Sunday, May 16, 2010

Art for God's Sake (Part II)

A theology of Art

Ultimately our standards for art should come from our understanding of God. As Ryken writes,

What we believe about art is based on what we believe about God. Art is what it is because God is who he is.

He emphasizes that because of the character of God, we should seek, in our artistic endevours, to make things that are good, true, and beautiful. In addition to this, our goal is to give him glory.

Since God is so infinitely beautiful, all our art is rightly dedicated to his glory. What comes from him should return to his praise.

Ryken also points to passages of scripture which speak more specifically about art as a vocation, or career. He spends a good deal of time discussing Exodus 31, where God gives detailed instructions about how the tabernacle is to be made, and appoints and gifts two specific men for overseeing this task.

One thing to be learned from this passage, for instance, is that we should not think "that certain forms of art are more godly than others", such as (in the visual arts) representational or symbolic art versus abstract or even non-representational art. He points out that the art of the temple included all of these kinds of art.

Finally, he addresses the theology of the crucifixion. How do we deal with the ugliness of the cross?

“The cross screams against all the sensibilities of his divine aesthetic. God did this because it was the only way that he could save us. […] In order to save his lost creation, God sent his Son right into all the absurdity and alienation.

For all eternity the body of Jesus will bear reminders of the suffering he endured for sin – now transformed into glorious beauty…

With an understanding of God’s beauty and love of beauty comes a deeper appreciation of both the sacrifice of the cross (and thus his love for us!) and the artistry of salvation.

A vision for “Christian” art

Because of God's character, art by Christians should be similarly good, true, and beautiful. This is the opposite of it being superficial or naïve. Ryken explains:

Modern and postmodern art often claim to tell the truth about the pain and absurdity of human existence, but that is only part of the story. The Christian approach to the human condition is more complete, and for that reason more hopeful (and ultimately more truthful). Christian artists celebrate the essential goodness of the world that God has made, being true to what is there. Such a celebration is not a form of naïve idealism, but of healthy realism. At the same time, Christian artists also lament the ugly intrusion of evil into a world that is warped by sin, mourning the lost beauties of a fallen paradise. When truly Christian art portrays the sufferings of fallen humanity, it always does so with a tragic sensibility […] There is a sense not only of what we are, but also of what we were: creatures made to be like God.
Finally, Christian art can reflect the redemptive nature of God's work with humanity. I think this is a beautiful vision art. As Ryken states,

Even better, there is a sense of what we can become. Christian art is redemptive […].

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