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The Divine Tenets of Creativity


Abstract painting

In a world that began from a single act of creativity, it is reasonable to suggest that creativity is a part of its DNA. Psalm 33:6 says, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host.” The very material world that we live in is infused with His act of creativity, and as the pinnacle of His creation, man carries in him the gene of divine creativity. Psalm 24:1-2 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” What embodies its creator more than His creation? The breath of the Father is inside of man, carrying with it the aroma of creativity and its divine tenets.


According to the work of writers like Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and J.R.R. Tolkien, who have all theorized about the imagination and its function, creative expression undoubtedly plays a key role in a Christian worldview, and vice versa. In her work, The Mind of the Maker, Sayers says, “Looking at man, he sees in him something essentially divine, but when we turn back to see what he says about the original upon which the ‘image’ of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, ‘God created.’ The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire and the ability to make things.” From Genesis to Revelation, creativity is taught and utilized extensively throughout the biblical narrative as the method of communication between Creator and creation. Scholars and theologians agree that the creative quality of the universe speaks to the existence and nature of a divinely creative source. The Christian Church often utilizes the arts as a derivative work of praise through music, painting, and architecture, reflecting creativity back to the One to whom it belongs.


The same great thinkers suggest that the imagination is a divine faculty in human nature that both aligns with that of the Creator and guides creation toward the Creator from within. The imagination transcends explicit methods of communicating truth, showing further that all of creation points to a single, ultimate truth—that of God’s existence and Spirit within His creation. The beauty of creativity is its ability to function as a foundation of truth, not simply a reiteration of it. When viewed as man’s teacher as well as his tool, art transcends the divide between explicit and implicit expressions. Not only is the imagination the faculty that drives human experience, it also unifies humanity in its ability to implicitly communicate universal truth.


Understanding the components of creativity is foundational to understanding the divine tenets by which it is accessed and applied. For Sayers, the creative mind is assessed in reflection of the Divine mind, broken down into Idea, Energy, and Power. She explores this framework in depth:

“For every work [or act] of creation is threefold, an earthly trinity to match the heavenly.

First, [not in time, but merely in order of enumeration] there is Creative Idea, passionless, timeless, beholding the whole work complete at once, the end in the beginning: and this is the image of the Father.

Second, there is the Creative Energy [or Activity] begotten of that idea, working in time from the beginning to the end, with sweat and passion, being incarnate in the bonds of matter: and this is the image of the Word.

Third, there is the Creative Power, the meaning of the work, and its response in the lively soul” and this is the image of the indwelling Spirit.

And these three are one, each equally in itself the whole work, whereof none can exist without the other: and this is the image of the Trinity.”

Assuming Sayers’ model of the creative mind as the bedrock for creativity, each tenet explored throughout this essay will align with and point back to the fabric of the divine mind.


TENET 1: COURAGE TO SEEK WHAT IS


Creativity, first and foremost, requires that one relentlessly seeks the truth—what Father James Schall calls what is in The Life of the Mind. In his theory of festivity, Josef Pieper also suggests that “the arts, like pleasure itself, are derivative and secondary; they are a contribution, the adornment and medium of the festival, but not its substance.” If art is an interpretive and reflective response to what is true about man and the world, the praise of Creation, then creativity requires not only awareness of, but value of the substance it reflects: value of the truth. To simply accept something as true does not ensure that one will adjust his view, trajectory, or character in response to it. It is only when he places value in such truth—when he affirms the world as it exists and make sense of what’s in front of him to know of a thing’s true agreement or disagreement—that it begins to impact him on a conscious and spiritual level; levels that must be engaged to generate creativity. Put simply, to be presented with the truth is merely an act of acceptance, while internalizing such truth and being moved by it is an act of courageous imagination.


While coming across a piece of truth could occur by happenstance, it is the aforementioned courageous imagination that ignites the search for more—for the holistic picture of truth—with every element and faculty available to a person. In his book, The Religious Function of Imagination, Richard Kroner suggests, “The theoretical function of imagination consists in connecting the field of sensation with the intellectual sphere.” According to Kroner, obtaining the whole picture starts with our sensory experience, tempered with our intellect. Sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound are all responses to reality that cannot be denied. They are the front lines of what is true of the world, and are therefore pillars on which to build a deeper understanding of human experience as it exists in truth.


To be presented with the truth is merely an act of acceptance, while internalizing such truth and being moved by it is an act of courageous imagination.

Without knowledge of what is in existence as it pertains to the five senses, as well as the ways in which the human mind operates and understands on psychological, intellectual, sociological, and spiritual levels, one cannot separate or properly utilize what is creative from what is not. Creativity requests fullness of sight, where everything is seen for what it is in the world and beyond. The “realistic” view of frogs, for instance, may be that they are grotesque and a bit marginalized in the animal kingdom. Likewise, the primary view of kings may be that they are pompous, powerful, and detached from society. By combining these two primary realities—derived from both sensory and intellectual information—in a fullness of sight, the imagination can initiate a secondary reality of the frog-king; one that suggests that perhaps a king is more marginalized than our sight will allow us to believe. J.R.R. Tolkien describes this phenomenon as “a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it. So upon logic was founded the nonsense that displays itself in the tales and rhymes of Lewis Carroll. If men really could not distinguish between frogs and men, fairy-stories about frog-kings would not have arisen.” Without reality, creativity would have no canvas on which to paint. And even so, the canvas does not hold any significance without the curiosity that flourishes in the space between what is seen and what is not. It is the relationship between reality and imagination that facilitates the act of creativity.


