A few years back I was commissioned to be a part of a live painting show. The event was taking place in two weeks and so I began prepping. Things were going well and I felt good about the piece I would be performing. But the day before the event, as I was doing my final rehearsal, I realized all the brushes I used had dried out while prepping the canvases the night before. Scattered across the drop cloth were four or five brushes, at one time life giving instruments, but now unusable.
Whether it is a dried out paintbrush that cannot hold paint like we need it to or a pair of shoes that are damaged far beyond repair, items like these are usually tossed out and considered worthless. After all, this is practical; nobody wants dozens of dried out paint brushes that can't perform the function they were designed for.
But what about a human being? What happens when humans cannot accomplish a task, or more specifically, can’t accomplish the task they believe they are on this earth to complete? Are they, too, rendered unusable like a dried out paintbrush? If so, this means an author is only worthwhile so long as they evade writer's block, and a painter is only valuable so long as they complete their paintings.
As an artist and athlete, I have wrestled with this question. Whether athletics or creativity, my crafts seemed woven so tightly to my identity that for one to be ripped meant my soul became torn. Having one career succumb to injuries left me pondering a question that I believe all people should ask, and many continuously do:
Do I hold any worth apart from my craft or talents?
An ancient Mesopotamian creation account tells of the god Enki creating a race of slaves (humans) out of clay and blood to do all the work the gods did not want to do. Aristotle's Politics presumes there are certain people born to be slaves and they are not much different than tame animals because they both minister to the needs of life. These writings greatly contrast the account of Genesis and the claims of Scripture. Humans are declared as more than mere beings serving only a vocational function in creation; instead, they are creatures made in the Imago Dei (the image of God), which provides the basis of their vocational function. Humans are declared as more than mere beings serving only a vocational function in creation; instead, they are creatures made in the Imago Dei (the image of God), which provides the basis of their vocational function. As Derek Kidner points out in his commentary on Genesis, humans are the only ones given a job description in all creation. The plants and animals are told to reproduce, but humans are given rule over creation. Therefore, humans are not created as utilitarian beings, that is, their primary purpose for creation was not practicality; instead, it was an extension of who they are under the distinctive title of being an image-bearer of their Creator. From Genesis we can conclude that we work, craft, and create as an extension of being in the Imago Dei because
our God is a worker, a craftsman, and a creator Himself.
There is something deeply personal, internal, and spiritual about the process of creating something. It's a connection that can't be expressed by the economy of the creative world. If we're relying on the marketplace to render a value to our creativity, we have short changed our creation and ourselves. The value of creativity extends far beyond marketplace value as does a person's humanity far beyond their creativity. When our craft takes precedence over the Creator, even the best things of creation become the worst kinds of idols. This is because we have reversed the extension and the weaker joints cannot sustain the heavier, causing a fracture that shatters us deeply.
With the proper perspective of the Imago Dei being our identity and our work as an extension of that identity (and more specifically, a Christian's transformed craft that reflects their transformed life), perhaps we can now laugh as we recognize we once looked towards our finished work as a measure of our value. I say this because we are strangely dissatisfied with finished pieces, especially when they are our own. Within animation specifically, by the time the final viewing commences, I have watched the scenes so often I don't want to see the scene anymore because it's already become old to me. When our work's final product becomes the measure of our calling, we most certainly will reach our wit's end shortly along the journey. But if our calling's value is measured by the process that imitates the present transformative changes in our lives, they will be richer than a sale tag could ever express.
Finally, we must remember that
"while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8
This is how we know God's love, that it extended to us amid our sin and before our divinely transformed gifting ever began creating. The moment we begin to let our transformed gifting carry our identity's weight, we are worshiping the creation and not the Creator. But the moment we allow our transformed identity through Christ and the Imago Dei as the anchor of our lives, then our creative expressions can become a life of vocation.
That day, as I saw the battered brushes dispersed across the cloth, I shrugged my shoulders, leaned over the array of colored buckets, dipped my hands into the ivory white paint, and began painting. I quickly realized the characteristics of each stroke portrayed a more authentic look then what the brushes had been providing and I quickly fell in love with the emotion it portrayed in the final piece. Since then, I’ve been an artist free from the bond of his craft.