Art, Beauty, Interpretation
"Steve Taylor on Blue Like Jazz and Christian Art", Interview by Josh Larsen at thinkchristian.net (April 12, 2012).
A lot of the church’s art in the last 50 years has become very sentimental and very earnest. And of course there’s nothing wrong with being earnest, but I don’t see that as a particularly Biblical way of communicating. We certainly don’t see that in the stories of the parables of Christ and even in the Old Testament prophets and how they communicated. … I don’t know what it is. It’s almost like … we’re defenders of the faith, like Christianity is going to come falling down unless we’re careful with how we present it. That’s not really how it works, you know? In fact, that’s really kind of arrogant. So yeah, we can afford to create movies that ask questions and certainly don’t have all the answers and use satire and all the different communication tools at our disposal.
Intellectuals Don't Need God and Other Modern Myths (Zondervan: 1993), pp. 178-9.
If the world seems attractive, the Christian must ensure that God, as its creator, is seen to be even more attractive. The world reflects the attractiveness of its creator, as the moon reflects the light of the sun. ¶ Two incidents from classical Greek mythology suggest themselves here. Homer introduces us to the Sirens, a group of women whose singing was so seductive that they caused sailors to crash their vessels through inattention to their duties. When Ulysses was attempting to sail his ship past the Sirens, he prevented the Sirens from causing any difficulties by the simple expedient of blocking his sailors' ears so that they could not hear the captivating Siren song. Orpheus, on the other hand, was a skilled lyre player. His method of dealing with this kind of threat was rather indifferent. He played his lyre, the music of which proved so enchanting and fascinating that its beauty totally outweighed anything else.
C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man (1943), chp 1.
Lewis takes as his subject the thesis presented by two unnamed schoolmasters in what he calls "The Green Book": that our value judgments refer only to our own sentiments and never to any intrinsic worth in the objects we judge. He is concerned as to what this will mean for the education of English children, and this essay constitutes one part of Lewis' Abolition of Man, subtitled "Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools". In the authors' seemingly innocent and casual subjectification of value there is a subversive outcome: "I do not mean, of course, that [the schoolboy] will make any conscious inference from what he reads to a general philosophical theory that all values are subjective and trivial. The very power of Gaius and Titius depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy: a boy who thinks he is 'doing' his 'English prep' and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all." The Green Book's authors analyze a piece of banal and deceptive advertising. But, Lewis notes, the authors have effectively precluded any normative judgment of the ad, for a similiar judgment upon Johnson, Wordsworth, or Virgil could be no less an accurate description of a reader's sentiments, and there is no other quality to which to appeal. Lewis ends with this oft-cited poetic prose: "And all the time — such is the tragi-comedy of our situation — we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive', or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or 'creativity'. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful." His argument continues in "The Way". ~ Afterall
Brian Godawa (InterVarsity Press: Jul 2009), 261 pages.
Do you watch movies with your eyes open? You buy your tickets and concessions, and you walk into the theater. Celluloid images flash at twenty-four frames per second, and the hypnotic sequence of moving pictures coaxes you to suspend disbelief and be entertained by the implausible. Unfortunately, many often suspend their beliefs as well, succumbing to subtle lessons in how to behave, think and even perceive reality. Do you find yourself hoping that a sister will succeed in seducing her sibling's husband, that a thief will get away with his crime, that a serial killer will escape judgment? Do you, too, laugh at the bumbling priest and seethe at the intolerant and abusive evangelist? Do you embrace worldviews that infect your faith and then wonder, after your head is clear, whether your faith can survive the infection? In this thoroughly revised and updated edition of his popular book, Brian Godawa guides you through the place of redemption in film, the tricks screenwriters use to communicate their messages, and the mental and spiritual discipline required for watching movies. Hollywood Worldviews helps you enter a dialogue with Hollywood that leads to a happier ending, one that keeps you aware of your culture and awake to your faith. ~ Product Description
Makoto Fujimura (NavPress: Feb 2009), 176 pages.
