Creativity: Revealing the Truth or the Self?

One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after . . .
to behold the beauty of the LORD…  (Psalm 27:4)

Then Elisha prayed: “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw . . .   (2 Kings 6:17)

In 2008, I decided to purchase a camera for myself.  I certainly had no ‘philosophy’ of photography which was driving me.  I wanted to take pictures of things I enjoyed looking at, and my first interest was the trees.  I was then and am now a walk-by shooter.  I take photos of whatever catches my eye.  Excuse the pun, but I have no focus in my photography.

I discovered however that photography changed me.  It made me pay more attention to nearly everything – from color to light, from the smallest of things to the big picture of landscapes.  I became more alert to sounds and smells as well as shapes, shades and sizes. Patterns interested me and texture, and I realized that sometimes photos told stories.  I realized that unlike language which one has to know to communicate, photos are a somewhat international language which people can understand and appreciate no matter what their native tongue.

I’ve never even risen to the level of being an amateur photographer, for the root of that word means “a lover of …”.   And I know that while I have enjoyed photography, I’ve not loved it so much as to study it or learn how to improve my skills.  I do a lot of trial and error and don’t remember the lessons.

I read Jan Phillips’ book, GOD IS AT EYE LEVEL, with the hope of gaining insight into how to be a better photographer, but realize I probably will always be the walk by shooter and will never take the time to learn the art of photography or the science of the computer which the digital camera is.  I was intrigued by Phillip’s comments on art and creativity, somewhat because I do not share a lot of her values or experience about life, art, photographs or photography.  She writes:

“A creative act is a process of conjuring up something visible from the invisible, of transforming a thought or experience into a form that can be perceived or encountered by another.  Creativity is a universal human urge.  We each yearn to express our experiences in such a way that others can know them vividly and sense their significance.  Art emerges out of this urgency to share our lives, our visions and voices, fears and passions, and every work of art reveals something intimate about the artist.

Her words above are different than my inner life.  I remain an introvert and shy.  I have no yearning to express my inner experiences, no urge to be creative and show off my ‘art.’  I’m amazed when anyone pays any attention to what I’ve written or photographed.  My works are not original, but trying to frame what I see and hear and read – things that stand out from the world around me and all created by someone else.  I find her image of “conjuring up something visible from the invisible” intriguing, but see myself only drawing attention to what is visible, but perhaps overlooked.

Phillips writes:

When I look into a mirror, I see my face, my body, the form of my being.  When I look into my images, it is my soul that I find reflected, parts of myself that cannot be revealed in language.  I could tell you about myself in puffed-up words, exaggerating my abilities, emphasizing my strengths, leaving out my flaws and failings, and you would walk away with a certain notion about who I am.  If, instead, I handed you a box of my photographs and said, ‘This is the essence of who I am,’ your understanding of me would be truer, undistorted by language and interpretation.  My photographs are a direct line to my inner world.  They are the shortest distance between my soul and yours.

While I believe what she says is true, my photos do say something about me, I don’t see them as revealing me as much as they show to what I pay attention.  I’m far more interested in the world outside of myself.  Every one of my photos is an enigmatic photo of me exactly because I’m not in them.  I like to be invisible and so prefer being the photographer than the photographed.  And unlike Phillips, I think even photographs are interpreted so they are always seen through the lens of the experience of the beholder.

Again Phillips writes:

Even more important, my photographs are a direct line between my soul and me.  As much as an image speaks of the things seen, it speaks also of the person who photographs it.  In Photography of Natural Things, Freeman Patterson writes that ‘the finest images- the images that stir our souls- combine documentation of natural things with a sense of what they mean to us.’  My take on a desert dune or a redwood forest is not only different from any other photographer’s but reflects where I am emotionally and spiritually on the day when I’m shooting.  If I am feeling fearful in the face of an oncoming storm, my image will contain a sense of that.  If I am standing on mountain top, awed by the grandeur, my awe will be reflected in the photograph I make.  I listen for what my subject is saying to me, and once I know that, I can make a photograph that expresses both what it is and who I am as I see it.

The above comment is definitely one way in which I fall short as a photographer.  I don’t always think about what the subject or the scene means to me or what I feel about it.  I’m certainly guilty of allowing myself to view life only through the camera and not enjoying or experiencing what is right before my eyes.

I don’t try to capture awe or fear in my photos though I think the idea is right.  I am not as convinced as her that my take on a subject is all that different than others.  I’ve seen the photos of my family members of a given place or event which we all experienced.  We often focus on the same thing, though granted there can be variation on what each was trying to capture in the moment.

Minor White said that the goal of the serious photographer is ‘to get from the tangible to the intangible, to render the image in such a way that it becomes a metaphor for something else- usually the photographer’s state of mind.'”  (Jan Phillips, GOD IS AT EYE LEVEL, pp 91-92)

I wonder, can I see myself in my photography?

