Who is an artist? Someone who paints a picture looks around, selects paints and brushes, a surface, perhaps a subject to imitate or a theme to communicate. The artist gathers and arranges materials and presents something new. But what happens when a woman walks by the gallery and notices this painting? She sees and has some reaction, perhaps it “means” something different to her than the artist intended. Or perhaps she is most interested in knowing what the artist wanted to do with the painting. Either way, she gathers into herself the painting and presents, even if only to herself, something new. She too is an artist.
Of course we can point to specific people who are artists, specific things called art and specific people who are the audience. Yet we are always all three. We are the artist, gathering and interpreting. We are an object that other people react to as a presentation of gathered materials. We are the audience receiving and refusing what has been given to us all around. We cannot escape and deny our role as any of these things. What does the artist use that she has not received? How can we cut ourselves off from the reactions of other people and things? Or how can we help but react to other people and things? We are independent and passionate artists, we are objects of criticism and we are critics of others.
The only artist who had no need to create since he had diversity and unity within himself, who existed apart from criticism and who existed before there was anyone else to criticize is the Triune God of the Bible. As Father, Son and Holy Ghost the one God experienced great community apart from creation and had no need of anything. And yet the Bible teaches that God created. He created all out of nothing (ex nihilo). He was not compelled by what came before to fashion creation in a certain way. The Bible compels us to see God as the object of our worship although he does not need it. And strangely, the Bible also portrays God as our audience. He reacts with horror at the sin of mankind before the global flood and with loving-kindness when Noah offers up a pleasing sacrifice after the rains have subsided. Strangely the Bible portrays God as completely sufficient in himself and yet choosing to create something and to bind himself to it even at great cost to himself.
Christ on the cross is the most offensive piece of art imaginable. God is the artist for he has brought this to pass. God is the object slaughtered and mocked. God is the audience who reacts with love in the face of hostility.