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Art and the Image of God

September 18, 2010

        On Friday, September 10, Nathan and I made the half-hour trek to Wheaton College with my mom’s sister and two of my three fantastic Brigham cousins to attend the Vos Concert Grand Piano Dedication concert there in Edman Memorial Chapel. While for me the whole point of the evening was to fulfill a Music Appreciation course requirement, along the way I picked up a few thoughts and ideas I thought I’d share with the rest of you.

        After a brief introduction by the college’s president, Philp Ryken, the concert began. Aside from a piece by Chopin and the surprise appearance of my former teacher, Sung Hoon Mo, I wasn’t familiar with either the works or the performers. And while I’m all for classical music, I’ve never been a huge fan of works that are more technical than emotional. Listening to music like that has always seemed a little like giving up To Kill a Mockingbird or The Lord of the Rings in favor of something more like my math textbook or Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. But although what I heard at the concert last week wasn’t what I might choose for my own leisure time, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the whole idea of music as a form of human creativity.

        For some years now I’ve thought quite a bit about what it means for man to be created “in the image of God.” It’s true that eventually I’ve come to the conclusion (or a lightly-held conviction) that it has a lot more to do with our representational status as stewards of the earth than with actual psychological or physiological similarities. Nonetheless, it doesn’t seem reasonable to completely disregard other aspects of Man’s being when trying to determine his place in the created order. Though I’m hardly a materialist, for most of my life I have found it almost impossible to see in what way other than spiritual mankind is elevated above the status of other organic life on our planet. We look the same as any other animal, inside and out. We move the same, sound the same. We have the same basic needs. We act and react similarly to the beasts in almost every situation. As far as biology goes, the only difference between us and the rest of kingdom Animalia is that we have a more complex neurological system.

        Yet it’s hard to admire a painting, become engrossed in a novel, or be entranced by a song with this thought in mind without wondering whether any increased capacity for logical thought could ever engender what we call art. I have no doubt that use of Nature’s laws for productive ends rivaling our own would be found in any species of our intelligence, image of God or no. But would we ever find order wrested from the world around us for Beauty’s sake – or, as we might also put it, for its own? I’d never seriously considered until last Friday that our business of attributing meaning (isn’t that the root of real perceived beauty?) to intrinsic structure might be far more of a spiritual behavior than a psychological one. What is it that evokes awe when I gaze across miles from the top of an Appalachian mountain, or brought me to tears the first time I heard the opening measures of Grieg’s Morning Mood?

        If we’re going to say that this sort of sehnsucht begins and ends with chemical reactions in my brain then I for one am not going to bother with either ever again. But if in awe and wonder and all the rest my created spirit is recognizing and rejoicing in the likenesses of God portrayed by necessity in what He has made, then I will continue to seek these out and give my praise to the Being reflected in the mirror of the universe, understanding this privilege to be something unique to God’s image-bearers. And I’m no specialist when it comes to the human mind, but this seems to me to be the more likely option.

        My other (mostly unrelated) thought popped into my head while I was watching Dr. Mo, my piano teacher some years ago, give an incredibly adept exhibition of his talent. Meaning he performed beautifully for a solid twenty minutes entirely from memory. Sitting in the audience, it was hard not to feel some measure of regret as I wondered what I might have been capable of by now if I’d stuck to my lessons. After taking piano for eight or so years, Nathan and I dropped out in 2008. We wanted to be able to focus on high school, and neither of us was interested in music as a career. So although it was tough letting years and years of practice slip away, quitting lessons was academically convenient at the time.

        But was it the right decision? I’m not sure. Though it seems very unlikely that I’ll end up “needing” excellent piano skills in whatever path of study I end up choosing, it seems like all gifts should be furthered and developed to their fullest capacity. To abandon the gift of music looks no less than to squander talent given by God, and He gives nothing without purpose. I conveyed this concern to my cousin Lindsey, a freshman at Wheaton, and she warned me about what she called “utilization theology” – the error that God is only glorified by our abilities when we make what an observer might consider the “fullest” use of them, when what he really only means is the “public” use. But is God glorified equally in the practice room as on the stage? Can it be that the number of participants in an act of glorification is irrelevant? What does it mean for God to be glorified through art or secular work, anyway?

        So, there are the first random thoughts and questions to appear on this site in quite some time. I hope somebody, somewhere, benefits from them.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 18, 2010 11:52 pm

    Mmm…
    Many discussions have been had at my house about this topic.
    I have a few ideas on it; some pretty strong opinions as well.
    Here’s what I want to know: When someone creates a piece of music that in its themes and, if there are any, lyrics, is not honoring to God, does the act of creativity still bring Him glory?

  2. September 18, 2010 11:53 pm

    P.S. – Thank you for posting again. You have no idea how excited I was about this. Your thoughts are fascinating.

  3. Gabbie permalink
    September 19, 2010 9:27 pm

    Great post, Ian! I really enjoyed going to the concert with you 🙂
    I like what you said that Lindsey said; I know I have a bit of a problem of doing things only for the utilitarian purposes (for me, that includes music as a career). Thank you for the reminder.
    And, I think you are a very talented pianist and can easily pick it up! I know some kids who drop it in middle school/ high school and pick it up at the end of highschool or college. Keep it up!

  4. Karen Hindt permalink
    November 15, 2010 9:06 pm

    I stumbled upon your blog through a mutual friend, Chelsea McBay. I have to say reading your blog has encouraged me that there are TRULY Godly young people out there. Sometimes it gets quite discouraging (from a parent perspective) but I was really edified and encouraged with your though processes. Keep living for Jesus. Keep putting your faith to the reality test every day. Be real in a fake world. Be real for Jesus.

    Blessings,
    Karen Hindt

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