In the process of creating, one begins with what is familiar as a passage to explore what is unfamiliar. Kroner suggests, “Imagination is the architect of our future world, the intrinsic motor of our private and public life.” The scope of truth is animated by the use of the imagination in creative acts. The elements of reality function as the root system underneath the work, absorbing the nourishment that the imagination offers, and finally blossoming into art. In his description of the place where creativity lives, Tolkien writes, “Faërie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.” The co-mingling of these elements is the very picture of reality co-mingling with the imagination in order to expand human understanding. G.K. Chesterton made this same discovery in his conversion to Christianity. It was the work of the imagination that captured his sense of reality and slung it into a larger scope of truth. In Orthodoxy, he explains, “Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense. It is not earth that judges heaven, but heaven that judges earth; so for me at least it was not earth that criticised elfland, but elfland that criticised the earth.” When only faced with what is real, man is not challenged to be anything more than what he already is. In order to make any kind of discovery or growth in one’s personal or creative life, one must be open to imaginative teaching.


Creativity is not an abandonment of what is real, but an endorsement of it; a baptism of reason into the waters of imagination, unveiling a new sense of sight that is not limited by the material world, but also embraces the magnificent and supernatural. In Of Other Worlds, C.S. Lewis notes, “The story does what no theorem can quite do. It may not be ‘like real life’ in the superficial sense: but it sets before us an image of what reality may well be like at some more central region.” This region is where man connects with God, “and it will help much towards our understanding of the imagination and its functions in man if we first succeed in regarding aright the imagination of God, in which the imagination of man lives and moves and has its being.” Through creativity, one can see that reality is not limited to what can be perceived through the five senses. Interacting with the imagination illuminates the entire scope of man’s existence, material and spiritual.


Creativity is not an abandonment of what is real, but an endorsement of it; a baptism of reason into the waters of imagination, unveiling a new sense of sight that is not limited by the material world, but also embraces the magnificent and supernatural.

Not only is creativity the byproduct of seeking what is, but it is also the catalyst for such a search. Creativity is not a term exclusive to artists and poets and musicians. It is employed in the context of any learning, from the classroom to the pulpit. In his book, Houses of the Interpreter, David Lyle Jeffrey says, “This historic community of interpretation [the Church] is not adequately measured if only its ecclesiastical dimensions are considered; many of the most important contributions are found to have come from the interaction with Scripture of the arts, where engagement of Scripture and the formation of its teaching is often far deeper than any mere matter of adornment or pretext.” During the search for truth and wisdom, one cannot bypass the function of creativity any more than he can bypass searching for truth in his creative endeavors.


When a concept is foreign in a setting of spiritual or academic learning, our attempt to comprehend it is likewise dependent on our existing experiences, from our senses to our memories. In The Metalogicon: A Twelfth Century Defense of the Verbal and Logical Arts of the Trivium, John of Salisbury paints a clear picture of the process thereafter: “Nature first evokes our natural capacity to perceive things, and then, as it were, deposits these perceptions in the secure treasury of our memory. Reason then examines with its careful study, those things which have been perceived, and which are to be, or have been, commended to memory’s custody.” Kroner also states, “Neither the senses alone nor understanding alone can build up a scientific system of nature; imagination must submit the material of sense perception to the notions of our understanding. Imagination has therefore an indispensable and irreplaceable function in the theoretical field of knowledge.” From the process of learning what is unknown and shaping it into the philosophies one lives by, one can employ such faculties to lead to creative expression, what Sayers describes as “convey[ing] an extension and amplification of something that we do know…” With this, it is undeniable that creativity and the truth are irrevocably intertwined.


In addition to unlocking the ability and capacity to seek what is, it is also imperative that one finds the courage to not look away from what he finds. Everything considered “original” in the world was once a product of courageous, imaginative thought. To forage through worldviews, temptation, and self-serving ideologies that crop up throughout culture as a means to cope with human failure and free will and choose instead to look truth in the eye is the only way one can cultivate a responsible imagination, which Kroner describes:

“Actual responsible imagination is centered in the image of the whole, of the real, of the ultimate meaning of the world. This image is not a definition, not a notion or a concept; it is a living entity like all images of our mind, ever changing, sometimes clearer, sometimes duller, now approaching the level of distinct thought, now returning to the darker but more vigorous actuality of imagination, from which all thoughts and conceptions in the realm of speculative philosophy spring.”

