Inspiration & Artistry in Troubled Times: The Haywain Triptych

I’ve been wanting to create a series of posts on the topic of artistry and inspiration – but in the current culture where would one find the inspiration for such an endeavor. We all have to face the reality that any craftsman (regardless of their level of mastery) can grind to an unproductive halt when inspiration falls flat. In times like now its hard to force a smile let alone feel inspired to accomplish anything of significance. It feels like the world is going to hell in a hand basket. There’s nothing really inspiring about that – or is there?

Well, that is how I stumbled upon a painting done by Hieronymus Bosch at the beginning of the 16th century called “The Haywain Triptych“. I had asked “Mr. Google Pants” (tribute to Justin Rhodes for this pun) for insight into the phrase “going to hell in a hand basket”. Of course he didn’t disappoint. He’s never to big for his britches and will always have a response. In this case he had 423,000 in .55 seconds. Such a showoff.

The Haywain Triptych created by Hieronymus Bosch

Inspired by art

Paintings created in three panels are called a triptych. They were typically used as altarpieces in early Christian worship, both corporate and private. With this particular triptych, when folded closed, reveals a fourth image that stretches across them both. When it is opened up it depicts the ugly realities of a rebellious humanity who rejects God’s created order and husbandry and instead seeks to forge their own economy apart from Him. When the leafs are closed we see the haunting scene of a pilgrim trying to find his way in the midst of a dangerous world.

For the small business pilgrim attempting to navigate their way through this current sloth it’s sobering. This painting provided some pretty stark relief to the vision of a harmony of God, Man, and Creation that I’ve been deeply invested in studying the last 18 months. It’s was good to see this painter’s depiction of life in the early 1500s.

The Reality of the Middle Ages

This forced me to dig a little deeper into the era of history known as the middle ages. Specifically I wondered what led up to the time of this painting in 1510-1516? What was the climate like then that gave this painter his inspiration for such a painting? To say it was tumultuous time, is a gross understatement. It made the current issues we are facing seem pretty small.

The Middle Ages lasted from the fall of Rome to the Renaissance. The world experienced periods of depopulation from famines, plagues, and wars. There was also political upheaval throughout as many nations sought to advance their conquest for lands and their resources. Also by the time this period was ending the Renaissance and the great age of exploration had begun. It was during this time that a “renewed” breed of humanism emerged in which “man as the measure of all things” came back into vogue. Apparently Bosch didn’t agree with this analysis of the human condition, as portrayed in his painting.

Be inspired by God’s design…

There are insights into God’s husbandry that are daily unveiled in the living scenes that are all around us. This has been true at any time throughout history. Seeds, easily held within the hand, once placed in the ground, die and give birth to an agriculture that in time can span vast landscapes. These seeds display the glory of God’s economy latent within them. Through their death and transformation into a new living thing there is much to learn. Their sacrificial love to reproduce after their kind is a living testament that extends beyond both the Old and New Testament. It’s a testament that everyone across time has had access to everyday.

Even now, an learner can go out into nature and observe this novelty of nature to bring forth new life. We can use the primal tools of observation that God endowed each of us with: taste, touch, sight, smell, and sound, to learn of God’s husbandry – both His order and organization. These observations should cause us to rejoice. We can still perceive creation’s proclivity to produce after its kind by God’s design and for His glory.

Inspired to participate

Can you image a world where you and I are given instruction from Christ and called to repent and participate with Him in cultivating what He has masterfully designed? Everyday we apprentices have the pleasure of engaging with the Creator in stewarding His creation. His world is marked by exponential long lived abundance and flourishing, that is largely undaunted by sinful man abuse and apathy. An economy handcrafted in love, hope, peace, and joy. Truly the Creator has blessed us with good gifts to steward and enjoy.

