Musings on Art and Rembrandt

In January I will begin a Gateway Group focused on encouraging women to find their identity through hearing God’s voice and creative expression. For me, this is the next step in a journey of self-discovery about my own identity and the way God has uniquely wired me for creativity.

In so doing I have dug into studying works of art and the artists who created them. I have also been allowing God to talk to me through a variety of creative media – movies and the books containing the stories of artists whose works I admire. Among the artists I choose to study one would find the names Rembrandt, Degas, Van Gogh, Renoir, Thomas Kinkaide, Georgia O’Keefe, Picasso, and Toulouse-Lautrec (whom I actually researched and studied in my one year of art at age 14). I also found myself researching the quotes of many more like Claude Monet.

Why all this focus on artists you may ask? Honestly, I do not know for sure except that something in me needs to discover why they painted. With the exception of Modern Artists, many of those considered masters from previous centuries ended up impoverished and saw little success in their work while living. It led me to questions.

What drove them to paint when most of them ended up paupers and penniless?

What were their beliefs about God and life?

And, so I write today after reading the first few chapters of a study on Rembrandt written by Greg Watts. Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn born July 15, 1606 and died October 4, 1669. As I’ve perused his paintings and begun reading the history of this seventeenth century Dutch painter I realize a bit of what I know of myself. He painted because in painting life happened for him.

He painted during a time when many artists went to Italy to study the masters like Michelangelo, Raphael and Da Vinci. Rembrandt however, stayed close to his home in the Netherlands and studied under Dutch painters as an apprentice.

Rembrandt’s work may be identified with the Baroque movement which Watts writes was “characterized by movement, strong emotion and dramatic light and colouring.”

In his lifetime the artist created a large body of work centering on his own self portrait. His last portrait of himself painted in 1669:

Mr. Watts comments on this Self Portrait, “….we see a face that has tasted not just triumph, but also disappointment and suffering. Yet we can see in him wisdom and dignity: he has come to terms with who he really is and what the true meaning of life is.”

Wisdom. Dignity. A man who has come to terms with WHO. HE. REALLY. IS. A Man who has come to terms with WHAT. THE. TRUE. MEANING. OF. LIFE. IS.

Here are two of his works that I think reflect such truth:

The first is Belshazzar’s Feast. The classic story of the handwriting appearing on the wall from the book of Daniel which predicted the fall of the Babylonian Empire to the Medo-Persian Empire.

This painting depicts the adulterous woman being brought to Jesus for condemnation. The work reflects such light around the woman, she is not disgraced or nude, but clothed in brilliant white. A picture of redemption.

Watts goes on to say “Rembrandt’s ability to penetrate what it is to be human transcends religious boundaries, and people of all faiths or no faith can be moved by it.”

Greg Watts goes on to note that Rembrandt’s education began at the age of six when he was sent to school for basic education in reading and writing. At nine he was transferred to Latin School but his interest in studies leaned only to drawing and painting. Watts writes, “…that only painting and drawing were able to fully engage his young mind.”

Which brings me to the answer to that question I asked early, why did he paint?

Rembrandt painted because that is who God created him to be. His mind and his heart fully inclined into that which he was passionate about and his paintings reflect not only his identity as an artist, but his identity in Christ as well.

Visual arts by nature are creative expression. If we turn to the Bible to gain understanding about creativity we need look first to the book of Genesis.

Genesis 1:1-3 (NKJV)
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

God’s Spirit hovered over the face of the waters, as the Us of God created light. If we look on into the New Testament, we find the role of Jesus in creation:

John 1:1-5 (NKJV)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

As God the Father orchestrated the plans of creation and the Spirit hovered over the body of the created, through Jesus all things were created. Scripture assures us that NOTHING was created without Him.

Now let me ask you this, how did God create? Go back to the first verse of each passage above. He spoke things into existence and the primary way He has spoken is through Jesus. Interesting right. Hearing the voice of God is really the only prerequisite for creativity. Understanding His creative nature can lead us to open doors we might never consider in our lives.

What is our role in this creative thing that is going on around us?

Genesis 1:27 (NKJV)
27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

We are created in the very image of God, and on earth we reflect His image and glory. If we are in Christ, He is in us and if He is in us then all of the nature of God fully resides in us. God in His very nature is creative. If His nature fully resides in us and we reflect His image on the earth then our identity in Christ, our position in Him, is the only qualifying indicator for creative expression.

Rembrandt realized this in his life’s work and I’m beginning to learn it as I develop the ability to express creatively from my identity in Christ and the things I see and hear as I relate to Him.

God created you to be creative, too. A creativity that expresses His nature and glory on this earth. Technical art skill is valuable and may be developed but without the creative nature of God at work in you art would not be possible.

Many of the “masters” have been known to say that art is a lie that reveals the truth. I choose to believe that art is a light that allows us to express the truth of God within each and every one of us. In you lies a Masterpiece of God’s design. My question for you today is this: How long will you wait to fully express it?

Leave a Reply