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Art Appreciation

2004-11-29 | by Sara [mail] | Categories: computer/tech

The typical evangelical Christian attends church services regularly, has regular Bible reading and prayer times and serves his fellow man in some capacity. Some read books to enhance their walk with Christ; ambitious Christians even dabble in the writings of theologians. So what is missing in this picture? Perhaps it is the picture itself.

Since the age of Enlightenment, when science and reason triumphed over art and feeling, Christians have valued practical knowledge over artistic representation. Obviously there is value in scientific thinking: through scientific evidence, we are able to understand and be confident in our minds that Jesus is the Christ and that he came to earth to die for our sins and to rise again. As with anything, however, there can be too much of a good thing. But what are we missing when we eliminate art entirely? A significant portion of the Bible, for starters.

As Louis A. Markos states, “Although our faith is grounded in a book that is jam-packed with literary genres, that expresses most of its wisdom in the form of poetry, and that is narrative rather than didactic in its essential focus and scope, we still prefer to hear truth in logical, non-contradictory statements” (“Poetry Phobic”, Christianity Today, Oct 2001). Markos believes that the Incarnation, the doctrine which affirms that Jesus was both fully God and fully man, is the ultimate truth shrouded in mystery. In other words, how else can we fully appreciate this central doctrine unless we also appreciate the poetic and symbolic language appropriately used in describing the process?

Christian poet Luci Shaw discusses the arts in terms of the imagination, a gift given to humans in the image of God. “I think the imagination is God's most effective teaching tool. When you look at Scripture you realize that one-third of the Bible is poetry. The most effective way to get truth across is in the form of imagery—drawing pictures in our heads,” Shaw explained in an interview with Stephanie Kirtland (Mars Hill Review, May 1995).

She uses Isaiah 1:18 as an example. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” The word imagery provided in this verse captures a part of our minds that makes this truth hard to forget: a concrete explanation would not have the same impact.

If both art and science have their place, then where did we lose our way? Charles Colson explains the shift toward scientific thought and away from artistic thought in his book, How Now Shall We Live?.

“To understand why art has lost its high purpose, we must place it in the context of a broader worldview shift, when modern science was elevated to an idol, the sole source of knowledge. The assumption took hold that anything science cannot detect and measure must not be real, leading to an assault not only on religion but also on the realm of the imagination and intuition expressed in the arts,” Colson wrote (445).

As a result, artists and artistically-minded people were forced to the fringes of society, were forced to create their own world where art still had merit. Art became a tool for the elite, and only the elite could determine the quality (or lack thereof) in a musical piece, a poem or a work on canvas. As Colson explains, this lack of artistic standard led to art created simply to ‘shock the commoners’ and moved art into the realm of religion.

“Art became a surrogate religion, with artists hurling prophetic denunciations at ‘sinners’. But it is a religion with no power of redemption, and so in the end it has degenerated into little more than assaults on mainstream society’s beliefs and values,” Colson states (449).
In chapter three of his book, The God Who Is There, Francis Schaeffer explored the theme of art as religion and determined its fate. He explained that VanGogh, Gaugin, Picasso, Cezanne and the artists of the Dada movement are examples of artists who were trying to create a new reality, a new universal that would explain everything and yet say nothing. These artists created works which lacked traditional form and which cause the viewer to explore him or herself to find meaning, a tricky and often dangerous undertaking. Schaeffer believed that the logical conclusion of these artists’ alternate reality is nothingness; a reality void of meaning and understanding that leads to despair. Schaeffer said, “On the basis of modern man’s methodology, whether expressed in philosophy, art, literature or theology, there can be no other ending than this—man tumbling into the bottomless” (32).

What value does this knowledge have for the Christian? “These [works] are the expression of men who are struggling with their appalling lostness. Dare we laugh at such things? Dare we feel superior when we view their tortured expressions in their art? Christians should stop laughing and take such men seriously. Then we shall have the right to speak again to our generation. These men are dying while they live; yet where is our compassion for them? There is nothing more ugly than a Christian orthodoxy without understanding or without compassion,” Schaeffer said (34).
As for reclaiming art as valuable in our own lives, Colson explains, “Christianity alone has the resources to restore the arts to their proper place, for Christianity is a worldview that supports human creativity yet does so with appropriate humility” (449).

So what can we do to reclaim our imaginations, to tap into the spirit of creativity God placed in each one of us? Colson lists several ways to do just that.

Attend concerts
Don’t limit yourself to music you are familiar with; experiment with different styles to find what best captures your imagination.

Read classic literature
Many established authors did not write overtly about God, but exhibited Christian themes of morality and truth within their work. Try Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Robert Louis Stevenson or Charlotte Bronte.

Visit art museums
When you see something that catches your eye, write down its title and creator. Research the artist’s background and his or her reason for creating the work.

Get to know composers, writers and painters inspired by the Christian faith

Enjoy the arts as media that speaks to us spiritually
Embrace the less rational part of yourself; it too is a gift from God.

Let artists take a role in church services
Musicians should write and play music, poets and writers create drama, artists design murals.

Hold arts festivals at your church

Designate a room or hallway of your church as an art gallery

Make your home a place where art and culture are nurtured
Play classical music, hang reproductions of art on your walls, read literature that inspires children’s ‘moral imagination’.
(Colson, 451-2)

Finally, attempt to create art of your own. As heirs of God, we are, in fact, heirs of the arts, meaning we have a right to acknowledge, understand and appreciate the awesome gift that is the imagination. We are well-versed in promoting unity in the church; we should also be promoting unity in ourselves. As Shaw said, “We need both the left brain and the right brain. We need the rational, the linear thought, otherwise we could go out of control completely. But we also need that leap of the imagination that connects two images together. And we need, as Christians, to be ‘whole brained people,’ who don't despise either the left brain or the right brain and allow the two to work together.”

(Originally written for Adrian Christian Church.)


1 comment

I think Francis Schaeffer was one of the most profound speakers of our time. He, along with some writings of CS Lewis on art appreciation, totally changed my view of the arts..and the world.

Richard L Zorek [Visitor]  http://www.twobitsmedia.com2006-12-20 @ 13:55

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