Every square inch of creation groans under the curse of sin. There are some places that groan more than others. But surprisingly men and women have discovered in every generation that when they give of themselves in kindly-use towards cultivating the creativity of God’s design it responds in abundant grace and mercy. Soils which had been depleted of virtually all life can be reborn. Plants and animals can be nurtured back to vibrant life that flourishes.

Which should beg us to ask the question, “what role are we playing within God’s creation?” When we withhold our ability to love sacrificially, ultimately we will list towards a dry and barren land. But when we give of ourselves in love and service of God and creation we will experience flourishing life. You and I should be inspired to participate in God’s vibrant economy, for this is why we were created.

The lack of inspiration

Alas we must open our eyes and face reality. We must see the world which we continue to “make” today. In large part, it is a world that rejects God’s husbandry and economy (or at best daily chooses to live in ignorance of it), believing His design and His Gospel are not only archaic but unsatisfactory for the world we live in. In our world, we see no inspired harmony of God, man, and creation. There is only man attempting to leverage his use of the earth’s limited natural resources, and employing an ever increasing domain of man-made wisdom and power. This is scarcity and is not the inspiration that comes from God.

This lack of inspiration always leads to predictable outcomes. We will care less for those things which thrive because of our sacrificial love and service. Many choose the soothing and calming effects of being pacified and their attention diverted from their primal role. It is easy for entertainment, recreation, and leisure become our way of escape from our God given responsibility. God’s vision of a creation that is “very good” is growing dim in our eyes. It is in times like these that the Gospel of the Kingdom of God should shine the brightest. It should be seen in the good deeds of Christ’s disciples, because they know the life that is in them when they die to themselves. They don’t want to remain a solitary seed.

Examples of Inspiration

“We all have to face the reality that any craftsman (regardless of their level of mastery) can grind to an unproductive halt when inspiration falls flat.”

Excerpt from Master Crafted Certification 103: Glory & the Value of Closed Loop Systems

I believe that this is the reason why the voices of people like Johnny Appleseed, George Washington Carver, and Wendell Berry live beyond their grave. They sought to restore, rebuild, and reclaim the world around them based on the narrative of God. They saw a culture that was deeply rooted in the agrarian life which God designed to flourish. They expressed their sacrificial love for others and creation in tangible ways.

Therefore, in this 16th century painting, Hieronymus Bosch saw the world, “going to hell in a handcart”. It was a depiction of the story of God in the midst of a culture that continued undeterred towards its own destruction. This reality stands in stark contrast to the acorn that even though it groans under the weight of sin in our world nestles into the earth and dies to bring forth a mighty oak which bears thousands of acorns each year.

It is because of the acorn’s divine order created inside of it by the Creator, that it will produce what God designed it to do. We should consider the patience and kindly-use of God’s husbandry to forge an economy in all things. In spite of our audacious will to conceive of a world apart from God, His order and organization march on in the rest of creation. What might creation look like when mankind would repent and declare that the Greek philosophers were wrong and that God is the measure of all things? Where do we find our inspiration?

I find myself asking

Why we are…

  • always pushing for “progress” yet never content?
  • indoctrinated to believe that we must leave the ignorance of our past to embrace the enlightenment of our future?
  • producing results that are always more technical, more mechanical, more industrial, and placing the natural and even human elements at greater risk?
  • re-framing our stories away from households, agriculture, and local economies and forming complex structures that require a polity that is national and waning towards global?
  • continuing to pursue economies of scale that cast off restraint and embrace the coming age of our greater affluence?
  • believing our work as defined by God is part of our curse and that we should find ways to free ourselves of it?
  • leaving our property largely unproductive and content to continue to invest money to maintain its surface appearance while leaving it unproductive?
  • refusing to trust in the design and narrative of God’s creation?
  • forging economies built on enslavement and exploitation?
  • on this perpetual conquest to free ourselves from the natural agrarian model, and the closed loop culture from which true living has existed for millennia?
  • forced to deal with an ever expanding mitigation of mistakes and risks in the midst of developing further “technologically sweet” advances by the experts?

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