The Bible and the Gifting of the Artist:

I am reviewing the book, The Gift of Art, by Gene Edward Veith, Jr. (1983). In Exodus 35 we discover that God called specific people by name to carry out the precursor of the Sistine Chapel. Not only were they called, but they were gifted for the task at hand.

The first gift was the filling of the Spirit of God (Ex 35:31). This gift allows the artist to intimately Lord know the Lord and surrender to His will. “Bezalel is the first person described in the Scriptures as being filled with the Holy Spirit” (p 21-22).

Additionally, these Exodus artisans were given ability (talent) and intelligence. That is, the talent to do the work was combined with a measure of understanding, reason, and common sense. “The modern image of the artist as irrational, passionate, completely intuitive is countered here by the idea that the artist, however inspired and talented, must also . . . manifest the clear mind and rational temperament necessary for solving the practical problems of making art.” Solving those problems involves “an almost mathematical way of thinking” (pp 22-23).

The fourth gift involved ‘knowledge.’ Intelligence involved the ability of the mind to function whereas knowledge speaks to the content of the mind. In addition to talent and mental acuity, Bezalel had to know certain things. “Some artists scorn education. Their gifts are ‘natural,’ they think, a function of their inner creativity that they need only express without inhibition, without tradition, without knowledge of anything outside themselves” (p23-24). That reminds me of an incident with my son when he was a young teen. He had taken an interest in the bass guitar, and I offered to get lessons for him, but he would have none of it. Lessons might inhibit his natural genius. Of course you can guess the end of the story. He eventually stopped playing the instrument. He was in bondage to his ignorance. Thankfully, over the years he developed a more teachable spirit regarding other matters.

However, Veith cautions us that, while the artist needs to have openness to the outside world, which is a hallmark of the true sensitivity necessary for the artist, we need to guard ourselves from using art as an excuse to embrace what scriptures call evil. We don’t need that kind of knowledge, but only those things which are true, honorable, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8) (p24). “Artists in particular are tempted to follow every experience no matter where it leads. The Bohemian assumption is that, to be a true artist, one must experience all of life” (p 25,) but Veith agrues that “Great art is the function of imagination more than experience. We can know the depths of sin by honestly examining ourselves through the lens of Scripture, without committing more sins, which in fact ‘harden the heart’, sear the conscience and make us less—rather than more—sensitive and open to the truth (see Rom 1:18-32)” (p 25).

The next gift involved craftsmanship (Ex 35:31). In addition to the other gifts, an artist needs to master the techniques of his medium. “In artistic craftsmanship, the human dominion over nature is perhaps at its highest. Not a tyranny or an exploitation, the dominion of the artist over matter involves intimacy and commitment as the object, through infinite care and effort, begins to conform to the artist’s will” (pp. 25-16).

Finally, to all the other gifts, God inspired him to teach (Ex 35:34). “Teaching is by God’s design part of the artistic vocation. . . Since art depends on such intangible and inherent qualities as talent and craftsmanship, the question is often raised whether artistry can really be taught at all. Scripture, while agreeing that art involves supernatural gifts, says clearly that it can be taught” (p 26). Veith concludes by saying “An aspiring artist may have many innate talents, but those talents normally come to fruition only through the efforts of a teacher. . . [T]eaching and learning are the normal means by which God offers his gifts—ability, intelligence, knowledge, craftsmanship, teaching—to those he has chosen for the artistic vocation” (p 27).

As a teaching artist who is a Christian I have never felt so affirmed and encouraged as I have from this fine book. Thank you for letting me share it with you.

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