According to him, the call to wisdom is not a call to wield creativity in service of one’s internal desire or personal vision for how the world ought to be. It is, insead, an unveiling and articulating of how the world is, which can then inform ideas of how it ought to be. Schall says, “Knowledge alone won’t save us, though we need knowledge too. The essential thing is the ‘inclination to know,’ something that cannot be purchased or borrowed or injected.” The essence of philosophy and wisdom is found in this willingness to not only embrace the imagination, but also to train it in such a way to see what is in proper context. It is only then that what comes of philosophical thought can be universally applied to the whole.


In addition to unlocking the ability and capacity to seek what is, it is also imperative that one finds the courage to not look away from what he finds.

Whether seeking to create or seeking to understand, both pursuits rely on one another for success, making the courage to seek the truth a core tenant of creative work. In Reasoning Beyond Reason, J.T. Sellars states, “The imagination has a role in the process of cognition. And if all cognition is a process of participation—the knower and the known become united, the spirit passes between them and all things—then every known event has at its core this oneness.” The goal of creative study is to discover this oneness, and the only way to discover it, that which is at the core of the imagination, is to take the faculty as a pure, valuable piece of humanity, independent from the art that it produces, which is vulnerable to worldly influence and interference.


TENET 2: ABILITY TO CONNECT


Once the desire and ability to seek the truth has taken root, creativity finds its way to the surface through means of connection. It is not difficult to reason that man finds his way to uncharted waters through connection between the known and the unknown. It is perhaps why human beings anthropomorphize God in order to understand His ways in familiar and understood terms. Sayers says, “To complain that man measures God by his own experience is a waste of time; man measures everything by his own experience; he has no other yardstick.” Likewise, George MacDonald says, “No man is capable of seeing for himself the whole of any truth: he needs it echoed back to him from every soul in the universe; and still its centre is hid in the Father of Lights.” The nature of art is relational—between man and fellow man, artist and audience, Creator and created, imagination and reason. Whether it be linking one’s thoughts to other ideas, people, culture, sense of self, or experience with the divine, connection is the thread that weaves together the fabric of creation itself, as well as perceiving or applying creativity in a meaningful way. Art voices the different facets of truth that human beings interact with individually, and reflects that truth as a collective, magnificent whole. Embracing this implicitly communicative quality of art assures that no piece of imaginative discovery is denied the opportunity of being discovered.


Through the use of metaphor, simile, analogy, or allegory, an unfamiliar idea can be tethered to a familiar experience in such a way to build a cognitive connection, which turns to knowledge. An abstract idea simply requires a concrete description in order to be understood. The abstract idea of what it is to feel in love, for instance, is powerful to another only if and because he, too, has experienced it. In order to create that connection, one either relies on that assumption, or uses creative means to connect one mind to another. Sayers asserts, “The fact is, that all language about everything is analogical; we think in a series of metaphor…In particular, when we speak about something of which we have no direct experience, we must think by analogy or refrain from thought.” Instead of describing an experience as “being in love,” one may find it more potent to describe how one's feeling might look, sound, taste, smell, and feel. To say, “The one I adore makes me nervous” is assuming one’s audience has experienced the same nerves. To say, “The one I adore fills my ribcage with restless butterflies” does not rely on such an assumption, but instead draws from concrete, universal imagery that engages the imagination in order to connect ideas in a more ubiquitous way. A writer, Sayers would say, “cannot even be conscious of his Idea except by the working of the Energy which formulates it to himself.” One must be willing to connect his experience or ideas to others in this way to fully engage in the act of creativity. Otherwise, he is speaking only to himself and the art is lost within his mind, for understanding and connection are the lifeblood of the idea.

Whether it be through collaboration, criticism, or a means of representation or communication, creativity inherently connects people and ideas through word choice, medium, or delivery method. To read any book, one does not assume he is interacting with the author directly about his or her values and experiences; their ideas are instead embodied and lived through the characters, settings, and story they create. Sayers says, “For if a character becomes merely a mouthpiece of the author, he ceases to be a character, and is no longer a living creation. Still more, if all characters speak with their author’s voice, the whole work loses its reality, and with it, its power.” The believability of such elements requires vast practice of creativity as both a means and an end of connection to one’s audience.


One must be willing to connect his experience or ideas to others in this way to fully engage in the act of creativity. Otherwise, he is speaking only to himself and the art is lost within his mind, for understanding and connection are the lifeblood of the idea.

