Art has value after all


'The Return of Christ' by Paul Robert (1851-1923), 680x720cm. © Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Neuchâtel, Suisse

‘The Return of Christ’ by Paul Robert (1851-1923), 680x720cm.
© Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Neuchâtel, Suisse

I’m not a very artsy guy. I frequently lament that I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.  That’s mostly true.  My lack of skill in the realm of arts somehow did not get passed on to the rest of my family.  My wife is a wonderful quilter.  My children can all draw, paint, and otherwise craft beautiful things. I’m so pathetic with color and blending that I have to ask my wife to match my suits, ties, and shirts for me.

Since visual art doesn’t come to me at all, I have tended to discount it.  But the more I read Francis Schaeffer, as I read through his complete works,  the more I want to view art.  When I came upon his writing, “Art in the Bible” I began to race through it in a rather hurried fashion to get it over with.

Then I repented.

My eyes hit Schaeffer’s words concerning the false dichotomy of spiritual and unspiritual that smacks of Platonism.

“The Lordship of Christ over the whole of life means that there are no Platonic areas in Christianity, no dichotomy or hierarchy V 2, p 376 between the body and the soul.”

Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, vol. 2 (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 375–376.

I understood part of the power of art prior to this. I often marveled at how J.R.R. Tolkien could create such an overwhelmingly complex world in terms of languages, peoples, geography, and even history. But it was why that captivates me.  Tolkien as an avowed Christian (Catholic if you’re wondering) determined that since God was creator, it was great praise for whatever man would create to be great for His sake.  So Tolkien labored with all of his skill and imagination to craft a world in text – for the glory of God.

Whether or not you like the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit is not relevant to the point – it cannot be denied that art for the sake of God’s glory  – consisting of more than a Bible tract concept was at the core of what Tolkien wrote.

And so Schaeffer observed: “Art can, of course, be put into the temple. But it doesn’t have to be put into the temple in order to be to the praise of God.”  (Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works, vol. 2 (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 386.)

In the end Schaeffer almost opens up a demand for Christians to investigate art for the glory of God. He doesn’t suggest this as a new law, but as a statement of our freedom to pursue every means of God’s praise.

Do we understand the freedom we have under the Lordship of Christ and the norms of Scripture? Is the creative part of our life committed to Christ? Christ is the Lord of our whole life, and the Christian life should produce not only truth—flaming truth—but also beauty.

Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, vol. 2 (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 391.

My skills haven’t changed. My stick figures still barely look recognizable.  But I’m determined to pay attention to the visual arts a little bit more; for the glory of God.

 

Schaeffer proposes some perspectives to consider when looking at art. Some of these below are quoted, others are summarized, or phrased for my own clarity.

  1. Good art has value in itself.
    1. because God is the creator, and creativity honors Him.
    2. being creative reflects being made in the image of the creator.
  2. Art forms add strength to the world-view which shows through, no matter what the world-view is or whether the world-view is true or false.
  3. In all forms of writing, both poetry and prose, it makes a tremendous difference whether there is a continuity or a discontinuity with the normal definitions of words in normal syntax.
  4. The fact that something is a work of art does not make it sacred.
  5. We judge artwork based upon Technical Excellence, Validity (Integrity to the artist’s world-view), Intellectual content, and its integration of these. {note my recent post on Iron Maiden}
  6. Art forms can be used for any type of message, from pure fantasy to detailed history. (Schaeffer does not develop the thought here at great depth, but it is impossible for good art not to communicate something.  Hence the need we have as Christians to understand the message of the art whether painting, song, or Television show.)
  7. Art comes in many changing forms – this in itself is not wrong.
  8. There is no style of art that is inherently godly or ungodly.
  9. The Christian world-view can be divided into what [Schaeffer calls] a major and a minor theme.  The minor theme being the abnormality of the revolting world.  The major being the meaningfulness and purposefulness of life.
  10. Christian art is not always religious art, nor does it always touch religious themes.
  11. Every artist is burdened with making single works as well as a body of work. It takes time to communicate all that he/she wants to communicate.

If you want to delve deeper than the headings you’ll have to read the essay  yourself.  But for me it’s a start to being intentional about the visual arts.