“Solomon got it wrong! Solomon got it wrong!! There ARE new things under the sun” – so said the Conference speaker.
I thought about that idea. Is there really anything new under the sun? I mean, Solomon said it, right? “…there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has been already in the ages before us.” Interesting. So how does artistic creation fit into that assessment? What about creativity? Is creativity even the right word to use? Is it such a bad thing to say there’s nothing new under the sun? I mean, consider movies…
74 out of 100 movies are either sequels or remakes of earlier films or adaptations of comics or books. Most box office hits take something that’s old and transform it into something ‘new.’ For example,
– Pirates of Caribbean: 3 sequels from a film adapted from a theme park.
– Transformers: Two sequels to a film that was adapted from an animated TV show based on a line of toys.
– Julie and Julia: a movie based on two books, one of which was based on a blog, which was inspired by the other book, that was adapted into a film.
– 11 Star Trek films, 12 Friday the 13th’s, and 23 James Bonds…TWENTY THREE! That’s a lot of ‘shaken, not stirred’s.’
A buddy of mine sent me a short documentary referencing this very thing called “Everything is Remix.” The author rightly claims that stories have been told, retold, transformed, referenced, subverted since the dawn of music, cinema, etc. Everything is a remix. Take the film, Avatar. It’s not a sequel, remake or adaptation. It’s science fiction, and as this author points out, falls within the sub-genre thread called, “feeling bad about Colonialism.” It’s reminiscent of films like “Dances with Wolves,” “The Last Samurai,” “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Dune,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “A Man Called Horse” and of course, “Pocahontas.”
Consider music. The great English rock band of the 60’s & 70’s, Led Zeppelin. They have often been called ‘ripoffs’ for tunes such as “Dazed and Confused,” a song previously written by Jake Holmes. “Stairway to Heaven,” pulling the opener from Spirit’s “Taurus.” Copying and remixing is a normal practice in the arts; and some artists are more subtle that others. Niccolo Rachmaninoff is known to have taken a line from one of Paganini’s pieces, reworked it and transformed it into something entirely different. But original? New?? I mean, this very piece I’m writing is bits and pieces taken from handfuls of people before me!
Henry Ford said, “I invented nothing new. I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work. Had I worked fifty or ten or even five years before, I would have failed. So it is with every new thing. Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready and then it is inevitable. To teach that a comparatively few men are responsible for the greatest forward steps of mankind is the worst sort of nonsense.”
Johannes Gutenburg’s printing press was invented around 1440, but all of it’s components like ink, paper, screw press had been around for centuries. Even Henry Ford’s Model-T came about from combining various processes each of which were not new to his time. Not original ideas, but as one author says, “tipping points in a continuous line of invention by many people.”
So perhaps “creativity” isn’t the best word we should use.
Jeremy Begbie, a scholar and musician at Duke Divinity School finds the word “recreation” helpful. I agree. That’s essentially what we’re all doing, isn’t it? Discovering material, copying material, combining material that already exists. We’re dealing with existing material. We’re always taking something that exists and turning it into something. Taking an idea and creating variations. Edison may not have invented the light bulb, but he did however make the first commercially viable one after trying six thousand different materials. SIX THOUSAND!
In considering this process of ‘recreation,’ I think it’s important for us to see that the arts actually help us better understand the great truths of the Christian gospel. The idea of taking something broken and crooked – and recreating it to be whole and straight. Sound familiar? Isn’t that what God has done with each of us? He uses broken-finite-fallen-sinful people to turn to other broken-finite-fallen-sinful people and preach the gospel news of Jesus Christ. God can strike a straight line with a crooked stick. The arts teach us to see potential in the most unfavorable and unpropitious places.
I was emailing with a friend about this very topic, who’s actually in the movie biz, and I appreciated his response. He said, “It’s all derivative. Ultimately ‘remix’ is revelation; a moment or process of discovering who God is and what our relationship to Him is.” Isn’t that so true! It’s in that process of recreating that we sense the all-creative God with us in the process, moving us to a sincere place of gratitude and astonishment. As my friend further commented, the creative process is oftentimes stunning. Not so much for what we create, but for the real sense of God’s presence in the process.
So, was Solomon right? Is there such a thing as an original work?
What’s more, what are some other ways through which the arts inform our theology?
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