Creativity also thrives when a creator is connected to people groups and culture—past, present, or future. Throughout history, art has been an integral part of building culture. Engaging with stories of fiction and art of the imagination develop qualities that hold culture together, like empathy, compassion, and love, which breed behaviors such as kindness, generosity, and selflessness. The unity of people is the foundation of thriving culture. If that foundation is damaged, society will fall apart at the seams. In his review of The Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis says, “As we read we find ourselves sharing their burden; when we have finished, we return to our own life not relaxed but fortified.” The ability to draw parallels between belief systems, historical events, and cultural norms provides the fertile ground needed for understanding to flourish. By expanding one’s vision to the vision and cultural context of another—a character, an artist, a filmmaker—he not only understands his own perspective, but he also begins to understand perspectives that are not a result of his own experience. When discussing the great literature, grounded in culture past and timeless in value, Basil the Great says, “So we also in the same manner must first, if the glory of the good is to abide with us indelible for all time, be instructed by these outside means, and then shall understand the sacred and mystical teachings; and like those who have become accustomed to seeing the reflection of the sun in water, so we shall then direct our eyes to the light itself.” It is not only good to connect one’s understanding of what is with the world as he experiences it in waking life, but also to connect it to what has been experienced before and around him. Together, all create an empirical mosaic of the human story.


Perhaps the most innate connection one experiences in order to access creativity, however, is within himself. Schall suggests, “In a sense, the whole world is offered to us in order that we can know ourselves. We are the one thing in the variegated universe that we cannot directly know. We can look at our faces in mirrors, but we can only know our minds while they are knowing something else. The universe ultimately gives us to ourselves.” The exploration of self and ability to connect one’s experiences and understandings to another through use of storytelling or music or photography or any other means of creative expression is the transcendent factor of our outpouring. Humans cannot connect to others or to a culture if they do not have an active and contemplative awareness of themselves.


“In a sense, the whole world is offered to us in order that we can know ourselves. We are the one thing in the variegated universe that we cannot directly know. We can look at our faces in mirrors, but we can only know our minds while they are knowing something else. The universe ultimately gives us to ourselves.” - Schall

Sayers also says, “The mind is not the sum of its works, though it includes them all. Though it produced the works one after the other, we cannot say that it is each of these works in turn. Before it made them, it included them all, potentially, and having finished them, it still includes them. It is both immanent in them and transcendent.” Creative study acknowledges the facts of the universe and faculty of the human imagination separately, but with reciprocal impact on one another. This is where the bridge between the imagination and the faith is built. The goal of creative study is not to rationalize and fuse art with fact so that creativity can only occur in a way that displays truth in an explicit manner. Instead, the goal is to understand its correlation to fact and its function in relationships and truth, ultimately utilizing this basic human function for what it was designed for, and therefore aligning personal purpose with creational purpose.


This experience of connection to the self inevitably leads to one’s sense of connection to the divine, the origin of all human story, experience, and creativity. Of this divine experience, Sayers says,

“Nevertheless, it is true that the urgent desire of the creative mind is towards expression in material form. The writer, in writing his book on paper, is expressing the freedom of his own nature in accordance with the laws of his being; and we argue from this that material creation expresses the nature of the Divine Imagination. We may perhaps say that creation in some form or another is necessary to the nature of God; what we cannot say is that this or any particular form of creation is necessary to Him. It is in His mind, complete, whether He writes it down or not.”

Works of creativity—even works of fantasy or fiction—are not inherently anti-truth, but rather, outward manifestations of how the mind anchors art in human experience in order to launch into new worlds, which provide glimpses into the divine. It is through these worlds that one can stretch his understanding of worlds and paths that could have been alternative to his own. Tolkien suggests, “If men were ever in a state in which they did not want to know or could not perceive truth (facts or evidence), then Fantasy would languish until they were cured.” Likewise, in his review of The Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis states, “By putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality, we rediscover it. As long as the story lingers in our mind, the real things are more themselves…By dipping them in myth we see them more clearly.” By engaging with the images conceived through the imagination, one is taking part in those images, and is therefore shaped by them in one way or another. Art therefore, depends on man’s inherent desire to create images in order to understand the world in which he lives. It also depends on his natural ability to communicate experiences effectively with other human beings. In his book, C.S. Lewis and the Art of Writing, Corey Latta says, “Reading brings us out of our limited life experiences and allows us the experiences of another.” Literature, along with all forms of art, is the method in which man responds to the faculties that he is designed with, which includes an understanding of his fellow man and his Maker. Therefore, art is deeply intertwined with faith and relationships, regardless of one’s recognition of the fact. Art as the result of the creative process serves to demonstrate. Its purpose reflects the process in which it was produced, and connects that process with the human experience.


The personal nature of creativity results in art that not only displays human experience in beauty, but also lays a foundation between those experiences, where connection takes place. Human connection occurs on a technical level as well as a practical level. On the technical level, beauty is interpreted by the senses, and therefore can be shared between beings that share those senses. If truth is told through beauty, that truth is accessible to others who can interpret beauty. Because of the sensual nature of art, the faculty itself is technically connective. However, the practical element of human connection is honesty. If creativity is not honest, it cuts off the supply of truth that runs through all people, and can no longer be used to lay common ground. The connection exists through the senses, but not through the heart of human experience. It is only with both technical and practical connection that creativity can flourish and become depolarized. Honest art produces connective fruit between man and truth, man and God, and man and man.


