How Art Made The World: A Journey To The Origins Of Human Creativity, by Nigel Spivey
Sometimes books can be helpful in unintentional ways. Such was the case with this book, which managed through a perspective that is antithetical to my own to reveal some of the aspects of what the author (and no doubt many others) view as creativity and art. One of the mysteries of art and art history and the study of creation and creativity as concepts is that from the beginning of their appearance they are wrapped up in thoughts about God and creation. This author’s celebration of human creativity is done in a context that is directly hostile to the biblical worldview, and while that certainly detracts from my opinion of the author and my enjoyment of the book, it is at least refreshing in a bracing sense that the author was open and honest about the hostility between a focus on mankind as a creator of things in his own image and the understanding and acknowledgement of the fact that our creativity, such as it is, is merely in imitatio Dei. If one is to have an opponent or a debate partner, as this author would be, it is for the best when they make their opposition plain.
This particular book of nearly 300 pages focuses on art from a thematic and not a chronological fashion. The author begins with a look at the artist as a human, making it clear from the start that this book represents a humanistic approach (1). After that the author looks at prehistoric cave drawings to show the birth of the imagination in sympathetic magic and shamanism relating to early heathen religious beliefs that the author celebrates (2). After that the author discusses the way that Renaissance art and other heathen art and sculpture sought to portray humanity in a way that was more human than the actual human body is, exaggerating for emphasis (3) and also the way that art was turned in the service of myth, whether in Hollywood or among aboriginal Australians (4). The author then turns his attention to the importance of landscape art and its exaggerations as a way of showing the way that our imagination creates a second nature (5). This leads to a discussion of the way that states have long used art as a way of promoting the interests of their power and legitimacy (6) as well as the uses of art to show what is invisible and thus beyond our visual knowledge (7). Finally, the author closes with a discussion of art and the representation of death (8) as well as selected further reading, acknowledgements, and an index.
It is rare when an author seeks to provide as many as possible of the various ungodly perspectives that one can have at the same time. The author simultaneously manages to praise artists over history with shamanistic beliefs in sympathetic magic of ensuring fertility as well as successful hunting, exaggerated portrayals of the human nude as a way of celebrating human beauty, the capacity of mankind to create narratives based on fiction or an edited and exaggerated version of facts, the way we distort creation through our view of nature, the way that we use art to further our own power, and the ways that we portray the heavens as well as death and violence (including human sacrifice). All of these ways that the author celebrates art are the ways that humanity has corrupted the creativity capacity that has been given to us by God, and all of them represent problematic aspects of human creativity. And yet the author praises all of them, demonstrating his knowledge of and hostility to the standard for art and design and creation established by God.