|Jackson Pollock, Number 8 (detail), 1944|
Is it more important to make art in a structured manner or an expressive manner? Does organising, planning and measuring not wrench the life out of our creativity? Does a grid sheet not reduce our ideas to a monotonous format? But conversely does random, thoughtless, ‘instinctive’ creativity really work? Is freedom of expression really freedom without some kind of framework to restrict it from bursting into nonsense?
From the very beginning, the bible esteems both structure and expression. Think of the seven days of creation. Each act of creation is penned into a day and yet within the fenced off areas we find abundant expression of colour, form and substance. Each day God gives the same examination of what he’s made, at the same time and in the same manner, and yet each day is remarkably different with new landscapes being formed and dreamt up animals parading the earth.
As we go through the bible we continue to see structure and expression held in perfect harmony. An amazing example of this is the book of Lamentations. What you read is beautiful expressive poetic language contained within an equally beautiful structure. There are five poems (chapters) in the book; the first two and the last two contain 22 verses with three lines each. Each verse in these four poems begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In the third poem, which is at the centre of the book, there are 66 verses of one line each. In this chapter, three verses are assigned to each successive letter of the alphabet. This is just the beginning of an explanation of the structure and already I’m sure I’ve lost you!
In the New Testament in a book like John’s Gospel we see the same thing. It is a series of profound stories put together in a thought-through structure. In this case it is a simple structure. There are seven ‘signs’ (or miracles) and seven ‘I am’ statements which repeat Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God. In and around these main elements there are beautiful stories with layers of meaning. When these are read in the context of the rest of scripture and the contemporary culture they leave you completely in awe. Once again there is strong structure and real, heart-moving expression.
So what do we make of all this and how do we apply it to the art that we make? Well it seems that throughout scripture, which is God inspired art, we see a remarkable partnership between expression and structure. God doesn’t recognise a dichotomy between the two and neither should we. As Christians we should embrace these elements in our art and in everything we do.