Art, Beauty, Interpretation
Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion (2000).
In selecting books for this list, Image Journal decided to list an author only once to end up with 100 different writers. Moreover, only creative writing was considered: fiction, poetry, drama, and creative nonfiction. The works selected manifest a genuine engagement with the Judeo-Christian heritage of faith, rather than merely using religion as background or subject matter. Authors featured on the list include notables like G.K. Chesterton, Ray Bradbury, Annie Dillard, T.S. Eliot, Madeleine L'Engle, C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, and many more. The list is orgnaized alphabetically by last name. "We hope that the following list offers but a glimpse of that wealth of talent this past century has seen — talent exhibited both by those who laid the groundwork for the great works now being written and by those whose compelling narratives and lyrics are helping to bring us into the twenty-first century with a renewed hope in the marriage of religion and art." ~ Image
Janice Elsheimer (Shaw Books: Nov 20, 2001), 224 pages.
Perhaps you're a "closet writer" who's been scribbling in journals for years. Maybe you once had a passion for playing the piano or violin — a passion that is still flickering somewhere deep inside you. You may have a knack for photography, drawing, gardening, cooking, or some other creative gift. Or you may long to express yourself creatively, but have yet to discover your unique talents. Your creativity was meant be used. Whether you are an artist who has already identified your gifts or you believe that you have artistic talent that has never been developed, working through this book will help you grow closer to becoming the person God has designed you to be. "Chapter-by-chapter, with thought-provoking words and exercises, Janice lifts the veil that blinds our thoughts towards our gifts. Most of us will be able to see ourselves somewhere within the pages of this book. We will then have the chance to overcome the lies that have kept us from believing that we can enjoy the wonderment of creating with the talent we possess." ~ from the foreword by Thomas Blackshear
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.
William A. Dyrness (Baker Academic: Jan 1, 2001), 190 pages.
How can art enhance and enrich the Christian faith? What is the basis for a relationship between the church and visual imagery? Can the art world and the Protestant church be reconciled? Is art idolatry and vanity, or can it be used to strengthen the church? Grounded in historical and biblical research, William Dyrness offers students and scholars an intriguing, substantive look into the relationship between the church and the world of art. Faith and art were not always discordant. According to Dyrness, Israel understood imagery and beauty as reflections of God's perfect order; likewise, early Christians used art to teach and inspire. However, the Protestant church abandoned visual arts and imagery during the Reformation in favor of the written word and has only recently begun to reexamine art's role in Christianity and worship. Dyrness affirms this renewal and argues that art, if reflecting the order and wholeness of the world God created, can and should play an important role in modern Christianity.
Robert Wuthnow (University of California Press: Jul 7, 2003), 319 pages.
Wuthnow and his associates interviewed 100 successful artists who are interested in spirituality, offering many of their stories in this topically organized book. Ceramicists, painters, dancers, sculptors, musicians and writers talked to interviewers about their spiritual journeys, their professional lives and the way the two have informed each other, often to the point of becoming indistinguishable. While each artist's story is unique, many common themes emerge: often dealing with family trauma, these artists were spiritually curious children who asked tough questions and emerged as adults who found solace through a series of spiritual practices, romantic relationships and artistic pursuits. Compelling in some respects, these biographies are unfortunately pervaded by narcissism. In particular, several of the artists Wuthnow features have lived nomadically with children in tow, often separating them from the other parent. Wuthnow anticipates that his subjects will be perceived as self-absorbed spiritual dabblers, and takes pains on several occasions to argue that they are not. He does a fine job of finding common themes in these narratives, particularly many interviewees' appreciation of mystery and ineffability, and admiringly calls artists the spiritual leaders of our time. Artistically minded readers will likely agree with this assertion, and discover in these pages a vibrant perspective on spirituality and the meaning of contemporary life.
Madeleine L'Engle (Doubleday: Sep 1993), 320 pages.
We are all strangers in a strange land, longing for home, but not quite knowing what or where home is. We glimpse it sometimes in our dreams, or as we turn a corner, and suddenly there is a strange, sweet familiarity that vanishes almost as soon as it comes…" Story captures our hearts and feeds our imaginations. It reminds us who we are and where we came from. Story gives meaning and direction to our lives as we learn to see it as an affirmation of God’s love and truth–an acknowledgment of our longing for a rock in the midst of life’s wilderness. Drawing upon her own experiences, well-known tales in literature, and selected narratives from Scripture, Madeleine L’Engle gently leads the way into the glorious world of story in The Rock That Is Higher. Here she acknowledges universal human longings and considers how literature, Scripture, personal stories, and life experiences all point us toward our true home. ~ Product Description
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.
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.
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
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