It seems to me that for Phillips “art” as just an expression of what is in the person, individualism, the person creates the art.  My sense of art is that it reveals what is there to be seen, especially the beauty.  Is that just another dandelion – another pesky weed, or is there something beautiful that we can see?    Can we see beyond the visible to the invisible Creator of beauty?  I think we can.

The difference in how we see the world is the difference in understanding  between a Transfiguration in which Christ suddenly reveals His divinity like a nuclear blast to His disciples, or one in which the disciples are the ones transformed  – everything that prevents them from seeing reality is removed from their eyes and now in the transfiguration they finally see Christ as He always is.

Phillips in her book writes about “self-discovery” and what a thing or the the thing she photographs “means to me“.  I think what art is really about is discovering the other, the not-me, so that I find my place in the world, in God, my relationship to all that is, because all that is is not my creation or just a way to find me or just what it means to me.  In discovering the other, I learn to think beyond the self, to open myself to love – loving the other and being loved by the other.  I realize their is an entire created order which I did not create but has a real Creator.  Self-discovery can quickly disintegrate into self-love which is the opposite of love, which is always oriented  in the full meaning of that word – exactly other directed or directed toward the other.  Love gives us direction, it orients us!

The beauty of photography is not what it reveals about me, but that it reveals beauty is beyond me, not limited by my ideas, but a window into the eternal Creator which can be seen by all.  The photograph gets me to stop for one second and realize the beauty of truth and the truth of beauty.

3 Million Views

In 2008, I bought myself a camera and used it as an excuse to take walks.

I began photographing the things that attracted my attention.  I was a walk by shooter for sure.

In the 8 years since I got the camera took thousands of photos, just for the love of it.

I’ve posted all my photos at Fr. Ted’s Photos.  And many have been enjoying those photos besides me.

Photography helped me appreciate even more the beauty in God’s creation, and to be thankful for being able to see it.

Sometime earlier today my photos passed 3 million views.  I am truly grateful that so many others have been able to enjoy those photos.

I am not gifted enough to create beauty, but I try to capture it when I see it.

Because of health problems, I haven’t been out with the camera very much recently.  I tried my hand at coloring, trying again to capture beauty.

All of the photos in this blog came from my 2016 Favorites album.

I thank all my viewers and all those who have taken time to like some of the photos and to leave their comments.

Coloring My World

Since my diagnosis with Stage 3 lung cancer and the lung resection (lobectomy), I’ve found myself slowing down in many areas of life.  Sometimes just feeling tired, or having a hard time concentrating.  I’ve been an avid reader all my life, but I find reading more than a few pages tires me and I can’t read for hours.  I don’t have the energy to go on photo safaris as I’ve done in recent years.  So I took up a new hobby – coloring.

It apparently is a very popular creative hobby and fad these days.   In this blog are a few of the pages I’ve colored.  I have no training in art whatsoever, so I have to experiment a bit on any one page as I know nothing about coloring, shading, blending.   I’ve found the hobby to be every bit as relaxing as it is claimed to be.

There are many adult coloring books available to choose from.  Two that I have are COLOR ME CALM: A ZEN COLORING BOOK   and  SECRET GARDEN.

Each of the books that I own have a very different feel to them – so have detailed pictures to color, some are larger, landscape type pictures, some are mandalas.

I first heard about these adult coloring books on NPR a few months ago, and bought one.  I had plenty of old color pencils lying around from when my 4 offspring were children.  It happens that simultaneously one of my sons heard about this and bought me another coloring book and some color pencils.

You can find photos of other pages I have colored on my Flickr page at Coloring.

Free Will and Biology (1)

This is the 3rd blog in this series which began with Environmental Clues, Shaping Behavior and Free Will (1).  In the previous blog, Environmental Clues, Shaping Behavior and Free Will (2), we began considering a USA TODAY article  Why We don’t Really Have Free Will written by respected evolutionary scientist Jerry Coyne.   Coyne is also ardently committed to materialistic atheism which leads to his denial of a soul, of free will or of any non-materialist force which might act upon material creation.   All human behavior for him results from chemical and biological forces – the laws of physics.

Coyne believes that neuroscience has now proven that free will is but an illusion.  My question is whether what Coyne claims is proven science is rather merely his own beliefs – his philosophy, or ideology,  which colors his science.  For it seems to me all that neuroscience can establish is that mental processes have some basis in biological/chemical processes.  Since free will is immaterial, how can science whose thinking is limited to materialism, prove or disprove it at all?

