3 Traits Of An Artist

Exodus 35:30—36:2 is one of the most helpful summary passages in Scripture that reveals a description and role of the artistic specialist in the life of a believing community.

Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the Lord has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of skills [crafts]— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts [craftsmanship]. And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as engravers [craftsmen], designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers — all of them skilled workers [master craftsmen] and designers. So Bezalel, Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the LORD has given skill and ability to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary are to do the work just as the LORD has commanded. Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work.

This Old Testament passage highlights the role of the artistic expression specialist in the worship-life of a believing community. It also provides critical instructional details that are specifically applied to specialized servants of God that were “filled with the Holy Spirit” and given “the ability to teach others.”

Traits Of An Artist

"Someone unusually wise at imaginative design and expression"

The first area of expertise for the “artist” involves craftsmanship. The term craftsman seems the best biblical expression for what people today think of as an artist. Certainly, there are numbers of different kinds of crafts, industries, and trades noted in the Scriptures. There are at least nineteen different artistic crafts mentioned in the Bible. But craftsman seems to be one of those wide-ranging terms, a class term, that serves as an umbrella under which exist many more specific craft areas.

Craftsman is very similar to two other wide-ranging, umbrella class terms: one being musician, where there certainly exist more specific kinds of musicians—for example, harp players, flute players, trumpet (shofar) players, and cymbal players—each having a technical name. The other class term is singers.

The term craftsman means “someone unusually wise at imaginative design and expression.” This definition arises from the fact that the term craftsman comes from the Hebrew word family for “wisdom.” In the Old Testament one finds at least four words that label specialist creative types—those today labeled as artists—and all those words are connected to the idea of wisdom. Interestingly, three of these four terms are found in Exodus 35:30—36:2. The specialists observed in the Exodus 35 passage—Bezalel and Oholiab—are designated or characterized by three of these four main specialist terms recorded in the Bible. Bezalel and Oholiab, God says, are “unusually wise” in all these areas we today call artistic expression.

What is more, there are also five adjectives that describe these specialized creative types: all of them also springing out of the wisdom word family. These adjectives are skill, knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and ability. The Exodus 35 passage uses four of these fives adjectives.

There are two verbs in Scripture that describe specialized artistic activity: “to do workmanship of artistic design” (malacha) and “to celebrate in song and music” (zamyr). The Exodus 35 passages uses one of these two terms—the term, malacha.

In the minds of Hebrew speakers in 1500 BC, all of these terms possessed the characteristics and attributes of what we would today label as “artists”—people who are especially endowed (possessing unusual wisdom) by God to imagine, and then make things. They are the creative and imagination specialists.

Traits Of An Artist

"Imagination specialists of the human community"

Second, the craftsman is someone unusually wise at imaginative design and expression. They are the imagination specialists of the human community. Even so, these craftsmen are not the only ones who possess imagination. The biblical position on this issue is that every human possesses imagination—one of the most significant human capacities that clearly reveals that humans are a higher order of creation than animals—because humans are made in the image of God. Craftsmen have simply been designed by God with a larger capacity for imaginative ability, so that they can carry out the specific assignments God has given them in the human context.

Traits Of An Artist

"Designed by God with a larger capacity for imaginative ability"

Third, humans are not simply intellectual. According to God’s design, humans possess two other dynamics of human intelligence—imagination and emotions. And then, so that those two realms (imagination and emotions) are dealt with well, God designed craftsmen, as the “imagination and emotion specialists.” Apparently, God did this so that people can touch, hold, and interact with the transcendent realities of Him, along with the rest of life.

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