I've been reading a book called Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by the current president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, Ed Catmull. (If you get it, consider the audiobook - dude's voice is wonderful to listen to). The book begins with Catmull walking through his history as a young, zealous computer scientist who dreamed of creating the world's first computer-animated movie. After having the chance to work toward that dream as a Ph. D student at the University of Utah, a series of events led him to partner with George Lucas and, eventually, to his having founded Pixar with John Lasseter and another guy you might be more familiar with - Steve Jobs.
As a creative - and one who has functioned independently thus far in what I suppose I'd better start calling my "career" since I'm coming up on adding an eighth year to the journey - Creativity, Inc. has challenged the way I think about, well - creation. And identity. And failure. And fear. And what it means for us as humans to be creative.
The way that Catmull thinks about creation is particularly interesting:
"There is a reason that writers talk about the terror of the blank page and painters shudder at the sight of an empty canvas. It’s extremely difficult to create something out of nothing, especially when you consider that much of what you’re trying to realize is hidden, at least at first."
Catmull goes on to further empathize with artists, describing how it is not as though those pages are loose soil or ground cover with stories beneath them. Rather, he emphasizes that all that white is truly empty, and we "create something out of nothing."
At that, my ears perk up. It sounds so familiar, doesn't it? Like another book I've read about creation.
There are a couple of directions we can go with that idea, theologically. Today, I'll stick with reflection.
For a long time, I've loved a band named mewithoutYou. In one of their songs, vocalist Aaron Weiss sings, "If ever you draw near, I will hold up high a mirror - Lord, I could never show you anything as beautiful as you." It's a gorgeous lyric, and yet I wonder at the fact that, truthfully, Aaron himself is that mirror.
In the beginning, when God creates man, he does so by declaring, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness..." We call the image of God the Imago Dei, and we, though broken reflectors of that perfect image, retain in our very being God's imprint as his good creation.
In the case of Ed Catmull or Pixar animators or Aaron Weiss or Humble Beast artists or the guy who's figuring out how to drain the pool on my flat roof before the ceiling collapses because I live in a traditional New Mexican adobe mud-hut, we are created creators. Of course, "to image" is not only "to create" but it is certainly an aspect of the gift of likeness.
My "creation process" is often just that - processing. I imagine that what will lie ahead, here, are a lot of words about a lot of things, and not the least of which, a bunch of rantings about art, and what it is, and why working to create excellent art matters. I must admit that I feel as though I am preaching to a choir, because Humble Beast has done such an great job of weaving original excellence into the fabric of the culture they’ve set out to create. A healthy theology of creativity itself being a reflection of the image of a redeeming creator is foundational to the label’s vision and mission. Their own biography echoes Shaeffer’s “Art & The Bible”:
“A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself.”
Though art itself is not salvific, good art resonates inside of a person in such a way that it points him in the direction of truth that is - be it a beat or a chord progression or finally realizing that you're actually Andy, moving off to college, remembering how much he loved to hear "There's a snake in my boot!"
There's a reason we resonate so deeply with that creativity. Lyrics aside, I think what I’ve watched Humble Beast create is a standard of artistic excellence that compels an audience, through a common theme that drives it: the offering of the best of one's art.
It is an honor to contribute as I may.