TENET 3: AWARENESS TO PERCEIVE


In order to explore the universe through creative means, by way of truth-seeking and connection-building, one must also open his mind to the awareness necessary to interpret what he sees and perceive what he may not. Many live in the world as it is presented to them, subject to external interpretation, be it by their senses, beliefs adopted from a teacher or ideology, or through their limited experience. There is, however, more to perception than what is on the surface of one’s day-to-day engagements, particularly if he hopes to express his perceptions through creative means. John of Salisbury argues,

“However vigorous it may be, nature cannot attain the facility of an art unless it be trained. At the same time, nature is the mother of all the arts, to which she has given reason as their nurse for their improvement and perfection. Nature first evokes our natural capacity to perceive things, and then, as it were, deposits these perceptions in the secure treasury of our memory. Reason then examines with its careful study, those things which have been perceived, and which are to be, or have been, commended to memory’s custody.”

The training referred to can not only be interpreted as training of artistic skill, but also of perception, a skill learned and acquired by practice and willingness to live in existential awareness of what is. Perception, in this regard, is pivotal in both creating and interpreting creative work.

Even in a work of art that is intended as a replica of reality, such as a portrait, one must be able to open his mind up to the concepts of texture, color, expression, and light in order to translate the language of truth to the language of art—the translation meaning creativity, in this instance. Kroner suggests, “There is no difference between ultimate reality and the ultimate meaning of reality, for reality is ultimate just because it comprises or embodies the ultimate meaning of the universe, and thus of our own experience and actual life.” Art inspired by ultimate reality is an attempt to perceive its meaning. Without awareness of one’s subject matter, circumstances, philosophical ideas, et cetera, perception is flavorless and unoriginal.


This brings up the idea of “imagination over image.” Perception is subjective to the perceiver, which graces the work with a myriad of meanings, all colored by separate experiences and interpretations, including and beyond that of the one who created it. The gift of perception is that it expands the truth conveyed in a single work to all other works of creativity, and subjects the truth of a single work to a greater image of its creator. Sayers says, “And yet, in practice, we are continually tempted to confine the mind of the writer to its expression within his creation, particularly if it suits our purpose to do so. We try to identify him with this or that part of his works, as though it contained his whole mind.” A creator of any sort does not simply offer a one-to-one picture of reality, for it is impossible to replicate space and time in exactitude. Similarly, a snapshot of his mind must not be substituted for the whole of his philosophy. Any attempt of creativity must be subject to interpretation that is informed by and in context with every other belief within the creator’s being, as well as the interpreter's.


Without awareness of one’s subject matter, circumstances, philosophical ideas, et cetera, perception is flavorless and unoriginal.

The inability to perceive with openness and awareness costs many the delight of creativity’s impact. It reduces their vision to what is literal as an interpreter and reduces their work to what is tangible as an artist. Ultimately, it limits one to what he alone can see, as he sees it, and with no agency over his understanding. The alternative, according to Sayers, suggests that “[t]he ‘creation’ is not a product of the matter, and is not simply a rearrangement of the matter. The amount of matter in the universe is limited, and its possible rearrangements, though the sum of them would amount to astronomical figures, is also limited. But no such limitation of numbers applies to the creation of works of art.” If art is released from the limitations of human calculation and into the infinite realm of imagination, one can create “new and unique entities” that are “immeasurably more than the sum of [their] parts.”


TENET 4: CONCESSION TO ORDER


Perception comes to full fruition in creativity when tempered with a concession to the divine order to the universe. While seemingly counterintuitive, a work is not stripped of its creativity when viewed through a lens of objective beauty or order. On the contrary, it strengthens the connection between the temporal world and its eternal origins by submitting to the order of the former, set forth by the latter. Sayers suggests that “if other men feel themselves to be powerless in the universe and at odds with it, it is because the pattern of their lives and works has become distorted and no longer corresponds to the universal pattern—because they are, in short, running counter to the law of their nature.”


As a way to wrestle with wonder and seek wisdom, creativity comes face-to-face with what Schall refers to as an unsettling of the soul. He writes, “I would suggest then that our first ‘call’ to wisdom is this very unsettlement we find in our soul, when we begin to wonder whether things are ordered and, if so, how things are ordered.” Sayers takes this idea even further:

“If you ask me what is this pattern which I recognize as the true law of my nature, I can suggest only that it is the pattern of the creative mind—an eternal Idea, manifested in material form by an unresting Energy, with an outpouring of Power that at once inspires, judges, and communicates the work; all these three being one and the same in the mind and one and the same in the work. And this, I observe, is the pattern laid down by the theologians as the pattern of the being of God.”

The innate drive to discover ‘why’ or ‘how’ in the world suggests that order is where one begins, creativity is the journey, and wisdom is where he ends, unifying one’s mind with the mind of God.