Makoto Fujimura was born in 1960 in Boston, Massachusetts. Educated bi-culturally between the US and Japan, Fujimura graduated from Bucknell University in 1983, and received an M.F.A. from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music with a Japanese Governmental Scholarship in 1989. His thesis painting was purchased by the university and he was invited to study in the Japanese Painting Doctorate program, a first for an outsider to this prestigious traditional program. It was during the six and a half years of studying in Japan that Fujimura began to assimilate the combinations of abstract expressionism explored in the US with the traditional Japanese art of Nihonga.
Daniel A. Siedell (Baker Academic: Oct 1, 2008), 192 pages.
Siedell likens Christians' encounter with modern and contemporary fine art to St. Paul's discovery of the altar to an unknown god on Mars Hill (Acts 17:23). Responding to those who have called for a separate Christian art (particularly Francis Schaeffer and H.R. Rookmaaker), he strives to reveal what modern art is only able to point to, not to name. Siedell uses his in-depth knowledge as former art curator and current assistant professor of art history at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to argue that perceptions of this legitimate cultural practice can be nourished by a robust Nicene Christianity. These disparate essays tackle subjects both ambitious (a history of modern art) and esoteric (a single work by artist Enrique Martínez Celaya; the conflict between art critics Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg). Siedell's love of contemporary art is obvious, but his sometimes abstruse writing doesn't always clarify his formidable subject; indeed, it may reinforce some Christians' view of modern art as unapproachable. His primary audience is clearly art specialists, whether students or professionals; Siedell's interesting thesis may not reach the larger audience it deserves.
Andy Crouch (IVP Books: Aug 2008), 284 pages.
It is not enough to condemn culture. Nor is it sufficient merely to critique culture or to copy culture. Most of the time, we just consume culture. But the only way to change culture is to create culture. Andy Crouch unleashes a stirring manifesto calling Christians to be culture makers. For too long, Christians have had an insufficient view of culture and have waged misguided "culture wars." But we must reclaim the cultural mandate to be the creative cultivators that God designed us to be. Culture is what we make of the world, both in creating cultural artifacts as well as in making sense of the world around us. By making chairs and omelets, languages and laws, we participate in the good work of culture making. Crouch unpacks the complexities of how culture works and gives us tools for cultivating and creating culture. He navigates the dynamics of cultural change and probes the role and efficacy of our various cultural gestures and postures. Keen biblical exposition demonstrates that creating culture is central to the whole scriptural narrative, the ministry of Jesus and the call to the church. He guards against naive assumptions about "changing the world," but points us to hopeful examples from church history and contemporary society of how culture is made and shaped. Ultimately, our culture making is done in partnership with God's own making and transforming of culture. A model of his premise, this landmark book is sure to be a rallying cry for a new generation of culturally creative Christians. Discover your calling and join the culture makers. ~ Product Description
The Beauty of the Cross The Passion of Christ in Theology and the Arts from the Catacombs to the Eve of the Renaissance
Richard Viladesau (Oxford University Press: Mar 27, 2008), 240 pages.
From the earliest period of its existence, Christianity has been recognized as the "religion of the cross." Some of the great monuments of Western art are representations of the brutal torture and execution of Christ. Despite the horror of crucifixion, we often find such images beautiful. The beauty of the cross expresses the central paradox of Christian faith: the cross of Christ's execution is the symbol of God's victory over death and sin. The cross as an aesthetic object and as a means of devotion corresponds to the mystery of God's wisdom and power manifest in suffering and apparent failure. In this volume, Richard Viladesau seeks to understand the beauty of the cross as it developed in both theology and art from their beginnings until the eve of the renaissance. He argues that art and symbolism functioned as an alternative strand of theological expression -- sometimes parallel to, sometimes interwoven with, and sometimes in tension with formal theological reflection on the meaning of the Crucifixion and its role insalvation history. Using specific works of art to epitomize particular artistic and theological paradigms, Viladesau then explores the contours of each paradigm through the works of representative theologians as well as liturgical, poetic, artistic, and musical sources. The beauty of the cross is examined from Patristic theology and the earliest representations of the Logos on the cross, to the monastic theology of victory and the Romanesque crucified "majesty," to the Anselmian "revolution" that centered theological and artistic attention on the suffering humanity of Jesus, and finally to the breakdown of the high scholastic theology of the redemption inempirically concentrated nominalism and the beginnings of naturalism in art. By examining the relationship between aesthetic and conceptual theology, Viladesau deepens our understanding of the foremost symbol of Christianity. This volume makes an important contribution to an emerging field, breaking new ground in theological aesthetics. The Beauty of the Cross is a valuable resource for scholars, students, and anyone interested in the passion of Christ and its representation.
