How Different Cultures And Religions Judge The Value Of An Artist
Throughout history, artists have been both revered and ridiculed. The ancient Greek’s and those who practice Christianity have expressed varying beliefs concerning artists. The Greek’s held fundamentally oppositional views, while the bible expresses a significant disagreement to those views. It is important to reflect on and evaluate these beliefs to form a holistic view of the implications each definition presents. The Greek Dichotomy presents itself in several ways throughout the Greek culture. The Greek dichotomy began due to the myth of Prometheus. The story says that Prometheus gave humans fire as a gift. Zeus had him tied up and sent a bird to eat his liver daily as a punishment. Fire represents creativity in the myth. Before, creativity was possessed solely by the gods. This explanation of how mankind obtained creativity resulted in two conflicting viewpoints.
Man had a “stolen” gift, which tempted artists and society to worship artists. On one hand, those who possessed creative ability were viewed as superior to ordinary people and were not to be criticized. On the other hand, many people viewed those with creative talents as imposters or liars. This idea is evident in Plato’s writings. For example James Sloan Allen wrote, “He [Plato] would say that they misunderstand the very nature and power of art. To make his case on these counts, he spins an ingenious theory contending that art by its very nature tends to misrepresent truth and reality, and therefore art more often than not leads people astray”.
Plato believed artists were liars who could not truly create anything as only impersonal gods could create. In Plato’s mind, art distracted them from the truth. This is dichotomy or two views in complete opposition. This results in an unhealthy view and role of God. Artistic talent could not be stewarded properly. As such, the role of art was limited. However, it was used to express what it meant to be human and spoke on a metaphorical level. Art developed from stylistic to realistic. For example, Kouros did not have developed features. Later, the Greek’s developed a realistic style. Lacoon and his Sons depicts a dramatic and emotional scene in which the subjects are struggling and express agony. Man was the measure of all things and focus on the human form proves this.
The bible contradicts the Greek Dichotomy in a few ways. To understand biblical creativity, it is important to understand the “how” and “why” of creativity. Samuel V. Sinns summarized these important aspects. According to Sinns, “Both the imago Dei and the cultural mandate are vital doctrines for a complete understanding of art and the Christian faith”. Firstly, the imago Dei suggests that man is made in God’s image. This is crucial as it proves that creativity was given to mankind as a birthright. Thus, it has a purpose and should be stewarded. Genesis 1:26a states, “Then God said, "Let Us make mankind in Our image, in Our likeness” (NIV). This scripture verifies that humankind has been created in God’s image and that God is a creative being as a designer. Humans are His work of art. By making humans in His image, he effectively gave humans the gift of creativity. This concept explains how we came to have creativity. It also contradicts the Greeks idea that creativity was stolen. Secondly, the creation mandate plays an important role in the bibles definition of creativity. Genesis 1:28, the creation mandate, states, “God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (NIV). This verse establishes the “why” of art. Mankind must create art because it is mankind’s duty. According to the Bible, art is mankind’s reflection of God and should be stewarded. This contradicts the Greek’s idea that art was a lie without purpose.
Human art can reflect and glorify God. Although human art is merely a copy of God’s original creation, it can express God’s intelligence, love, and creativity. As image bearers, we reflect those traits. When humans understand creativity and are creative, they can understand the character of God. Biblically, creativity was not stolen nor is it a reason to exalt mankind. Jeremiah 9:23 says,” This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong their strength or boast of the rich boast of their riches” (NIV). This suggests that art is never intended to bring glory to oneself. Art is a medium through which mankind can glorify and express the character of God. In his book, for example, Francis A. Schaeffer wrote,” A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself”. This expresses the purpose and need for art in the Christianity and the biblical definition of art. The Greek views had long term affects.
Later, Roman culture was influenced by the Greeks. Thus, their views in some form continued to spread. Scripture clearly teaches that art is important to the Christian life. It is clear from Genesis one that mankind was created by God and are responsible for the proper stewardship of those gifts.
As a Christian, I must recognize that creativity is not a gift to be wasted. In my life, I must strive to glorify the creator in artistic ways. Christian have the privilege of a personal God who bestowed great creative authority on unworthy people. It is not something mankind should take lightly. In conclusion, the Greek dichotomy and the bible teach vastly different messages about art. The Greek’s either idolized artists or distrusted them. The bible portrays art as a way of stewarding God given gifts to glorify God. The Greek’s view resulted in the inability to steward art and gods had no role. The bible specifically indorses the stewardship of art, and God is at the center as creator and as a being worthy of worship.