So this brings up the question of if Adam and Eve were amazing artists? Did they create art? What did it look like? I can only imagine how beautiful it must have been. This very though brings a whole new perspective for me on Adam and Eve.
In the post fall world we now live in, we seek to go back to our original artistic capabilities. Williams wrote “human beings are those creatures who uniquely have the capacity and responsibility to uncover for one another the nature of the world in which sameness and otherness constantly flow into each other, and in which there is not final reading of a ‘surface’, whether the literal surface of a sheet of paper or the surface” (pages 82-83).
I really love this idea. Even though creating magnificent works may not come naturally to us, we are now armed with the opportunity to make choices that help us discover the nature of the world around us. As artists we can help reveal truths to others who in turn may bring insight to us with their own work. This cross-pollination of ideas and mediums can bring about eye-opening conversations that may have never been explored without.
Grace and Necessity: reflections on art and love, by Rowan Williams. Pages 45-90.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Genesis.
Adam and Eve Images from Wikipedia.org