The Wise Artist

Part 9 in the Series:

The Bezalel Blueprint

By Don Enevoldsen

“When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.” (1 Kings 3:28)

The king in this verse was Solomon. The justice he administered was in a complaint brought to him by two prostitutes.

The first explained to Solomon that they had each had babies three days apart. One night the other woman rolled over on her baby while sleeping and it died. The woman making the complaint claimed that the other had switched the babies while she slept, and the next morning, when she saw that the dead child in her arms was not her child, a confrontation started. Of course, the other woman denied the charges and they began arguing.

Solomon listened for a while and then called for a sword. “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other,” he ordered.

One woman folded her arms and said, “Do it.”

The other immediately relented her claim. “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!”

That was all Solomon needed to hear. He gave the baby to the woman who cared enough about the child’s life to forgo her claim in deference to the baby.

Solomon’s wisdom in this story ran deep. He reasoned that the baby’s real mother would love the child and want him to live, regardless of her own needs or desires.

After listening to the women arguing, Solomon also identified what motivated the mother of the dead child. It wasn’t just grief over the loss of a child, though that certainly was there. More importantly, Solomon detected a jealousy between the two, something that undoubtedly had been there for some time.

Reading the details of this story in 1 Kings 3:16-28, one is reminded a little of the conflict between Leah and Rachel in Genesis 29-30. Leah felt unloved and hoped her children would change that. (Genesis 29:32-34) Rachel was jealous of her sister. (Genesis 30:1) For both, having sons elevated their status.

Solomon saw a similar kind of conflict. The woman who lost her son was determined to either climb over her opponent and gain the higher status by having a son, or bring the other woman down to the same level so that neither of them had any advantage. Solomon’s ruling cut to heart of the dynamics between the two women.

In addition to this great insight, Solomon also recognized that the most important element in the conflict was the well being of the child. Even if he had gotten it wrong and given the baby to the wrong mother, the child would still be cared for by the mother who put his interests ahead of her own.

The Wisdom of Bezalel

The Hebrew word used for wisdom is chokmah. It is defined with terms like shrewdness and prudence. It refers to wisdom in administration, that is, how to lead other people effectively. It also relates to skill in war, where a premium is placed on the ability to inspire men to the highest sacrifices.

Most of my life, when I thought of wisdom, an image of an elderly sage speaking enigmatic proverbs while stroking his long, gray beard came to mind. Genuine wisdom, however, is much more pragmatic. The kind of wisdom displayed by Solomon was an ability to discern the most important elements of a situation and act on them with clarity and purpose. This required an understanding of human nature, that is, what makes people tick and what drives their behavior and their decisions.

Bezelel had exactly this kind of wisdom, one of the identifying characteristics of his role as an artist. This will be no surprise to anyone who has given much thought to what constitutes art.

Art is, by definition, human expression. Inherent in the process is observation, analysis and discernment. A good artist observes the world around him, analyzes what motivations drive what he sees, and he expresses his observations in a manner that connects elements most people would not usually put together.

Even when art deals with non-human subject matter, a worldview is expressed based on the observation of the world. H. R. Rookmaaker explains it this way in Modern Art and the Death of a Culture:

“Art never copies nature, but always portrays reality in a human way. That means that…painting does not copy nature as a camera would, but depicts a human experience, a human understanding, an insight and emotion into what the truth about reality is.”

A painting of a farmhouse says much more about the artist and his worldview than it does about the farmhouse. The manner in which the farmhouse is portrayed matters as much as the subject. If the artist views rustic country life as an ideal, the house will be portrayed to give that feeling. It will appear clean, orderly and peaceful. If the artist believes the ideal is decaying and being destroyed by modern technology, the house will more likely appear neglected and run down.

Both artists and those who appreciate art become students of humanity. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say they are drawn to art because they are students of humanity. We should not be surprised that the fine arts are supported by the leaders in all areas of society. Nicholas Wolterstorff, in Art in Action, identifies an “influential elite” who are drawn to the arts.

“Many members of our cultural elite never think of themselves as members of some elite. They think of themselves as humble, timid concertgoers and gallery-visitors. But in fact the vast majority of people in our society never set foot inside a concert hall or art gallery. And if one looks at the cultural status and influence of the group as a whole which does frequent such places, one sees that they constitute an influential elite in our society.”

The “influential elite” are influential because they understand what motivates people and they have developed the ability to discern and act accordingly. They get things done. No wonder they are drawn to art, which is inherently a study of that very subject. No wonder, either, that art exercises such a strong influence on society.

To be a great artist, then, requires wisdom. A great artist not only understands how people think and act, but a great artist recognizes the importance of art in educating and motivating the community. What the artist motivates the community to do or think defines whether the artist is godly or not.

Next, Part 10: Buddy Christ

Go to the beginning of the series, The Bezalel Blueprint:  Part 1, The Artist Bezalel

Do you have an additional thought on this subject? Please join the discussion and share your insights.

The Wise Artist
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