The Spirit-led Artist—The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Creative Process: Part 1

Talent, the ability to learn to do something, is a gift from God.  Skill, the ability to do something, is our gift back to the Lord.

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Author’s Note: This 7-part series began life as a class paper in my doctoral studies at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies around 2001. Because of the importance of the subject and the potential good for the Kingdom of God if these truths became routine, I have revised it and expanded it for this format. The language I used in those years is different from my current use, especially in the use of masculine pronouns as gender-neutral words. I now routinely use he/she, his/her, etc. to refer to individuals. Please read this inclusiveness into the masculine-but-gender-neutral pronouns in this piece. All in all, I want to encourage Christian artists to create what God gives them.

 

INTRODUCTION

The Flow of the Divine

Centuries before Christ, the Ancient Greeks believed in nine beautiful young nymphs called muses who presided over and inspired the arts. Artists would pray to a muse for inspiration. The concept of the creative process as somehow being aided by a divine influence has lived on through the centuries. In a recent Hollywood film, Sharon Stone played a muse. Three centuries earlier, this pagan concept was easily Christianized with the role of the muse given to the Holy Spirit. In 1674 John Milton in Paradise Lost wrote:

Sing Heavenly Muse…I now invoke thine aid… Thou, O Spirit, that does prefer before all Temples the pure and upright heart, instruct me, for Thou knowest: Thou from the first was present, and, with mighty wings outspread, dovelike sat brooding on the vast Abyss…What is dark in me illumine; what is low, raise and support.

The great poet sees the Holy Spirit’s function in the creation of the universe as a continuing role in the creative processes of man. The exploration of the Divine aid and interest in the creativity of man is the goal of this paper. What does the Bible say of this relationship? What does history reveal? What does experience add to our understanding? What does reason demand that we do to facilitate the creative climate of the local church?

 

THE BIBLICAL BASIS FOR SPIRIT-LED AND SPIRIT-EMPOWERED ART

Definitions

I use the term “Spirit-led” in a biblical sense, referring to the coming of the Holy Spirit into the church on the Day of Pentecost. For me, the term means “led by the Holy Spirit and empowered by the Holy Spirit.” In other words, I refer to artistic direction coming directly from God as the art is conceived, crafted, and finished and to a divine power resting upon the work as others experience it. This phenomenon is trans-cultural. The art of the peoples of the world will look and sound different, but the same Holy Spirit will inspire, aid, and instruct the artists within the church in each culture.

The term “artist” must be made specific. My use of the term refers to those individuals who have been gifted by the Lord with creativity and who have disciplined themselves to learn a craft as a vehicle for that gift. I see the source of the vocation of the Christian Artist to be two-fold:

  1. A calling and gifting from God and
  2. faithfulness in the development of that gift into craftsmanship that is useful to the Lord in the building of His Kingdom.

The first of these factors is the prerogative of God. He keeps His own council about how He distributes talent to His people. Our role is to discover His gifts in us. The second factor is entirely up to us. Will we develop what God has given us? Talent, the ability to learn to do something, is a gift from God. Skill, the ability to do something, is our gift back to the Lord.

A person with an artistic gift will probably develop many skills as outlets for that talent. Therefore, someone who can sing, dance, and act is not all that rare—God gave a talent and that person developed three skills to release it. However, no amount of hard work and dedication to any skill can make an individual into a true artist if God has not gifted him with talent. As running coach Sam Mussibini says to Olympic runner Harold Abrams in the film Chariots of Fire, “I can’t put in what God left out.”

Two complementary types of artistic individuals are found in the church: Originators and Interpreters. Originators are those who have an inner need to create something new. The inner drive of the Originator takes him from work to work with little interest in repeating himself. Interpreters are those who perform the works of the Originator. They can repeat the same works time and again with each repetition a source of joy and ongoing refinement.

For example, a playwright—the Originator conceives and writes a play. The director brings the play to life through a host of creative people—the Interpreters: scenic designer, costume mistress, properties master, lighting and sound designers, stage manager, actors, stage hands, house personnel, and so on. One Originator produces work for many Interpreters. I have found that, though both the Originator and Interpreter are artists and can be led and empowered by the Holy Spirit, their needs and motivations are quite distinct each from the other.

The creative process is a mysterious linkage of the talents and skills of the artist with the mind of God. Even non-Christian teachers recognize that artists somehow tap into the divine when they create. Some artists are morning people while others work late into the night. Some work best in isolation, others in the midst of a crowd. Generally, artists cannot fully explain how they do what they do. But each of them has discovered how he works best, and that process is vital to his work. In this paper, I will treat this process as having three stages that should be common to all the individual processes we might discover:

  1. The Conception of work,
  2. The Craft of the work, and
  3. The Completion of the work.

The role of the Holy Spirit in each of these stages is a major focus of this study.

 

 

Featured Image by Raheel Shakeel

This is an updated edition of a post originally published on stevephifer.com

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About the Author

Full of passion for Jesus Christ, Stephen Phifer is a third-generation minister with more than three decades of experience as a pastoral artist, worship leader, and conductor.