Order does not only ignite the journey, but informs its every turn. It is found in some form throughout any creative medium. There is a reason that syntax and grammar are studied universally, for instance. It is the framework in which words are draped around ideas and philosophies that emerge through creative thought. Such a framework is imperative for interpretation and connection. According to John of Salisbury, “While grammar has developed to some extent, and indeed mainly, as an invention of man, still it imitates nature, from which it partly derives its origin. Furthermore, it tends, as far as possible, to conform to nature in all respects.” The mechanics of creativity are used to operate within the order of the universe, much like the mechanics of an automobile are used to operate within the order of physics and chemistry, leveraging such principles in the creation of the man-made tools that achieve its end goal of movement and speed and experience. John of Salisbury adds:

“Grammar also imitates nature in further respects. Thus the rules of poetry clearly reflect the ways of nature, and requires anyone who wishes to become a master in this art to follow nature as his guide…So true is this [principle] that a poet must never forsake the footsteps of nature. Rather, he should strain to cleave closely to nature in his bearing and gestures, as well as in his words.”

The closer one makes himself to the order of his being and his environment, the more understanding he will have and the more freedom he can wield in his creative endeavors. While some may say that order is restrictive and cognitive anarchy is the only true path to creativity, it is not unreasonable to suggest from these great thinkers that order is instead an indicator of impact.

One could observe the work of modern painter, Jackson Pollock, for instance, and assume that the chaotic nature of his approach is the reason his art is so unique and impactful. However, upon closer analysis, it is clear that there is, in fact, a great deal of order driving his work. Pollock’s abstract drip paintings are often considered tumultuous and void of meaning. However, Pollock’s work evokes philosophical thought by challenging the very concept of order. In her article, “God’s Back: Jackson Pollock and the Beatific Vision,” Lexi Eikelboom says, “In standing in front of one of Pollock’s drip paintings, the viewer finds his or her eyes moving compulsively across the canvas, following lines that have no end. The eyes can never come to a place of rest but are instead invited into an eternal motion.” Pollock’s non-traditional approach to painting resulted in art that does not necessarily show a picture, but induces mental energy that grasps at a sense order to inform the deviation that appears on the canvas. One could argue that any one of Pollock’s works is a meaningless mix of color and confusion, but perhaps the object to be seen is not tangible, but evanescent and empirical—all the while, conducted by the order of sight and understanding. “The divine can only be known in and through the rhythm, through those motions in which one encounters the divine. Pollock’s paintings are not paintings of God or of the divine as such. But they are paintings that disrupt our assumptions about how vision functions.” Such a disruption of assumptions both acknowledges inherent order and, with great impact, inspires discovery beyond typical experience.


While some may say that order is restrictive and cognitive anarchy is the only true path to creativity, it is not unreasonable to suggest from these great thinkers that order is instead an indicator of impact.

The ability and willingness to step back and follow the work to its origin in the human condition suggests also that upon completion of the creative process, one finds spiritual formation. The fullness of art and being are found in the same place: around the bend of maturity. Here, the work of the imagination is no longer trivial or aimless. It aligns with the order of creation and the mind can take hold of both. Latta says, “After Lewis’s conversion to Christianity, imagination’s plain sense, the human faculty for making images, began to carry spiritual significance. The imaginative mind, like the good book, found purpose in life’s ultimate purpose, to draw the soul further out of itself.” Like Lewis, artists mature as a result of the creative process, and it is then that their art aligns inherently with truth. The maturity that is developed from this process enables one’s eyes to affirm truth in art, regardless of its presentation. Sayers writes, “If the structure is truly knit, it will stand any strain, and prove its truth by its toughness. Pious worshipers, whether of mortal or immortal artists, do their deities little honor by treating their incarnations as something too sacred for rough handling.” What one finds in artistic discovery either confirms or challenges what he believes—based one way or another on the inherent order of the universes—and therefore forges a path to a more refined grasp of what is.


Not only does creativity require the concession to order, but it is a medium in which order manifests itself. John of Salisbury argues:

“Art is a system that reason has devised in order to expedite, by its own shortcut, our ability to do things within our natural capabilities. Reason neither provides nor professes to provide the accomplishment of the impossible. Rather, it substitutes for the spendthrift and roundabout ways of nature a concise, direct method of doing things that are possible.”

To think of creativity as a system may counteract one’s emotions about it on an exterior level; however, to analyze any piece of music, dance, film, novel, or play, it is plain to see that the work is a reflection of or a rebellion against order—be it by way of utilizing or stepping outside of its respective theory—and either way, acknowledging its existence and conceding to its role in creative expression.


TENET 5: VALUE OF MYSTERY


Without a value and respect for what is not only unknown, but unknowable, creativity will assume it has reached its end and that it only and always existed within the creator, without so much as a nod to the divine. Such limitations rule out the possibility of universal truth, dismiss the transcendent quality of the Idea, Energy, and Power of art, and reduce the act of creation down to materialism. Given this conclusion, the value of mystery presents itself as an essential tenet of creativity.


