On Art & God

I was in a discussion with a friend of mine following a seminar in ecclesiology. We were going back and forth on the issue of art appreciation in the church and how it is good, yet narrow-minded. It is a wonderful thing that many churches advocate some kind of outlet for artists to show their talents. However, when we think through why art is heralded more than other activities that should be done to the glory of God, art has won out all too easily.
I realize this will probably rub folks the wrong way, especially my artsy friends. While there is a tendency to defend myself by saying, “I like Picasso!” or “I enjoy Vivaldi” or “I like swirls of red intermingled with hues of indigo,” by its very nature, the blogosphere will have some wiley folks that will cry out against my puritanical view. Before I say any more, I at least want to say this: I think it is a good thing to have some fotos and paintings and music and a film outlet for people to express their worship for God. With that said, can I challenge you, aspiring van Gogh, to think about why art has such a primacy in our current evangelical world?
I have heard of a church that has someone painting a picture during the sermon, and at the end of the preaching it is displayed before the congregation after the sermon. What does this say about the sermon? Is the painting then the high point of the sermon? Is the sermon merely building to the unveiling of the artist’s latest creation?
You may say, “Art, by nature, is meant to be admired and displayed.” Cannot the same be said for sports? After all, the Greek games were spectacular displays of power, grace, and beauty. Why don’t we have someone throwing a discus or doing pushups during the sermon to be able to show off their work ethic and discipline “for the glory of God?”
You may also say, “God has endowed art with a special quality so that it shows off purer beauty than a man shooting a free throw.” However, isn’t art merely metaphor for reality. That is, the artist tries to capture the beauty of the flower by painting it in a certain shade or with a particular background. Art is one of many forms that God has endowed with grace and the ability to portray his creation. After all, man is the ultimate portrayal of God’s grace on earth, isn’t he? Not to take away from Niagara Falls in the least, but man is the <em>imago dei</em> so that God’s rule on earth can be exercised and displayed. On the other hand, there is no real movement in paintings. They try to portray the massive waterfall with lines or colors, but they lisp in vain to capture the essence of the thing they seek to portray.
We should not diminish the importance of art, but we must not elevate it so that the artist has a louder megaphone than the athlete or student. There should be no hierarchy when it comes to displaying and doing all things to the glory of God.
Too many times people want to be known as sympathetic to the arts. It is true that aesthetics are an important part of admiring the natural world around us, but let’s keep the rhetoric to a minimum. It is telling that Scripture doesn’t speak at length about art. It puts primacy on farming…Could we be helped if we put as much emphasis on sowing and harvesting as we do on realism and abstraction?

7 Comments

Filed under Art, Culture

7 responses to “On Art & God

  1. Pingback: Christ and Pop Culture | On Art & God

  2. Definitely some interesting ideas. I appreciate your perspective and understand what you mean. Ravi Zacharias talks about us being creatures designed to worship, and that everything we do was worship (of course it begs the issue *what* do we worship as we do?). I agree with your perspective; “Art” is not more important than other acts of worship, but as a Christian artist I have to consider how my art is worshipful before God. To that end, I wrote the following poem which I feel applies to my art but to the concept of sacrificial worship in all endeavors but especially ones involving the mind. It is based on the sacrifice of Cain and my assumption as to why it was not acceptable to God.

    a thoughtful germination: first fruits

    Needless to say, I believe you are on to something. Too long the concept of worship in the western church has been more spectatorial and not enough participatory. Art might not be what you can bring to the altar of God. Cain certainly could not bring a fat first-born lamb, but he could have brought the first fruits of his labor, which according to his story he did not. As Eric Liddell in Chariot’s of Fire said that “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” I believe as you that we can worship in many ways, but not everything we do brings pleasure to God. We must in our efforts, talents and pleasures seek to uncover how in each we can best connect with God.

  3. Matt,

    This is Trey from Savannah. You can contact me via email at trey_burdette@yahoo.com

  4. How do you handle the tabernacle and later the temple given your thesis? Doesn’t God use artists in a particularly important way there?

  5. Pingback: Bezalel Is My Homeboy « Off The Wire

  6. Matt, you naughty boy. You’re just being provocative. You don’t really believe this, do you? Art is not merely an activity, art is communicative by nature. The Bible is literature, which is art. Architecture is art.

    Art is a communicative medium, athletics are not. You mentioned that the scripture “doesn’t speak at length about art” because it is art; singers don’t sing about singing — they just do it.

    Thanks for stirring me up, though! I was getting a little bored watching Louisville crush Boise State…

  7. Of course I really believe this. Of course it is more than an activity. To say that it is communicative begs the question and exhortation I am making in the post. I think Alan makes an excellent point as to what I am pushing against (https://offthewire.wordpress.com/2008/03/19/bezalel-is-my-homeboy/#comment-8139).

    Too many people speak of art as though it has more transcendent value than other expressions of devotion. I am trying to balance the Christian tendency to buy into a view which is not biblical.

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