Show Your Imago Dei!

Dr. Claire Colombo has served on the seminary's adjunct faculty since 2012.  As a freelance educational consultant, she develops religion curriculum for Loyola Press of Chicago and is a regular contributor to their Find God magazines and newsletters.

Writer Dorothy Sayers takes the Genesis story at face value, but not in the usual way. She notes that before human beings are made in God’s image in 1:26, little is revealed about the mysterious maker—only that “God created.” Therefore, she concludes, being made imago Dei must mean having “the ability to make things.”1

This issue has long bedeviled Christian theology and practice. If we are made in the image of God, we prefer that God be smart and organized, not creative, which can be so messy. But a new book from local writer, artist, and SXSWi keynote speaker Austin Kleon ( may help us revise this bias. Show Your Work! offers an inspiring, 21st-century model of creativity, one that has the power to send the most erudite of theologians running for their paintbrushes and journals—if only they would read it, which they might not, because it could accurately be described as “cute”: it’s small, chunky, and semi-slick, at home in the Gift Books and Art sections alike. And back in the office, it might look slightly silly next to the Summa Theologica. But once in hand, it’s fun to read, hard to put down, and has a “good feel”—which, for any lover of three-dimensional books, is key.

It’s also key to Kleon’s purpose. The book’s thisness embodies its main claim that creativity should accessible, hospitable, and willing to be felt—that is, vulnerable. This brand of creativity clearly works for Kleon, who wrote Show Your Work! in response to questions he received after his 2012 book, Steal Like an Artist, became a New York Times bestseller. “How do I get my stuff out there?” people wanted to know. “How did you do it?” His answer, in perfect counterpoint to Steal, is to share:

Almost all of the people I look up to and try to steal from today … have built sharing into their routine…. Instead of maintaining absolute secrecy and hoarding their work, they’re open about what they’re working on, and they’re consistently posting bits and pieces of their work … online. Instead of wasting their time “networking,” they’re taking advantage of the network. By generously sharing their ideas and their knowledge, they often gain an audience that they can then leverage when they need it—for fellowship, feedback, or patronage.

I know; “leveraging” others to serve ourselves doesn’t sound very Christian. But, strictly speaking, to leverage something is to apply energy to it so that its potentia becomes real. For Kleon, our shared creative efforts become real in the forms of gift, story, community, growth, and joy. Those are some realities we Christians can get behind.

Many of us, I suspect, are also lurking in Kleon’s target audience, “people who hate the very idea of self-promotion.” To these retiring sorts he offers a mother lode of strategies for putting it out there, including: ditching the romantic ideal of the solitary genius; valuing the process of art work, verb, over artwork, noun; telling good stories about what you do; sharing something small every day; embracing your quirks; generously teaching what you know (without spamming); being a relentless fan of others; living as an amateur (literally, a lover); continually starting over; refusing to go away; and refusing to dwell in mastery, because therein lie staleness, stinginess, and isolation. Oh, and also registering a domain name and building a website, which, if nurtured, becomes its own work of art over time.

If Kleon’s model for the creative life is sound, it is also, Sayers would say, a good model for life imago Dei. This doesn’t mean Christians should all run to the keyboard and set up websites about God (although it is interesting to think about creation as God’s website), nor does it mean that we have to break out the actual paints and pastels. What it does mean is that we should show our work—both what we do and what God does in us—in process and in love. We should tell good stories about it, encourage others, keep starting over, refuse to go away, and reject mastery.

A maker named Jesus, the very image of God, once did all these things.

1. The Mind of the Maker (San Francisco, Harper: 1987), 22.