To infer that a work of creativity could only be manifest as it is by the unique combination of its creator’s circumstances and interpretation of the world is not to say that without that creator, it would not be manifest at all. It is quite possible that if C.S. Lewis hadn’t written The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the very same story and word choice could have found its way to the page through a different vessel. It is also quite possible that if it were, in fact, delivered by another writer, the words would be different, the characters would engage differently, and the story would unfold differently. The mystery that inspires such works sits squarely in what Sayers identifies as the Energy of creativity. She says, “It is dynamic—the sum and process of all the activity which brings the [work] into temporal and spatial existence. ‘All things are made by it, and without it nothing is made that has been made.’ To it belongs everything that can be included under the word ‘passion’—feeling, thought, toil, trouble, difficulty , choice, triumph—all the accidents which attend a manifestation in time.” These elements of passion are not unique to the work’s creator, but instead live—active or dormant—in the minds of all who can create. It is between this fact and the cosmic question of how the work found its way to the surface through its divinely chosen creator, that the mystery of creativity rests.


Without acknowledging the mystery that is the creative mind, one could also only interpret the world in terms already known, which proves to be a problematic theory for numerous reasons. First being that at some point, such known terms were unknown, and it was the Idea, Energy, and Power of the mind that weaved words and understanding around it. Whether rooted in curiosity or doubt, the submission to mystery brings the creator into the realm of what he may know and what he may not, together, comprising a more holistic picture of his being in context with the universe and the art which he aims to create. Second, that known terms are derived from a collective community of knowledge and creativity, suggesting that there is more to any man’s life than his own experience. In this way, his interpretation of the world should consider a greater viewport than he himself can provide his own mind. Kroner says, “To be sure, even religious imagination cannot fathom the depth of the divine mystery; there is no adequate image of the whole.” Acknowledging the value of mystery in creation illuminates and reflects the value of the Creator, for He is the space and time—and the fullness of such that is unknowable to man—within which art exists.


These elements of passion are not unique to the work’s creator, but instead live—active or dormant—in the minds of all who can create. It is between this fact and the cosmic question of how the work found its way to the surface through its divinely chosen creator, that the mystery of creativity rests.

Acknowledging mystery also frees the mind from simply rearranging the matter in front of it without creative thought. While there may be value in such rearrangement, it is primarily utilitarian. Creativity as an act is, instead, useful in itself, with no need to move beyond its end. In works like Dante’s Paradiso, one can witness the ideas, the cultural events, and the imagination work together in submission to mystery within the act of writing, as well as in the story itself. As the characters explore the spheres of Paradise, they are met with beings that describe the order of eternity. Falquet says, “We gaze on the adorning art of love, the good that makes creation beautiful, that turns the world below by world above. But that you’ll leave fulfilled in every will risen in you to know about this sphere, I must go on a little longer still.” As Dante the character discovers the mysteries of his path, Dante the author submits to the mysteries of his as well. The fruit that stems from such submission can be found, in some form, in all works of creativity.


Mystery also comes with it the ability to cognitively suspend time and space in order to see more of the matter and the negative space humans experience in the metaphysical universe. In her book, Tolkien and Chesterton as Theologians, Alison Milbank says, “Faërie, as Tolkien understands it in his extended essay on fairy-stories, is the site where we encounter other beings and the world itself not just as ‘enchanted’ but as ‘other.’” The enchantment that Tolkien refers to has a layered meaning: first, to clarify that the fantastic is not merely a manipulation of the primary world, and second, to suggest that the ways in which it functions are necessarily different, but related. “As with ‘The Ethics of Elfland’, enchantment is a mode of relationality as well: Neither Tolkien nor Chesterton has the nominalist individualism that would see each thing as totally separately named from every other. Instead, the created nature of the world renders it both related to God as its origin yet separated from its Creator by its contingency.” It is through these points of connection that allow for exploration of what is unfamiliar without losing sense of what is already known to be true.


Mystery, by nature, exists outside of the self, and requires that one knows himself enough to know when he is exploring that which is not himself. The creative mind is able to do this, as it is “capax omnium, capable of knowing all the things it did not itself make or create.” Schall expands on this idea further:

“We cannot be the kind of being we are unless we are not other things. Thus, it is all right to be what we are. Yet, what we are contains this mind with its capax omnium, with its capacity to know all that is. It is this exciting freedom to take into our souls what we are not, to take it in without changing or destroying what we take in, that constitutes the purpose of the liberal arts, which are designed to teach us how to be open to the various levels of being.”

Acknowledging and submitting to mystery—that which is not of oneself—is, according to this, an act of stepping into what one actually is, which, as was previously established, imperative to tapping into creativity.


Acknowledging the value of mystery in creation illuminates and reflects the value of the Creator, for He is the space and time—and the fullness of such that is unknowable to man—within which art exists

TENET 6: PURSUIT OF LIFE


Ultimately, creativity is the work of uncovering and pursuing life. A direct reflection of the gospel, the work of Sayers’ Idea, Energy, and Power is redemptive in a way that is not purely transactional or utilitarian, but reverent of what has and will come to pass. She says, “...the artist does not see life as a problem to be solved, but as a medium for creation. He is asked to settle the common man’s affairs for him; but he is well aware that creation settles nothing. The thing that is settled is finished and dead, and his concern is not with death but with life.” If the artist’s eyes were fixed on death, he would not be driven to create and interpret and express what only life can inspire in the soul.


