Friday, May 22, 2015

The genesis of art

Out of chaos ... Illustration by Patrick Hoesly, Flickr.

Step 1 of today's post: Read this passage (emphasis mine).
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.

Then God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw how good the light was. God then separated the light from the darkness. God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." Thus evening came, and morning followed -- the first day.

Then God said, "Let there be a dome in the middle of the waters, to separate one body of water from the other." And so it happened: God made the dome, and it separated the water above the dome from the water below it. God called the dome "the sky." Evening came, and morning followed -- the second day.

Then God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered into a single basin, so that the dry land may appear." And so it happened: the water under the sky was gathered into its basin, and the dry land appeared. God called the dry land "the earth," and the basin of the water he called "the sea." God saw how good it was. Then God said, "Let the earth bring forth vegetation: every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it." And so it happened: the earth brought forth every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it. God saw how good it was. Evening came, and morning followed -- the third day.

Then God said: "Let there be lights in the dome of the sky, to separate day from night. Let them mark the fixed times, the days and the years, and serve as luminaries in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth." And so it happened: God made the two great lights, the greater one to govern the day, and the lesser one to govern the night; and he made the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw how good it was. Evening came, and morning followed -- the fourth day.

Then God said, "Let the water teem with an abundance of living creatures, and on the earth let birds fly beneath the dome of the sky." And so it happened: God created the great sea monsters and all kinds of swimming creatures with which the water teems, and all kinds of winged birds. God saw how good it was, and God blessed them, saying, "Be fertile, multiply, and fill the water of the seas; and let the birds multiply on the earth." Evening came, and morning followed -- the fifth day.

Then God said, "Let the earth bring forth all kinds of living creatures: cattle, creeping things, and wild animals of all kinds." And so it happened: God made all kinds of wild animals, all kinds of cattle, and all kinds of creeping things of the earth. God saw how good it was. Then God said: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground."

God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.

God blessed them, saying: "Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth." God also said: "See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground, I give all the green plants for food." And so it happened. God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed -- the sixth day.
Step 2: Let's chat.

Stars shining bright above you. Photo by Pippy, Flickr.

So. Why did I just ask you to read Genesis 1:1-31 from the New American Bible? Because if you have ever created something in your life -- wanted to create something, tried to create something, succeeded in creating something -- you have lived this story.

Let me explain. After nearly three years of study, I am in the final phase of my writing degree, the thesis project of which is to put forth a body of publication-worthy fiction. For the next six months, I will wrangle my stories into works of literary genius (read: passable prose), and those works into a collection. By the end of the process, I will graduate from the program, and then I will start submitting these works to the wider world. And on its way to becoming art, each work is living the Genesis story.

Look for a moment at the bolded statements in the passage above. By my count we have six elements that God deems good -- light; earth and sea; vegetation; stars; sea monsters, swimming creatures, and winged birds; and wild animals, cattle, and creeping things. Then God steps back, surveys what he hath wrought, and deems it all very good.

Steps in a process. Photo by Polpolux !!!, Flickr.

To my mind, each element reflects a critical piece of the act of creation -- not the Biblical version of "creation," but rather the creative births that all artists midwife on a regular basis. For example:

  • Light is the spark, the candle in the coal mine, the brief but vivid hint that something bigger, deeper, richer lies ahead if we keep walking.
  • Earth and sea form the foundations that stay firm beneath our feet and carry us in their currents. They are our envelope, the structure that gives us a cyclical, reliable, immutable space in which to play.
  • Vegetation acts as both fuel and cover. It nourishes us when our energy flags and shelters us when our eyelids droop.
  • Stars symbolize our greater compass, the fiery winks that point toward the meaning of our artistic pursuits. Why must this work live, they ask, and why are you the one to bring it forth?
  • Sea monsters, swimming creatures, and winged birds represent wild leaps, flights of fancy, the spasms of imagination that grip us and help us believe that what we're making is fantastic and beautiful.
  • Wild animals, cattle, and creeping things are whatever keeps us grounded. They are the everyday plod, the humble crawl forward, the fight-or-flight instinct that instinctively moves us -- maybe not always in the direction we want, but still, it's movement.
Then, lastly, we look on everything we have made -- our voice, our message, our art -- and we experience a dizzying moment where the steps gel and the work takes on a very good life independent of our own.

If all goes well with my thesis, my words will transform by the end of it into a new world for reader and writer alike. But unlike the humans in Genesis, I won't have dominion over what is created. Rather, I will watch my art walk off alone into a brave new land born of my mind, not ruled by my hand, and greater than the sum of the acts that formed it.


Prayer #284: On the Seventh Day

On the seventh day my work will be complete.
A nap's in order -- we must celebrate!
My work, however, cannot bear to rest.
Created, it must stretch, inhale, and flex --
a strut of strength within a universe
of countless other works. Art, listen up.
Abundance is your fruit; the fact that you
exist at all illuminates your life.
So revel mightily in your array --
your bursting seeds, slow-creeping things, white wings
that beat against your rib cage. Multiply
at will. Dominion's overrated.

Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment