Thursday, December 31, 2009

Further Thoughts on Christians and Art

I think there are a few issues that could arise from my previous post that should be addressed for the sake of clarification purposes and a more complete view of the issue.

The main lesson people should take away is the dire need for Christians to pursue excellence in every aspect of their art. If art really is being done for the glory of God, we should not be content to turn out half-baked, low quality, uncreative, cheap, imitations--even if they mention Jesus once or twice. This, I think, captures the root problem with much of Christian art today. Many artists are losing touch with reality and becoming so caught up with getting our "Christian" message across that the quality and originality of the means of communicating this truth is shoved in the backseat. Obviously it is okay, nay, vital to preach Jesus to people and share the gospel through art. What I take issue with is the fact that excellence in one's trade is part of the Christian's personal testimony. Implicit in the command for obedience (and the concept of letting one's "light shine before all men") in the midst of an unbelieving world is the pursuit of excellence. That's what doing all things for the glory of God is about. It's about employees serving their bosses like they were serving the Lord. It's about painters trying to create masterpieces fit for the halls of heaven. It's about musicians making music as if Jesus was in the front row of the audience.

The second question point someone might make arises from secular art. How are we to address masterpieces--brilliant musical compositions, timeless stories, etc.--created by godless heathens? How can we honestly call their art "good" if it was created for completely perverted reasons? The answer, as best I can reason for the time being, is threefold:
1. Art in and of itself is neutral, so we can appreciate when it is done well regardless of the motives, and we can do it whether or not the artist realizes that he is emulating his creator. A professional football player, for instance, may be a godless, selfish jerk. He might even score touchdowns purely for selfish reasons, but that shouldn't stop the Christian football player from appreciating his skill and seeking to emulate the talents he displays on the field.
2. Remember that art is, at its core, imitation. This means that good art will effectively capture reality in some way. Christians are realists--we want to understand things as they really are. Like a good teacher who is an atheist, it is possible to find benefit and appreciation for anything that helps us see the world more clearly for what it is. All truth is God's truth after all, and even though it can be perverted and misused, that doesn't make the claim itself inherently worse. I once heard an analogy comparing the unbelieving world to blind squirrels. Every once in a while, they stumble upon a nut of viable truth. No one is shut off from general revelation, so all men are exposed to and can see the truth to one degree or another.
3. Brilliance in art can give us a glimpse of man before the fall and hence better understand the original goodness of God's creation. Out of the three points, this one is probably the least helpful, but it worth consider nonetheless. Dr. Jack Simons has hypothesized that the fall of creation not only brought sin and suffering into the world, it also damaged our intellect. This means that Adam and Eve were geniuses before the fall, so every instance of genius that we see now--great works of art, people who can multiply huge numbers in their heads, and so on--are actually examples of people breaking through to a certain level of the mind that only existed before sin. In other words, works of genius in the arts are prime examples of my original point about art: man is able to mimic the creative work of God and show us even more vividly the mysterious process that is creating things.

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