The God of creation is also the God of history and of liberation/salvation as is clear from the prophets. Indeed, the prophets who preach justice and peace were themselves creators and artists. Consider this song from Isaiah:
Send justice like dew, you heavens,
Let the clouds rain it down.
Let the earth open up
So salvation will spring up,
Let deliverance too bud forth
Which I, Yahweh, shall create. (Is 45:8)
Recently Heather Cox Richardson shared a powerful story of the role art played in the darkest times of the deep depression in America.* Inspired by the art movement in Mexico in the 1920’s, advisors to FDR proposed that the government could hire artists to “paint murals depicting the social ideals of the new administration and contemporary life on the walls of public buildings.”
By “encouraging the fine arts as a function of the Federal Government,” the government could “alleviate the distress” of American artists. The first speaker invited to address the cabinet meeting was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who very much endorsed the idea.
The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) was born December 8, 1933 and when it ended four months later, 3,749 artists had produced more than 15,000 paintings, sculptures and public murals and were paid by the government to do so.
The first project was Coit Tower in San Francisco with its 3500 square feet of blank concrete walls. Inspired by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, 26 artists with their 19 assistants transformed the blank walls into frescoes and murals celebrating California life. It depicted striking workers, farmers, cowboys, travelers, news stenographers, chauffeurs, and car accidents.
Other artists were paid to do parallel projects all over the country depicting both rural and urban American life.
The project was so successful that from it was born other programs to fund artists—including writers. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) operated from 1935 to 1942.
A society that supports the artist is a healing society.
* Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American, email@example.com, December 9, 2023.
See Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, pp. 178-200.
And Fox, Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet, pp. 199-227.
Also see Fox, The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood For Our Time.
Banner Image: Public Works of Art Project mural on Coit Tower: “Industries of California.” Wikimedia Commons.
Queries for Contemplation
How do you find art and artists healers of society? How do you find the artist in you doing the same?
Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality
Matthew Fox lays out a whole new direction for Christianity—a direction that is in fact very ancient and very grounded in Jewish thinking (the fact that Jesus was a Jew is often neglected by Christian theology): the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality, the Vias Positiva, Negativa, Creativa and Transformativa in an extended and deeply developed way.
“Original Blessing makes available to the Christian world and to the human community a radical cure for all dark and derogatory views of the natural world wherever these may have originated.” –Thomas Berry, author, The Dream of the Earth; The Great Work; co-author, The Universe Story
Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet
Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.
“Matt Fox is a pilgrim who seeks a path into the church of tomorrow. Countless numbers will be happy to follow his lead.” –Bishop John Shelby Spong, author, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Living in Sin
The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood For Our Time
Thomas Aquinas said, “To live well is to work well,” and in this bold call for the revitalization of daily work, Fox shares his vision of a world where our personal and professional lives are celebrated in harmony–a world where the self is not sacrificed for a job but is sanctified by authentic “soul work.”
“Fox approaches the level of poetry in describing the reciprocity that must be present between one’s inner and outer work…[A]n important road map to social change.” ~~ National Catholic Reporter