I had a friend who said that “creativity is hiding your sources.” I was instantly scandalized by that comment and later thought as I heard him speak, “This guy sounds a lot like Rob Bell.” Yet, I often think about what he said concerning creativity and wonder if he indeed was on to something.
We use words like original or unique as synonymous with creative. Yet a survey of recent pop culture shows less and less originality. No wonder that the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote thousands of years ago that “there is nothing new under the Sun.” And yet there are those works and those people who instantly strike you as being creative. If there is nothing new under the Sun, if being creative is hiding one’s sources, then what is it about these people that intrigues us so?
I think about the people who have, through their creative output, inspired me, moved me to something beyond the mundane of my everyday existence. These people showed me something truly beautiful and thus showed me something of God, people such as Vincent Van Gogh, Langston Hughes, Frederic Edwin Church, Frederick Buechner, or Cliff Hutchison. They have each produced inspiration work; yet I believe each of these people would say that they created because they had been inspired by those before them.
Yet, from those sources, they found their own voice, did not try to be anybody else but themselves, the only person they truly could be. And that is what is so fascinating about them, that they are unique because there never has been nor ever will be another Langston Hughes or Cliff Hutchison.
While we are undoubtedly the products of those who have gone before us, we draw upon our sources and synthesize them through our own lives, thoughts, and emotions making something truly creative, even unique.
Perhaps we need to rethink what it means to be creative. Does being creative mean being original? I think not. While something can be ‘new’ for a certain group at a certain time, in the grand scheme of things it is not original, only God Himself is original; the sole creator of all things: “all things have been created through Him and for Him.” This is why creativity is so important to us, it is a part of the Imago Dei, the very image of God the defines us as humans just a much as the dirt we were molded from.
We bear the creator’s image by creating. What is promising about this is that having God as our source means we have a limitless pool of inspiration, leaving room for uniqueness, at least as far as humanity is concerned. Being creative does not mean doing something that has never been done before but to stir the imagination, to shock, to inspire, and to heal. Creativity is most assuredly not limited to the arts, but in imitation of God, subject to every area of our lives. The sin is not being unoriginal but being unimaginative, and unproductive.
So was my friend right about hiding one’s sources? Well, maybe in method, but, I would argue, not in intention. All of our creative output must be born in a state of awareness concerning those who have gone before and ultimately seen as a gift from God to be like Him. So, I put the ball in your court: What does it mean be creative as Christians, as Christ-followers, as image-bearers?
Michael is a student at Denver Seminary. Along with the aformentioned Cliff Hutchison, he will be planting a church in North Little Rock, AR beginning in January.