Abstraction and the image of God

One thing I’ve yet to mention in the realism/abstraction discussion relates to a Christian’s belief that men and women are created in the image of God.

I believe this to be true.

God created the universe out of nothing; whether you’re a Creationist, old earth person, new earth person or evolution-peddler is irrelevant here. If you believe “God created” in a Biblical sense, you believe He created “out of the void.”

This idea holds great interest for me as an artist. It also contains relevance, I believe, to the idea of non-representational art works.

So, God created. He created “out of the void,” He created something from nothing. He made up the elements, maybe all at the beginning or maybe as he needed them, and them put them together to form carbons and heliums. He organized them into things like water and stone. He put these things together on canvases (the planets, stars, nebula and so on).

I’m jealous of God’s ability to create something out of nothing.

As an artist, a person gifted creatively, I believe I possess a subconscious drive to make something out of nothing. I believe this stems from being made in the image of God. As an artist, I’m constantly foraging for new materials to put together. I find something visually interesting in the garden or in a pile of trash and I pick it up. I think about how it can be put together with other things in an organized manner to create something beautiful or something functional.

I often ponder what it would be like to create an entirely new color, or mineral, or tree.

If we could have observed God creating, every bit of what He created would likely have appeared abstract to us. A star, what’s that? A kangaroo? A pearl? This is a somewhat different scenario than the one we paint and sculpt in today. The only reference point at the inception of Creation by God was God Himself. We now refer to all kinds of historical, social, cultural and political ideas and structures when we create a new piece of art — whether intentionally or unintentionally. However, this does not detract from my point: That the impetus for those of us creating abstract or non-representational artwork lies in our wiring, in our being created in the image of a Creator.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at pcNielsen.com.

7 Responses to Abstraction and the image of God

  1. Tim J. says:

    I’m glad to see you addressing the idea of God creating “ex nihilo”, as this is getting to the real crux of things, I think.

    The question becomes, is trying to create as God creates (what I call “first order” creation) the proper role for the artist, or is there more meaning for us (as creatures) in passing on what we have received (sub-creation, or “second order” creation)? I know Tolkien, for instance, saw this as the artist’s calling.

    There is a parallel in relation to the idea of Revelation. If someone were to ask us what God is like, by far the best way to answer would be to point him/her to God’s revelation of himself in scripture. Speculation about the nature of God, independent of Revealed Truth, can lead into all sorts of wierdness, as can be seen in pagan religions. The attempt may be sincere, but it invariably goes off the rails.

    God also reveals Himself in nature, through what he has made. How he accomplishes this is a mystery, but he infuses his creation with meaning and significance. He also has created us with the ability to sense the significance he gives to created things. We look at nature and are compelled to say (in the words of Roy Neery in Close Encounters), “This means something… this is important”.

    I am not yet convinced that humans – being creatures – can create in this same way God does… that we can really pull off “first order” creation. Decoration and adornment are one thing, significant form another.

    On the other hand, I see great power in submitting our creative will to that of The Creator. I see the mystery of God in Creation still potently present, even in the second-order creation of a visual artist. God speaks through a landscape, and even through a painting, a photo or a poem, His voice resonates (at least if the artist has done his job).

    This second-order creation is not simply straight “realism” or expressionless copying, but incorporates the artist’s own response to the voice of God, just as God communicated his revelation through human beings, and through their skills and gifts, their intellect and emotions. He didn’t dictate verbatim or guide their pens for them, but inspired them inwardly.

    Of course, in the representation of nature there is the danger of setting up a worship of the creature rather than the Creator, but there can be an even greater danger, I think, in the desire to break away from the illumination of nature and attept set up an independent or alternate self-existing reality “ex-nihilo”. The desire to be “like God” can be holy… or unholy – can lead to heaven or hell.

    Sorry this is so long. Like I say, I have been thinking about this A LOT over the last few years.

  2. st. Mars says:

    …I will say that I am not a big fan of non-objetive work as a whole…except Twombley & Richter…
    …my view on creating is like Eccl. ‘nothing new under the sun’…
    …most work is a collage of our influences/experiences…

  3. TAE says:

    At Tim J:

    I don’t believe that humans can create the same way God does either. My point was merely that we are, some of us, driven to do so being created in His image.

  4. Tim J. says:

    I understand that you are not saying people can create “ex nihilo”, which would be impossible, but that there are categories of art that are more analagous to creating “out of nothing” than others.

    I have thought of a couple of possible objections to my own statements over the last day or so, and I will try and share those later.

    I am also doing a post about your blog over at a blog where I hang out and write occasionally.

  5. TAE says:

    What blog is this you write for?

  6. Tim J. says:


    Catholic stuff.

  7. Pingback: Early morning abstraction « The Aesthetic Elevator

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