Art as Co-Creativity with God
The Art of Li Wenzheng (Ningbo, China)
Essay by Jay McDaniel (Arkansas, USA)
We and everything in the cosmos become co-creators with God.
Rabbi Bradley Artson in The Constellation of Process Theology.
Rabbi Bradley Artson in The Constellation of Process Theology.
The Divine Muse
Often artists feel inwardly inspired by something beyond their private egos, but not precisely identical with the subjects they are painting. This something is a muse. A muse is an inner source of inspiration, different from the ego, which beckons, guides and animates.
In process theology muses can be understood in various ways. They can be archetypes within the imagination, welling up from the subconscious with voices of their own; or they can be living ancestors dwelling in the depths of memory. There are many kinds of muses.
In process theology the widest and deepest of muses is the Soul of the universe. This muse is not residing on a throne. Instead the muse is a womb-like mind in whose life the universe unfolds moment by moment.
The Soul is more than us but also inside as the lure to paint our lives wisely and compassionately and creatively, so that we might find the peace and joy for which our hearts yearn. The Soul of the universe is on the side of life, beckoning us to choose life, not death.
Oh that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live.
-- Deuteronomy 13: 9
The creative and performing arts, at their best, are invitations to choose life. They are acts of love, inspired by the divine muse and given to the world, that love may abound. They offer love by presenting truths both possible and actual. The truths at issue are not always pleasant. They can be sad and horrifying, tragic and unsettling. Still the arts present the world as it is or can be. In this presentation, in this showing, there is a certain kind of love, itself God's favorite color.
The love is accompanied by a hope that, even amid the pain and tragedy, there is something redeemable, even if only in the remembering. This redemption through remembering is something the Soul of the universe is really good at. The Soul is an ongoing mural for all that happens, remembered everlastingly. With tender care the Soul seeks to weave even the sadness into some kind of beauty. In this sense the Soul is an artist, too.
If visual art is one of your gateways to an enchanted universe, you may also enjoy:
Listening to Colors
The Colors of the Past
Photography by Maxine Payne
Horses Breathe, Too
Replanting Yourself in Beauty
The Numinosity of Rocks
* Li Wenzheng, the artist featured in the images on this page, is from Ningbo, China. She does not create for profit; her work is not shown in galleries. She paints to give pleasure to her friends and family, including her granddaughter, Rui Miao, who shared them with me. You can find her art and learn more about her by going to her granddaughters' website: Seeing China Through My Grandparent's Eyes.
Always we are painting our lives. Always we are fashioning a present out of a possible future given constraints from the past. Our lives are a canvas, spread out through space and time, and we are the artists, improvising as we go.
Fortunately we have mentors to guide us: friends and family, landscapes and waterways, texts and images, memories and traditions. Additionally there is the divine muse, dwelling inside our hearts, luring us to paint our lives in strokes of love not hatred, beauty not greed.
But even the muse cannot make decisions for us. Only we can choose the colors and sometimes we make mistakes. We can only hope that people will be patient with us, and that we will be patient with them, too.
Each painting is unique and no two paintings are alike. All deserve respect. So many paintings remain incomplete at death, victims of violence and premature mortality. The problem is not death but incompleteness. Perhaps the process of painting continues after death until the painting is complete. We can hope.
We can also hope that there is a mural onto which they all fit, itself a painting in the making. This mural would be what Whitehead calls the adventure of the universe as One, otherwise named God. We are paintings within a Painting, itself with a life of its own. Our brushstrokes are among the components of its life. In some ways we paint God as we paint ourselves. Our brushstrokes add to divine glory and divine pain.
Our brushstrokes are our responses to what happens to us, moment by moment. They include the actions we undertake and the intentions we bring to the undertakings. Sometimes we paint heroically in broad brush strokes of oil, and sometimes much more lightly in water color. Different circumstances require different kinds of paint. Wisdom lies in knowing what kind of paint to use in different circumstances.
As we paint we are joined by countless others in the network of co-creativity. The plants and animals, the hills and rivers, the trees and stars -- they, too, are painting their lives. They, too, embody that continuous creativity of which our minds and the divine Mind are expressions.
The art of Li Wenzheng, featured on the left and below, illustrates the spontaneity of their becoming. Her mountains are mountaining. Her flowers are flowering.
The creating and performing arts, then, are ways of collaborating with a wider creativity that is everywhere throughout nature. The arts are human ways of participating in a co-creative universe.
For us humans co-creativity has two meanings. It means that, with help from the rest of the natural world, we create objects in the world. We are toolmakers and designers, architects and engineers, homemakers and chefs. We create built environments and cultures. And it means that we create ourselves, moment by moment, as we respond to whatever situations face us. Co-creativity includes self-creativity. Always we are painting our lives.
The aim of God is to create a painting of the splotches, to weave them together, like a quilt, into some kind of whole. This weaving is the very life of God. God dwells within each of us as a light to paint our lives with grace and beauty, kindness and courage, strength and tenderness. In those moments when we paint in these ways, we add beauty to the divine life.
Ultimately, God is not a color among colors or a shape among shapes. God is a light which illuminates the world in its colors and shapes, helping them shine forth in their beauty. God is a light within each of us inviting us to celebrate the beauty and bring about more love.
If God has a favorite color, it is probably love.