Daniel J. Treier, Mark Husbands, and Roger Lundin, eds. (IVP Academic: Jun 2007), 233 pages.
The 2006 Wheaton Theology Conference explored a wide-ranging Christian approach to divine beauty and the earthly arts. Written and illustrated by artists and theologians, these essays illuminate for us the Christian significance of the visual arts, music and literature, as well as sounding forth the theological meaning and place of the arts in a fallen world-fallen, yet redeemed by Christ. A veritable feast for pastors, artists, theologians and students eager to consider the profound but not necessarily obvious connection between Christianity and the arts. Editors Mark Husbands, Roger Lundin and Daniel J. Treier present ten essays that explore a Christian approach to beauty and the arts. Theology has much to contribute in providing a place for the arts in the Christian life, and the arts have much to contribute to the quality of Christian life, worship and witness. The essays consider the visual arts, music and literature, as well as the theological meaning and place of the arts in a fallen world redeemed by Christ.
Aidan Nichols (Ashgate Publishing: May, 2007), 152 pages.
Redeeming Beauty explores the richness of orthodox Christian tradition, both Western and Eastern, in matters of 'sacral aesthetics' - a term used to denote the foundations, production and experience of religiously relevant beauty. Aidan Nichols investigates five principal themes: the foundation of beauty in the natural order through divine creative action; explicitly 'evangelical' beauty as a quality of biblical revelation and notably at its climax in Christ; the legitimacy of making and venerating artworks; qualities of the self in relation to objective presentation of the religiously beautiful; and the difficulties of practising a sacral aesthetic, whether as producer or consumer, in an epoch when the visual arts themselves have left behind not only Church but for the greater part the public as well. The thought of theologians such as Augustine, Aquinas, Balthasar, Ratzinger, Bulgakov, Maritain and others are explored.
William D. Romanowski (Brazos Press: Feb 1, 2007), 272 pages.
Grounded in Christian principles, this accessible and engaging book offers an informed and fascinating approach to popular culture. William D. Romanowski provides affectionate yet astute analysis of familiar, well-loved movies and television characters from Indiana Jones to Homer Simpson, and he speaks with historical depth and expertise on films from Casablanca to Crash and music from Bruce Springsteen to U2. Romanowski's confessional approach affirms a role for popular culture in faithful living. Practical, analytical approaches to content, meaning, and artistic style offer the tools to participate responsibly and imaginatively in popular cultural activities. An engaging read, this new edition introduces students and thoughtful readers to popular culture — one of the most influential forces in contemporary society.
Francis A. Schaeffer (IVP Books: Jan 30, 2007), 94 pages.
"The lordship of Christ should include an interest in the arts," writes Francis Schaeffer. "A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God." Many Christians, wary of creating graven images, have steered clear of artistic creativity. But the Bible offers a robust affirmation of the arts. The human impulse to create reflects our being created in the image of a creator God. Art and the Bible has been a foundational work for generations of Christians in the arts. In this book's classic essays, Francis Schaeffer first examines the scriptural record of the use of various art forms, and then establishes a Christian perspective on art. With clarity and vigor, Schaeffer explains why "the Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars." ~ Product Description
Wassily Kandinsky (MFA Publications: July 1, 2006), 192 pages.
