“There is no godless art. Although you love not the Creator, you shall bear witness to Him creating His likeness.” -Gabriela Mistral
The quotation above is from the Nobel-prize-winning Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, and it’s been bouncing around my head for the past few days. It comes from the brilliant poem “Decalogue of the Artist.”
Besides the obvious nod to the Ten Commandments (in both formatting and title,) the poem serves as a tantalizing intersection between faith and art.
The question that I can’t seem to wrap my head around regarding the aforementioned line is this: “Do I really agree? Is there truly no godless art?“
“All truth is God’s truth,” yes? St. Augustine certainly thinks so.
By proxy, I can’t readily imagine any truth–whether it’s math-related or scientific or historic–being described as “godless.”The idea of a godless truth seems paradoxical.
But somehow, it’s easier to imagine a “godless art.”
Maybe it’s because it’s easy to find examples of breathtaking “art” that I vehemently disagree with. I’ve grappled with artwork that was out-and-out riveting, but seemed to me devoid of truth or “godless.” After all, didn’t Oscar Wilde say “Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art?”
I believe the truth that Gabriela Mistral is so eloquently unearthing is a little more nuanced.
The first sentence I quoted from Mistral is quickly put into context by the second one: “Although you love not the Creator, you shall bear witness to Him creating His likeness.” Even those who aren’t in sound spiritual standing with the Father are capable of reflecting some of his attributes.
A writer who is godless in his theology can still reflect the awe-inspiring wit of God. The painter who eschews Scripture is still able to portray the grandeur of His work in a landscape painting. Indeed, as the tenth item on Mistral’s decalogue states, “Each act of creation shall leave you humble, for it is never as great as your dream and always inferior to that most marvelous dream of God which is Nature.”
There are artists who reflect the glory of God willingly. There are others who do so reluctantly. There are still others who are dragged kicking and screaming into reflecting the Image of God through their work.
But whether an artist is a willing participant or not, if they are co-creating with God, they are reflecting an aspect of His nature.
One could argue, “I don’t recognize God! My only aim is to create something emotionally resonant.” But who created humankind—and who governs what resounds in their souls but the Creator of their souls?
A person might say, “Some of the greatest literary minds were antithetical to the message of the cross.” That may be, but where the content of their passages may not reflect God, the cleverness of their form can’t help but bear witness to a Supreme Intelligence.
All art is derivative. Every artist is the progeny of one or more artists. If you could dig into this family tree of imagination, you would invariably find that all creative acts trace back to the Creator Himself.
Scripture tells us “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” (James 1:17)
So, no, there is no godless art. Some art reflects a more full-bodied truth of God’s personhood, while some only reflects select parts of his characteristics. But a creative work with any noble aspects, inherently, cannot be godless.