Sunday, July 11, 2010


Sacred Text is often referred to as "the Creative Word". For many years, I have wondered what this means. Of course, as you know, it can refer to creative power of the Word of God in helping create a divine civilization, and transforming the hearts of people in order to help bring this about. But how else can we understand it? This is the question that has been puzzling me for years.

As an artist, it has often occurred to me that I am demonstrating creativity when making my art. And creativity, as you know, comes from the root word "create".

With that concept in mind, I have had the blessing of being able to ask a number of artists to create for me a piece of work based on the Creative Word. Usually, it would begin with someone wanting to trade for one of my pieces, and end up in a conversation about God.

"As you know," I might say, "we are created in God's image. Obviously God is not a male about 6 feet tall with dark curly hair, so what does it mean to be created in His image? I believe it means we have the attributes of God within us. Therefore, if God is the Creator, we are creative." And I go on depending upon their reaction.

After that, I may talk about how I am a Baha'i and believe that the Writings of Baha'u'llah are the Creative Word, which I feel should help them, as an artist, to create. If they agree to a trade, I will choose a piece of the Writings and ask them to make a work of art based on it.

For example, one really good friend of mine, Robert Pasternak, owed me a bit of money, so I told him I wanted a painting. He began to show me a number of his paintings that he still had kicking around his studio before I was able to stop him. "Robert," I said, "I would like an original piece based upon the Tablet of the Holy Mariner."

"The what?" He had never heard of it, but knew that it was probably a Baha'i piece of scripture.

I gave him a copy, and a handful of years later, he gave me a painting.

It is called "Arc of Eternity", and is based on the following extract from Baha'u'llah's work:

O Holy Mariner! Bid thine ark of eternity appear before the Celestial Concourse...
Launch it upon the ancient sea, in His Name, the Most Wondrous...
And let the angelic spirits enter, in the Name of God, the Most High...
Unmoor it, then, that it may sail upon the ocean of glory...
Haply the dwellers therein may attain the retreats of nearness in the everlasting realm

Another good friend of mine used to be a horror painter. He was one of the best in the field. When he declared, he came up to me one evening and asked if it was appropriate for him to draw horror as a Baha'i.  I think the basis of his question was that line from Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, "Such arts and sciences, however, as are productive of good results, and bring forth their fruit, and are conducive to the well-being and tranquility of men have been, and will remain, acceptable before God."

Oh, an aside here. (I realize that I haven't been doing many asides lately, and I am sorry for that. It's just that I've been preoccupied with other things and my thoughts tend not to wander as much when I am preoccupied. Funny that, isn't it? But that's just the way my brain seems to work. Go figure.) It was after I realized what Baha'u'llah is saying in that line, about bringing tranquility, that I began to question some of my tastes in art. I used to love horror movies and punk music, but then began to see them in a different light. In fact, this whole shift in my perspective naturally changed all the arts I expose myself to. Now my preferred music is classical (yeah, Mark, Dad would have a field day at that, wouldn't he?). My preferred movies are thoughtful drama, or science fiction / fantasy. Clean comedy will do, also. Anyways, just thought I'd mention how reading a single line affected my tastes.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, Steve (the artist). He asked me if it was ok to still do horror. Why he asked me, I'll never really know, but it may be that I introduced him to the Faith, and he thought that I might know what the Writings say about it. Well, I didn't. Instead I just tried to point him to what seemed reasonable to me: The Fire Tablet.

"The Fire Tablet?" Yes, The Fire Tablet. What better piece for a horror artist to illustrate than The Fire Tablet? Can't you just see "Indeed the hearts of the sincere are consumed in the fire of separation..."? How about "The necks of men are stretched out in malice: Where are the swords of Thy vengeance, O Destroyer of the worlds?" Wow. The thought of it boggled my mind. Still does.

But my friend just couldn't quite imagine doing so many images in a single piece, both the lament at the beginning and the victory at the end. How would he compose what would have to be such a large piece?

I suggested he look at Rodin's "The Gates of Hell". In that piece, pictured below, Rodin told a magnificent story in sculpture, but to do so, he had to perfect all the different components. Nearly all of his most famous works are actually part of that larger piece. The Thinker, The Three Graces, Adam, Eve, Fallen Carytid Bearing Her Stone, She Who Was Once the Shoemakers Beautiful Wife: all of them come from that single piece.

Now my friend could envision the tapestry of The Fire Tablet as a magnificent painting. For the past umpteen years, he has been taking a line at a time and painting it (as far as I understand), getting it ready to go in the full piece. Hopefully we'll both live to see it completed.
There are also numerous artists who have agreed to try this, such as the Inuit carver who was going to carve a sculpture based on the quote, "But for the burning of their souls and the sighing of their hearts, they would be drowned in the midst of their tears, and but for the flood of their tears they would be burnt up by the fire of their hearts and the heat of their souls. Methinks, they are like the angels which Thou hast created of snow and of fire." I was so eager to see how he would have interpreted this in soapstone, but he never did.

Another friend of mine carves bone, and she was going to make a piece based on "Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch." She had a moose antler and a piece of ebony that were of similar size and shape. She was going to mount them to form a tree shape and carve as many different leaf-types as she could. In addition to this, she wanted to carve the various holy symbols hidden within so that you had to turn the piece clockwise and look from the bottom up to see them. But it was too grand a vision for her to execute. Oh well.
Now, you may ask yourself, "Why would he do this? Was it just to share the faith with a couple of artists?"

No. It was not. The idea I had, and which I would still like to do, but can't do on my own, was to publish a book. On the left page would be the quote, beautifully printed, along with a short explanation by the artist. On the right side would be a photo of the work of art.

It's good to have dreams, isn't it? And all this just from the idea that we are created in God's image.

Oh, and if you want to take over this project, feel free to ask. I'd be happy to lend the pieces I already have. And I want a copy of the book when it's published.

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