In thinking about creation in Genesis, we now jump over a bit. We’re going to focus on the second story of creation which puts Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden at the centre. This is a separate story with details that don’t really harmonise with the narrative of chapter 1 to 2:3. So we’re diving into a different story with a different set of theological ideas and motifs to be God-smitten by. And because what I’m writing is for a community of people who have some connection with the arts, I’m going to take the focus tightly into one story within the story.
…out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field
So what has naming the animals got to do with being an artist -or for that matter a scientist or a librarian or any other of a host of human occupations? Well, for me the penny really dropped when I read the account of the ‘incident’ that the Qur’an gives.
Qur’an 2:31 And He taught Adam the names, all of them (https://www.clearquran.com/002.html). In a way, this version says what we might have expected the Bible to say; the idea that God would have taught Adam the names seems entirely in-keeping with notions of God’s sovereignty and understanding contrasted with human fallibility and finitude. The story of Genesis 2, however, shows God sharing with Adam (that is, with us human beings) a freedom to accomplish a task and for that to be given respect and to be allowed to stand. Adam is invited to make it up as they go along and whatever the name? -So be it. God stands back, as it were; it’s up to Adam.
And with this freedom to name is given the task of making sense and putting knowledge in order, in effect. This is the story, in my estimation, that stands at the root of all human knowledge creation: God expects us to ‘name’. Naming involves seeing things in relation to other things and working out differences. We still do it today in libraries, laboratories and universities. We do it co-operatively in discussion and argument. We do it alone but it dialogue with sources and opinions.And we do it as artists (and I’m with Jung: “In everyone some kind of artist is hiding” https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/466474473893746284/ ) a work of art is a kind of naming. Naming not by modulating exhaled air through vocal folds, mouth and nose or impressing arrangements of lines and curves on a surface, but by a myriad of forms and media, giving expression to an experience, an idea, a feeling, a love, a joy, a sorrow, a pain, delight or anguish; playfully or seriously; in all to communicate. ‘And that is its name’. After all “If I paint something, I don’t want to have to explain what it is.” (Bob Ross) -Because it is the explanation -the naming.We humans are called to be co-creators with God, and a big part of that co-creation is to make sense of the world. Some of it artistically, all of it creatively.
I haven’t said how this fits within the story that book-ends it. You might want to read the immediate context and consider also how the naming relates to that in the light of what I suggest above.
A Visual Reflection
I like this picture partly because the animals are separated out by lines as if the artist is showing that naming implies categorising -seeing similarities and differences. You might want to note and reflect on the way that Adam is portrayed ‘theologically’ rather than as the story would lead you to visualise.