Art Isn't Supposed to Be Safe

Why creativity is a dangerous—and necessary—process.

We live in a culture consumed by safety. There are organizations completely dedicated to making sure we’re safe while working and traveling and eating and doing just about any other common practice. And, being good westerners, we’ve allowed our cultural obsession for safety to define our lives as Christians.

We’ve spent the last several hundred years sterilizing our relationship with Christ into a religion that is neat, defined, predictable … and might I say, systematic? We’ve worked hard to eliminate as much of the unknown as possible, and we wonder why we feel distant from a God who exists in the mysterious. We try to compensate with our heads by creating large educational institutions where we can further define and attempt to know God intellectually.

A friend recently asked me: What happened historically that caused Christians to stop being influencers and creators of culture? Where did our creativity go?

The answer? It was driven out by our fear of the unknown and our lust for answers.

But creativity and safety are incompatible.

Creativity is willing to step into the unknown and bring something new into existence.
Creativity is about an unbridled heart that is so free in who it was created to be that it is unstoppable. 
Creativity is central to everything God does. And I’m not just talking about the creative work of the land and seas and animals and you and me. I’m talking about things like redemption, peace, beauty and hope. These things can only exist when we tap into the creative heart of God.

When I pass a homeless drug addict on the street, I can respond with my earthly, uncreative heart that sees what is before me. Or, I can choose to look at him with the creative heart of God that sees something that is yet to exist. God looks onto what seems like a dark canvas of nothingness and imagines a beautiful life—a tree bearing all kinds of good fruit that nourishes those who come to eat of it.

Recently, I was talking with a guy who has lived and worked in Haiti for the last 27 years. He said, “The most difficult thing to overcome in Haitian culture is the pervasive mindset of ‘present hedonism.’” And it seems that statement is true for lots of Americans (especially American Christians) as well. We’re only concerned with the present, the now, today. We’ve lost the ability to dream. In short, his assessment is that one of the largest hurdles in Haiti is a lack of creativity.

As I thought about his statement, I realized that there were two future Haitis—One rebuilt on the foundation of creativity and the other built on the foundation of utility. I posted a question on my blog about it, and the sole response was this: I like the one where their foundation is Jesus.

And that’s where we stand today—in a world where Christians have erected a wall of fear, prejudice and sterility between creativity and Jesus. But when we truly look at the heart of Jesus and the river of the Holy Spirit, all we see is the unexpected.

I remember going to the Grand Canyon several years ago. I was on the road with some friends, and we drove all through the night. The next morning, when I woke up, we were parked in a campsite several hundred yards from the hole. I was so excited to start exploring that I skipped breakfast and jogged up the path to the canyon. It was beautiful. We hiked all day along the ridge occasionally walking out on the narrow pieces of rock that jutted from the main path—only three feet wide with hundreds of feet of cliff on each side. And no rails!

God wants to take humanity deep in the mystery of Himself, but for generations, Christians have stood on the bank of the river of His Spirit. And over time, the river has carved out a canyon before us. That canyon gets deeper and deeper. The rushing waters we’re meant to swim in get farther and farther away. Some thought about diving in for a while, but eventually the river just looked like it was too far down to jump in. So we started building a fence. And today, that fence keeps us safely perched on top of the canyon. We have taken to study the rocks and the sand and the bushes. We become intimately acquainted with the signs of what once was. And as we turn our backs to the river, we settle into the comforts of the land.

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But I’m so thirsty. And I know there are people in the world who are too—people who are ready to swim in the river of God, not exactly sure what will happen, but ready nonetheless.

So, what do you say we tear down the fence, stand on the edge of the cliff and jump into the unknown, beautiful, creative heart of God?

Cole NeSmith is a pastor at Status in Orlando and creator of Uncover The Color. This article originally appeared on his blog.



Anonymous commented…

In essence, I agree with breaking down walls of fear for Christian Creativiy.

I also like Jeff Schaap's comment. I see myself as someone who loves to study God as well as celebrate Him creatively.

I can't paint the Grand Canyon & capture it's spirit without having spent much time there and have something accurate to convey. When we neglect the study our art is misrepresentation. How many people have made beautiful art on the Samaritan Woman at the Well with a small pot in her hand & young beautiful face? In truth the waterpot would have stood atop her head--strong, poised, aged with experience & disappointment.

Know that which you seek to recreate in art. In that we can combine talent & skill. In that is the heart & truth of God's creativity to be fond pouring out.


Jamie commented…

Remember in The Wonder Years where Ben Stein recited scientific data in monotone while a film reel played through images and the students all fought sleep?

I often feel like this is what people picture when they hear the word, "theology". But "theology" is the knowledge of God. I could never understand where people were coming from when my experience of studying theology brought such life and unbridled joy which overflowed into creative expressions of art, poetry, music and dance- not because anyone told me to try to be creative, but as a sincere response to truth.

Then, I went to Bible school for 4 years and took several systematic theology courses. The information was all stuff that I had already worked through or understood in my own study on my own time, and had thoroughly enjoyed it. But in the setting of Bible college with the way the "information" was delivered, (like it was information, not fire in my bones or water to my soul) I understood the grimaces to the word "theology" that others had. The problem in The Wonder Years was not the content of the information- science is fascinating and awe-striking. It was the delivery.

I wonder if this argument from artistic types about the church not dealing with the mystery of God is trying to address the wrong problem. It's not that the church doesn't have the content, it's that the church doesn't always have great delivery. And maybe the answer is just you being yourself and responding to God in a sincere way. I think it's less about "mystery" and more about artists needing to be confident in their own responses to God/truth. You don't need to try to make up something new or mysterious or that the church has never addressed, just respond to the truth you see without holding back or thinking of what people in the church who aren't you will think. In the church, we are a family, and artists cannot just escape and be with those who they know will accept and understand everything they do automatically, the way artists who aren't in Christ often do. Don't complain or point fingers at the people who aren't as naturally wired to express things creatively for not doing it first. You just be your best self in response to God and we the Church (or at least many of us) will receive it as a blessing.


Joseph Knight commented…

I disagree strongly that "the only hope for Haiti - or any person or group of people - is Jesus". What a limit put on hope. The answer is rarely just one answer. Perhaps a religious belief in a deity will give people hope and pull them through their troubles but the likely salvation of human kind (should it be saved at all) will in the future be a brave few who had the courage to take risks in order to make a positive change, and will almost certainly not be the actions of a supernatural being intervening with the universe's natural processes.



Braelyn commented…

You have to see past earthly salvation. Yes, we can and should be making the Kingdom of God here on earth, but not forget about eternity. Meeting basic needs has to happen, and that includes spiritual needs.

Andrew Parker


Andrew Parker commented…

"God wants to take humanity deep in the mystery of Himself, but for generations, Christians have stood on the bank of the river of His Spirit. "

Ugh i grow weary of this stuff.

There are tons of incredibly creative christians doing amazing stuff. Get on tumblr, Sufjan Stevens, Les Miserables, it's everywhere.

The problem is that when christians are doing art well it's not called christian art so it's a silly title we should just quit talking about.

I would be interested in the Author's view on graphic sexuality in recent TV shows....
Girls, House of Cards, Game of Thrones. They are all disgusting. Is it good art though?

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