The Role of Art in Faith
If all that’s good is God’s, then art must also be His
AUDREY DEFORD ON AUGUST 28, 2015
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“Please don’t paint Christian art,” the studio art professors told me when they realized I was a Christian those years ago. “It’s all so bad,” they said. “Christian artists think that because they make something that has personal, religious significance to them, it doesn’t matter if it’s actually good. The subject matter excuses the line and form. So we just get lazy, emotionally charged art that the Christian thinks is much better than it actually is.”
I recoiled at this rhetoric, but deep down I knew there was truth to it, and I had been guilty.
If all that’s good is God’s, then art must also be His.
Sprawl wide in the cool grass and don’t make a sound. Listen to the end of summer’s song. Go away by yourself and let headphones fill up your ears with one of Beethoven’s famous symphonies. Be silent there. Listen. Slip into a dark auditorium and train your eyes on a ballet. Fluid dance, rhythm sounds.
God’s most pointed and powerful way to communicate himself is through His Word. But, is it surprising that a God bigger than our imagination sometimes chooses the subtlety in what is lovely as a secondary medium?
What happens in your heart, Christian? Pay attention. Do you not feel something deeply? It’s worship. There were no Bible stories preached or sermons heard, yet art speaks wildly of sacred majesty.
We must be clear: God’s most pointed and powerful way to communicate himself is through His Word. But, is it surprising that a God bigger than our imagination sometimes chooses the subtlety in what is lovely as a secondary medium? If all beauty is His, we must be aware that art teaches. It teaches with line and form, color and song, and it need not use a crucifix to do so.
Which of the seven days saw color form? Is it not all His? And yet, we separate the sacred from the secular. Oh, we have tried with our human builder hands – nails and hammers – to make legitimate strides in the sprint to make the culture hear. Imprint them with the gospel. But instead, we made subculture and sub-genres of creations not on par. It’s not good enough. We are called to breathtaking influence in our world. Reveal beauty. Make art that whets their thirst, and then offer them drink from the well of the gospel.
Sometimes the story of redemption best marches into a mind made ready by genuine art that has asked of it the deeper questions. It seems crucial then, that we who wield a paintbrush or instrument or pen or platform make good art. Sing beauty, paint honesty, speak innovation. For beauty teaches. Honesty instructs. Innovation points.
As for me, I’m learning that my paint can sometimes speak louder than my words in a world that is weary of hearing the religious talk. My aim is to continually douse myself in Scripture in hopes that I’ll produce art that smells of its fragrance in a world gone rotten.
Make art that whets their thirst, and then offer them drink from the well of the gospel.
Maybe color and line and form – when painted skillfully and prayerfully and intentionally – can be used by the Spirit of God as kindling for hearts He’s preparing to light on fire.
So, what is your instrument of truth and beauty in this world? Is it doing what you intend? Scrawled through the pages of Scripture are musicians, midwives, poets, warrior kings, carpenters, harpists, harlots. All. Every last one telling the story of the Redeemer. His story is laced within their stories and ours, the sweetest grace.
Design. Compose. Invent. But beware, Christian, that your craft – when rendered tritely – is announcing something untrue about God. Aim to create genuine art that points to something magnificent and mysterious. Nothing we make will come close to capturing God’s brilliance, but maybe we painters and composers and dreamers and writers have the best shot of all of us.
Perhaps N.T. Wright says it best: “Genuine art takes seriously the fact that the world is full of the glory of God, and that it will be full ‘as the waters cover the sea,’ and at present it is groaning in travail. Genuine art responds to that triple awareness … and holds them together as the Psalms do, and asks why and what and where are we. You can do that in music and you can do that in painting, and our generation needs us to do that not simply to decorate the gospel but to announce the gospel.”
Read Vital’s interview with artist Audrey DeFord here.