Great Art as a Threat to God’s Power

In Chapter 28 of My Name Is Red, which is narrated by the murderer, the speaker discusses the tenuous boundaries between artistry and blasphemy. Speaking to Enishte Effendi, he proclaims, “The greatest of sins is committed by painters who presume to do what He does, who claim to be as creative as He” (160). Artists might express a creativity superior to God not only through a public declaration of this fact. This is why eastern art discourages the development of individual style-for fear that an artist’s singular creative brand will overshadow’s God’s creation(s). Thus recognition, too, in Eastern culture, becomes a nonissue. For to proudly claim one’s work is to boast of one’s craftsmanship-to set oneself on the same plane as God Himself.

The precariousness of this boundary is familiar in other realms beyond art. For example, in Puritan New England, those who wished to become members of the congregation were required to give testimonies of faith. Still, in these testimonies, testifiers and church members alike were hyper-aware of crossing the line towards forbidden knowledge. There was a great fear of disrespecting God and pushing into realms where humans did not belong by, almost accidentally, accessing this higher knowledge.

In both eastern and western cultures centuries ago, religion permeated every realm of society, and became, in some respects, a restrictive force. The illuminators in My Name is Red are bound by a requirement to respect God, to curb artistic liberty in order to maintain this dedication to one’s faith. It was not only reverence, and perhaps more so fear that kept artists in line. To surpass God in any endeavor, particularly creative, was inconceivable. Punishment for such a transgression was too, horrifying yet unthinkable. In this climate of apprehension, most artists wouldn’t dare cross the threshold to create anything that even potentially compared to God’s work. Fear of this transgression is at the root of Elegant Effendi’s objection to the project of the secret book. Yet in refusal of this belief that their work could be blasphemous, the speaker murders him.

The murderer and Enishte Effendi seem to concur that artistic liberty  and success can be divorced from irreverence. Pamuk alludes to the fact that this is an idea which came to the West much sooner than the East. Could masterful artistic works, rather than casting doubt upon God’s authority and creativity, in fact underscore his Glory and his exalted position in the human world? Effendi pushes for the completion of the book seemingly ripe with this belief.


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