Wassily Kandinsky was one of the most influential painters of the twentieth century, and this text, in which he laid out the tenets of painting as he saw them and made the case for nonobjective artistic forms, is universally recognized as an essential document of Modernist art theory. A brilliant philosophical treatise and an emphatic avant-garde tract, it provides the theoretical underpinnings for Kandinsky's own work and that of his associates in the Blaue Reiter movement. While Michael Sadlerís masterful translation has been available and authoritative since its original publication in 1914, what hasnít been published until now is the significant correspondence between the translator and the artist, who followed the progress of his bookís transformation closely, and who offered numerous insights into and explanations of its meanings. These letters, from the archives of Tate Britain, have here been appended to Kandinskyís text to provide the first comprehensively annotated edition of this seminal work. This volume, which supersedes any previous edition, includes the letters, Kandinskyís prefaces and prose poems relating to the period in which the book was written and Sadlerís selected writings on art. It is more than an expanded edition--it is a major event, the first full account of a remarkable literary collaboration.
Jules Lubbock (Yale University Press: May 22, 2006), 358 pages.
Recounting the biblical stories through visual images was the most prestigious form of commission for a Renaissance artist. In this book, Jules Lubbock examines some of the most famous of these pictorial narratives by artists of the caliber of Giovanni Pisano, Duccio, Giotto, Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, Donatello and Masaccio. He explains how these artists portrayed the major biblical events, such as: the Sacrifice of Isaac, the Annunciation, the Feast of Herod and the Trial and Passion of Jesus, so as to be easily recognizable and, at the same time, to capture our attention and imagination for long enough to enable us to search for deeper meanings. He provides evidence showing that the Church favoured the production of images that lent themselves to being read and interpreted in this way, and he describes the works themselves to demonstrate how the pleasurable activity of deciphering these meanings can work in practice. This fascinating book is richly illustrated, and many of it's photographs have been specially taken to show how the paintings and relief sculptures appear in the settings, for which they were originally designed. Seen from these viewpoints, they become more readily intelligible. Likewise, the starting point and the originality of Lubbock's interpretations lies in his accepting that these works of art were primarily designed to help people to reflect upon the ethical and religious significance of the biblical stories. The early Renaissance artists developed their highly innovative techniques to further these objectives, not as ends in themselves. Thus, the book aims to appeal to students, scholars and the general public, who are interested in Renaissance art and to those with a religious interest in biblical imagery.
Philip Graham Ryken (P&R Publishing: May 2, 2006), 64 pages.
A small book on a big topic is a dangerous proposition. It may show disrespect for its subject by bragging that it can be read in a short time, such as Kant in 90 minutes. (Kant in 90 minutes is not Kant at all.) On the other hand, a short book can thoughtfully introduce a profound subject worthy of further consideration; it may be a primer. Art for God's Sake is a worthy primer; it addresses the relationship of Christian faith and art in the hope of helping Christians "recover the arts." Philip Graham Ryken, Pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia and the author of several previous books, including Written in Stone (an insightful study of the Decalogue), has in sixty-four pages outlined a biblical view of art's place in God's world. Ryken is moved by the plight of the Christian artist whose calling and work is misunderstood or rejected by the church. He realizes that Christians may be suspicious of art because of their concern for idolatry and their repulsion toward much of contemporary art, which has abandoned the ideal of beauty and revels in the bizarre, the transgressive, and the outright ugly. Ryken also laments that Christians too often reduce art to utilitarian and evangelistic purposes that fail to honor art as art. Further, Christians often laud art that does not take the brokenness of life east of Eden seriously. Quite frequently, Christian art is little more than pious kitsch, which he aptly describes as "tacky artwork of poor quality that appeals to low tastes". ~ Douglas Groothuis
David Morgan (University of California Press: May 31, 2005), 333 pages.