If it could be reduced, the difference in life and death is movement versus stillness. Art and creativity, in some way, will always point to movement, if not in subject matter, then in the act of creation. If the past inspires an artist, it is because there was life to be observed, celebrated, or pursued again. Likewise, if an artist is inspired by the future, it is due to the hope or longing for life, even if by way of death. Regardless of where in time an artist plants his creativity, life is at its center. According to Chesterton, “[T]he strongest emotion was that life was as precious as it was puzzling. It was an ecstasy because it was an adventure; it was an adventure because it was an opportunity. The goodness of the fairy tale was not affected by the fact that there might be more dragons than princesses; it was good to be in a fairy tale.” While death is a pinnacle moment in time and space, life is all that surrounds it—including all sorrow, joy, complexity, anger, and peace. To confuse death with mere negative emotions or experiences is to diminish the very definition of life.


If the artist’s eyes were fixed on death, he would not be driven to create and interpret and express what only life can inspire in the soul.

Creativity is the pursuit to understand all of the emotions and experiences along the journey, before, during, and even after the finality of death. Death simply is, but all that leads to it, may accompany it, or surpass it is what creativity can and does touch. Chesterton asks, “A man chooses to have an emotion about the largeness of the world; why should he not choose to have an emotion about its smallness?” No matter the scale or the nature of the emotion or its muse, it belongs to the experience of life, and such is the only path to creation.


To confuse death with mere negative emotions or experiences is to diminish the very definition of life.

CONCLUSION

In summary, this essay has established that there are divine tenets that direct and determine creativity as an act and as a state of existence. When one finds the courage to seek what is, taps into his ability to connect, commits to the awareness necessary to perceive, concedes to order, holds mystery in high regard, and understands his pursuit of life, he will inevitably find himself somewhere along the journey of creativity and arguably, self-discovery.


To take part in the Idea, Energy, and Power of creation is to embrace these tenets and acknowledge them as inseparable. Sayers says of the artist, “All he can say is that these three are equally and eternally present in his own act of creation, and at every moment of it, whether or not the act ever becomes manifest in the form of a written and printed book. These things are not confined to the material manifestation: they exist in—the are—the creative mind itself.” Whether or not a work of art is the end, there is inherent value in such tenets as it pertains to becoming, more fully, the human beings we were created to be.


The reciprocal nature of creativity—the way the creator impacts the work and the way the work impacts the creator—is proof of its life and power to teach, not just be enjoyed, through the same divine tenets. As Sayers puts it:

“The writer, then, if—under the conditions we know—he is to perform an act of power in creation, must allow his Energy to enter with equal fullness into all his creatures, whatever portions of his personality they emphasize and embody…We all have moments when we desire to take refuge in convention and stand well with every man, and those moments, if the writer will actively embody them in created form, will issue in a true creation—brief and trifling, perhaps, but instinct with power.”

When art pushes back, it is imperative to listen, by the same methods required to bring it to life in the first place. Perhaps as creators, we do not bring any work of art to life at all, but rather, allow life to bring us to the work which was meant for us all along.



 

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Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy. CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2015.

Dante. Paradiso.Translated by Anthony Esolen. New York: Random House, Inc. 2007.


Eikelboom, Lexi. “God’s Back: Jackson Pollock and the Beatific Vision.” Transpositions: Theology, Imagination and the Arts. Accessed November 4, 2023. http://www.transpositions.co.uk/gods-back-jackson-pollock-and-the-beatific-vision/.


John of Salisbury. The Metalogicon: A Twelfth Century Defense of the Verbal and Logical Arts of the Trivium. Translated by McGarry, Daniel D. Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2009.


Kroner, Richard. The Religious Function of Imagination. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1941.


Lewis, C.S. “The dethronement of power: J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers (being the Second Part of The Lord of the Rings)(London: Allen and Unwin, 1954) and J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King (being the Third Part of The Lord of the Rings)(London: Allen and Unwin, 1955),” in Image and Imagination, edited by Walter Hooper. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.


—. “The gods return to earth: J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings)(London: Allen and Unwin, 1954)” in Image and Imagination, edited by Walter Hooper. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.


MacDonald, George. “The Fantastic Imagination” in A Dish of Orts. CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2017.


Milbank, Alison. Tolkien and Chesterton as Theologians: The Fantasy of the Real. New York: T&T Clark, 2009.


Pieper, Josef. In Tune With the World: A Theory of Festivity. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston. South Bend, IN: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1965.


Sayers, Dorothy L. The Mind of the Maker. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1987.


Sellars, J.T. Reasoning Beyond Reason: Imagination as a Theological Source in the Work of C.S. Lewis. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2011.


Schall, James V. The Life of the Mind. Washington, D.C.: ISI Books, 2012.


Tolkien, J.R.R. “On Fairy-stories” in On Fairy-stories: Expanded edition, with commentary and notes, edited by Verlyn Flieger and Douglas A. Anderson. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008.

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