Discussion of a C.S. Lewis Quote
A Christian and an unbelieving poet may both be equally original ... and draw on resources peculiar to themselves, but with this difference. The unbeliever may take his own temperament and experience, just as they happen to stand, and consider them worth communicating simply because they are his. To the Christian his own temperament and experience, as mere fact, and as merely his, are of no value or importance whatsoever: he will deal with them, if at all, only because they are the medium through which, or the position from which, something universally profitable appeared to him.
... C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), “Christianity and Literature”, in Rehabilitations and other essays, Oxford University Press, 1939, p. 193
Some years ago at a group exhibition I noticed that in every persons blurb about their work it was made clear that the primary source of inspiration and ideas had come from ‘within’. The work was not about the world as we look at it but, was about ‘me’ as I look at ‘me’, how ‘I’ feel, how ‘I’ think, ‘my’ existence and the idea that who ‘I’ am is all I can ever truly know. The general ethos was that art is about ‘me’ and for ‘me’. C.S. Lewis warns Christians about this self exalting attitude to making art in the quote above. He says, “To the Christian his own temperament and experience, as mere fact, and as merely his, are of no value or importance whatsoever…” Isn’t that a bold statement in todays society! But it’s true, isn’t it? The only thing of true value to us as Christians is that which comes from outside, that which comes from God. Paul says in Romans 12 verse 3:
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”
The only thing inside us of value, and worth considering, is the faith that has been given to us by God. This should make us very humble and outward-looking artists indeed!
Now let’s look at a couple of brief examples of God’s people making art in the bible. What was their primary resource and who did their art benefit?
Adam’s first recorded acts of creativity;
- He looked at Gods creation and named the animals.
- He looked at Gods creation and composed a poem about Eve.
His acts of creativity were not about him but they were about the gifts God had given him in the world. Who benefited? Primarily not Adam (although he would have found pleasure in his creativity) but the animals, Eve, and ultimately God as he watched his creation being “very good”.
Or consider the Psalms. The writers are always outward looking, always singing about the world around them and their faithful creator. The overriding sense is that what’s inside of man cannot be trusted; we can trust God alone. Take for example Psalm 103 verse 1:
“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!”
The Psalmist doesn’t in anyway exalt his own soul but rather he exhorts his soul to bless the LORD. There is no hint of self exaltation or pride. Although the Psalm is deeply personal there is no doubt that the emphasis is not on ‘me’ but on God. So who does the Psalm benefit? This Psalm has benefited, served, and challenged people for centuries and it undoubtedly honours the creator of heaven and earth!
There are many, many other examples we could look at through the bible but finally let’s think about Jesus. You might say that Jesus was not an artist (aside from his carpentry) but every word and action from Christ was loaded with creative meaning and purpose, and what’s more, he always looked outside of himself for his material. As John 15 verse 15 says,
"…for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you."
The source of what Jesus said and did was God the Father. All of his miracles, radical actions, conversations, parables, statements about his identity, everything found its source in God. He looked outside of himself even to the point of death as Paul writes in Philippians 2 verses 6-8:
“…though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
If you’re an artist, I challenge you to consider C.S. Lewis statement above. Is your art made in reference to your take on the world or Gods take on the world? Does your art serve you or does it serve other people and honour God?