Henderik Roelof “Hans” Rookmaaker (February 27, 1922–March 13, 1977) was a Dutch Christian scholar, professor, and author who wrote and lectured on art theory, art history, music, philosophy, and religion. In 1948 he met Christian theologian Francis Schaeffer and became a member of L’Abri in Switzerland.
Hans wrote a book about the creative spirit called Art Needs No Justification. In reading it, I’ve found that many of his observations relate to the creative nature of every human being, not just artists. His insights can deeply help us think through Christian worship and mission. Take the following quote for example:
“The role of the artist has not always been as it is today. In most cultures, including our own before the new period that began somewhere between 1500 and 1800, the artists were primarily a craftsman: art mean making things according to certain rules, the rules of the trade. The artist was an accomplished worker who knew how to carve a fixture to painting a Madonna, to building a chest, to making a wrought-iron gate, to casting a bronze candlestick, to weaving a tapestry, to working in gold or silver, to making a saddle in leather, and so on. As far as organization goes the artists was a member of a guild just like any other skilled worker. Some were master-artists, and took the commissions for the shop. Others were helpers, apprentices, and servants. A studio was in fact a workshop with a subtle division of labor under the leadership of the man we now would call the artist, and whose name we sometimes still know.
But even if artists did not have the high honors we tend to grant them today (there were expectations in the case of an artist who was honored by their patrons), they did make beautiful things; so beautiful, in fact that we, so many centuries later, still go and look at their works, and often pay much to have their works restored in order to hand them down to the next generation.”¹
I find Hans’ notes here truly helpful in the following ways:
Creativity in the Workforce and Commerce: The context for artistry throughout much of the world’s history was thought to be in everyday blue collar trade smith jobs. Today we think of artsy types as starving, effeminate, flighty, and even disconnected from real life in some fashion. This is not the case. Creativity is one of hard work. It is practical, it is useful and it is beautiful. Because God is creative in his work in all shapes and forms, so should we be. This is our worship unto our Creator.
Creativity in Education: Today we relegate education to institutions that are usually separate from the “hands-on” things of life. Not so throughout our history. The days of apprenticeship need to return. Education is done in the abstract (ideas) meeting the concrete (tangible and physical). Art can help us to consider better ways to learn and educate ourselves for all trades and vocations.
Creativity in Service: Art as it once was viewed was not an “exalted” task, but a menial one. People who learned a trade were one’s that got their hands dirty, and often times their apprenticeship was a thankless job. Today we live in a day and age where everyone wants to be seen, heard, and “noticed.” Art used to fashion service into the heart’s of men and women. Fashioning wood, steel, iron, lyrics, and prose, was to them like chiseling away and ordering their own spirit. It was not the “getting noticed” that drove their craft, it was the joy of the work, and the joy of the character being formed within as a result of their work.
Perhaps Hans in his thinking can influence us to ask some deeper questions about creativity, worship and the Christian mission. Is Christian mission more blue collar than we think? In what ways can we worship God in our own trades and vocations? How can we develop a spirit of joy and character in our work rather than a selfish attitude that screams “Look at Me!!!”
¹Hans R. Rookmaaker, Art Needs No Justification (Vancouver: Regent Publishing, 1978), 11.