"Sacred gaze" denotes any way of seeing that invests its object--an image, a person, a time, a place--with spiritual significance. Drawing from many different fields, David Morgan investigates key aspects of vision and imagery in a variety of religious traditions. His lively, innovative book explores how viewers absorb and process religious imagery and how their experience contributes to the social, intellectual, and perceptual construction of reality. Ranging widely from thirteenth-century Japan and eighteenth-century Tibet to contemporary America, Thailand, and Africa, The Sacred Gaze discusses the religious functions of images and the tools viewers use to interpret them. Morgan questions how fear and disgust of images relate to one another and explains how scholars study the long and evolving histories of images as they pass from culture to culture. An intriguing strand of the narrative details how images have helped to shape popular conceptions of gender and masculinity. The opening chapter considers definitions of "visual culture" and how these relate to the traditional practice of art history. Amply illustrated with more than seventy images from diverse religious traditions, this masterful interdisciplinary study provides a comprehensive and accessible resource for everyone interested in how religious images and visual practice order space and time, communicate with the transcendent, and embody forms of communion with the divine. The Sacred Gaze is a vital introduction to the study of the visual culture of religions.
David Dark (Westminster John Knox Press: Mar. 1, 2005), 200 pages.
Readers of Dark's book Everyday Apocalypse know that this high school English teacher is a passionate, articulate, absurdly well-read interpreter of popular culture. But even the forewarned may be astonished by this latest effort. Dark's skill at probing the spiritual resonances of American culture — in forms high and low, from Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville to Bob Dylan and David Lynch — is matched by his uncanny ability to select telling moments from America's common story. Whether it's Elvis taking a shotgun to his television sets, Dylan confessing a sense of common humanity with Lee Harvey Oswald or George Washington treating British prisoners of war with unprecedented civility, Dark excavates a series of witnesses who speak prophetically to what he sees as our media-saturated overconfidence in our own righteousness. Moreover, he offers a convincing and unsettling account of the gospel itself — the "Jewish Christian" story of forgiveness and human dignity that, Dark argues, has animated America's ideals even as it has continually critiqued America's practices. Dark's Southern heritage is evident in his literary allusions (the subtitle echoes Flannery O'Connor) and in his affection for egalitarian conversation. Nearly every page has something to make readers pause, laugh, think or pray; perhaps most amazing is Dark's skill at burying layers of meaning for the reader to discover. It's hard to imagine a better tonic for our age than this unblinkingly honest exercise in faithful patriotism. ~ Publishers Weekly
R. Kevin Seasoltz (Continuum: Jan 2005), 394 pages.
There have been many histories of Christian art and architecture, and many that have paid attention to the various cultural, social, and economic contexts in which the architecture and art appeared. Most of these accounts have been written by art historians. Kevin Seasoltz writes as a theologian, whose aim is to relate theological and liturgical developments throughout the course of Christian history to developments in sacred architecture and art. Believing that sacred buildings and artifacts have often been more constitutive of theological developments than constitutive of them, Seasoltz wants to help people discover architecture and art as theological loci — places of revelation. Following a chapter on culture as the context for theology, liturgy, and art, Seasoltz surveys developments from the early church up through the conventional artistic styles and periods. He pays particular attention to the conflicts that emerged between religion and art since the Enlightenment and to the significant advances made since the middle of the twentieth century to reconciling a wide range of competent architects, artists, and craft persons to the ministry of the Protestant, Anglican, and Catholic churches. Comprehensive, illuminating, ecumenical.
Gesa Elsbeth Thiessen, ed. (Eerdmans: Jan 1, 2005), 420 pages.
While interest in the relationship between theology and the arts is on the rise, there are very few resources for students and teachers, let alone a comprehensive text on the subject. This book fills that lacuna by providing an anthology of readings on theological aesthetics drawn from the first century to the present. A superb sourcebook, "Theological Aesthetics" brings together original texts that are relevant and timely to scholars today. Editor Gesa Elsbeth Thiessen has taken a careful, inclusive approach to the book, including articles and extracts that are diverse and ecumenical as well as representative of gender and ethnicity. The book is organized chronologically, and each historical period begins with commentary by Thiessen that sets the selections in context. These engaging readings range broadly over themes at the intersection of religion and the arts, including beauty and revelation, the vision of God, artistic and divine creation, God as artist, images of God, the interplay of the senses and the intellect, human imagination, mystical writings, meanings of signs and symbols, worship, liturgy, doxology, the relationship of word and image, icons and iconoclasm, the role of the arts in twentieth-century theology, and much more.