We are after all carbon based beings.  Our minds, selves and souls have no real existence apart from our bodies – that is the very way we were created.  So, yes, at some point all mental and spiritual activities will show some physical signs in our brains or in our nervous system.   When we think, our brains are physically functioning.  The same is true when we make a choice.  What neuroscience can see is the activity of the brain already shaped by experience, and indeed the brain physically goes into action before we begin to act.  This does not and in fact cannot disprove free will.

Coyne writes:

The first is simple: we are biological creatures, collections of molecules that must obey the laws of physics. All the success of science rests on the regularity of those laws, which determine the behavior of every molecule in the universe. Those molecules, of course, also make up your brain — the organ that does the “choosing.” And the neurons and molecules in your brain are the product of both your genes and your environment, an environment including the other people we deal with. Memories, for example, are nothing more than structural and chemical changes in your brain cells. Everything that you think, say, or do, must come down to molecules and physics.

True “free will,” then, would require us to somehow step outside of our brain’s structure and modify how it works. Science hasn’t shown any way we can do this because “we” are simply constructs of our brain. We can’t impose a nebulous “will” on the inputs to our brain that can affect its output of decisions and actions, any more than a programmed computer can somehow reach inside itself and change its program.

I really don’t have much trouble with Coyne’s description of us as biological beings.  That is a fact of both Christianity and science.  When God created the earth and brought humans into existence, however and whenever that may have occurred, humans were made with physical bodies which do follow the laws of physics, biology, chemistry and nature.  Even for those of us who admit to the existence of the mind and soul and self would have to admit that at the moment that humans were created as part of the physical world, any non-material activity (thought, emotion, choice, memories, learning, etc) of the human will have some corresponding physical/physiological activity which can be studied by science.  So when we think, decide, choose, pray, hear God, whatever, there will be something happening to our physical brains and bodies.  We are created as one human being.  We are not dualists.  Our spiritual selves co-exist with our physical selves, and when our physical selves cease to exist, our spiritual self departs this earth.  Thus Coyne’s assertions about our biological selves pose no threat to ideas about a soul or about free will.

Coyne further declares that “True ‘free will,’ then, would require us to somehow step outside of our brain’s structure and modify how it works.”   I am not sure why he believes that free will requires us to step outside of our brains for he offers no explanation for that claim.   It seems based in some dualistic assumption of his that mind and brain cannot be related or that self and brain cannot be related.   Since God created us body, soul and spirit, we live as an integrated whole being.  The soul/self and body are in-personed in an individual.    The exercise of free will thus requires us to use our physical brains to make decisions and choose behavior.  (In the Scriptural description of Sheol – the place of the dead – the dead cannot praise God or do anything.  Why?  Because these dead are separated from their bodies – they exist but without the body aren’t able to do anything.  See Psalm 6:5).    In choosing to do anything we rely on memories which are mysteriously recorded in the electronics and chemistry of the brain.   And also mysteriously we have not only our own memories and learning, but we have instincts recorded within our brains – the memories of distant ancestors also which have become part of us.  These things are more mysteriously recorded somehow in our DNA and then brought to life in each being of our species.

Coyne declares science can’t show anyway that “we” can get outside of our brain structures.  I would say of course not because science by definition is limited to studying and understanding physical realities.  Thought, emotion, memories, creativity, information, wisdom all have non-materials manifestations and so cannot be studied by science.  All science can do is study the physical brain but how exactly an old memory exists in the brain is not known even though we can through neuroscience see it coming to life through neural activity.

Further, I ask, how exactly does creative thought come into existence – we create something new, a new sound or technology that never before existed and yet we can imagine it and create it.  These are not things recorded in our brains, but our brains being used by us to create new ideas, images, and things.

In imagination, emotion, creativity, wisdom, knowledge, inventiveness, we see the human brain doing things far beyond simply calling on memories recorded in chemical or neural activities.   In this way it appears to me that Coyne ignores a great deal of what the brain can do in order to prop up his materialist ideology.

Next:  Free Will and Biology (2)

A Dickens of a Christmas

The historic St. Anne’s Hill district of Dayton hosts a Christmas themed walk through some of its homes.

This year’s walk was called “A Dickens of a Christmas.”

I was given a Christmas present of a ticket to join the walk.

My camera gives me a good excuse to join such a walk.

Without a doubt, some people are skilled at decorating their homes.

Christmas brings out the best in creative home decorations.

I’m not a creative person, and don’t decorate my home, so I enjoy the creative efforts of others.

Not being a creator of beauty, I still enjoy it, and try to capture it in photos.

You can see the entire set of my photos of the St. Anne’s Christmas tour.   Just click on the “slideshow” button above the thumbnail photos to see the tour.

I hope you enjoy and appreciate the creativity of these home owners and  the beauty they create in their homes.  I wish all of you a Merry Christmas!  You can find links to all my photo blogs at My Photo Blogs.

Christ is born!

Glorify Him!