Monday, March 9, 2015

The Image of the Maker

In The Mind of the Maker, Dorothy Sayers uses a (layman’s) psychological view of the artist to demonstrate Christian doctrine. At the point in Genesis when God says, “Let us make man in our image,” almost all we know about this God, she points out, is that He created. The image imprinted on his human creation, then, is that of a maker. Consequently, she goes on, we should have insight into the nature of God by examining artistic creation. And she does a remarkably good job drawing parallels between artistry on the one hand and Christian theology on the other. The Trinity, the two natures of Christ, the Incarnation, free will and predestination, sacrifice and redemption, and more all find their way into the discussion. And if the parallels work, the doctrines should, Sayers hopes, look a little less foolish in the eyes of the world; if we see something like a trinity in the acts of the artist next door, we can’t well say that the theological doctrine of the Trinity is completely unlike anything we’ve ever encountered and thus irrational.

The doctrine of the Trinity was actually the least convincing parallel in the book to my way of thinking. Sayers cites Augustine in the epigraphs at the beginning of the relevant chapter, but she didn’t use Augustine’s own parallels. I find the good bishop’s idea that the power of the Father, the wisdom of the Son, and the love of the Holy Spirit lie within every human action interesting and helpful. I just lit a candle: I did it because I had the power (or physical ability) to do it, because in practical wisdom I know what actions to take in order to light the candle (take off the lid, pull the trigger on the lighter, touch the flame to the wick), and because I wanted to do it (i.e., my will was directed toward the action in love rather than away from the action in aversion). But Sayers aligns the Father with “the Idea” (which sounds confusingly close to Augustine’s wisdom, which he ascribes mainly to the Son), the Son with “Energy” (which she sometimes refers to as “Activity” and which sounds a lot like the “power” of Augustine’s Father to me), and the Spirit with “Power” (which sounds exactly like “power” to me, and possibly to you as well). She’s certainly free to outline her own trinity of ideas inherent in a given artistic act, but why start off citing Augustine only to cut against his grain?

But then she eventually makes something of this trinity of Idea, Energy, and Power. I have in my mind the Idea for a book (or a blog post); in other words, I know which way it’s going to go and what its general tone will be. I may not know all the details at first, but then these come into concrete reality (are incarnated) when I commit the Energy to actual composition. No line can be written without the guiding Idea, and no Idea comes to fruition without the Energy. The two are logically but not actually separable. Finally (because the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son), the completed work (or the completed line, or even just the discovery of one perfect word choice) is an existent human artifact whose Power is experienced by the artist and any other reader (viewer, listener, etc.) who comes into contact with it.

In one of the most interesting parts of the book, Sayers demonstrates artistic heresies through her trinitarian doctrine. I have to admit that the section on artistic gnosticism hit very close to home. The religious Gnostic believed that Jesus’ appearance on Earth was only an illusion; matter is evil, and the good, wholly spiritual God could not actually take on flesh without damaging Himself. Her parallel representation of gnosticism in art comes from the playwright who loves his ideas and possibly even the words on paper but hates to have anything spoiled by actual directors, actors, and set designers. Everything makes sense in her own head, but not when “incarnated” on a physical stage. Well, I have a long history of writing songs for ideal bands. Some of them include intricate guitar parts, and not only have I never found a guitar player to perform any of them, I don’t even know if the parts could actually fall under human fingers placed on an actual fretboard. I’ve written vocal melodies that I think could be sung by certain singers I’ve heard on recordings (the guy on the Alan Parson Project’s album based on Poe stories would be fantastic on some of my songs), but these melodies were all composed with no hint of a practical plan for getting said singers to perform them.

I don’t even to this day know the name of the guy on the Alan Parson Project’s album based on Poe stories. I’m too much of an artistic gnostic.

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