Art, Beauty, Interpretation
Steven Pressfield (Grand Central: Apr 1, 2003), 192 pages.
Drawing on his many years' experience as a writer, Pressfield (The Legend of Bagger Vance) presents his first nonfiction work, which aims to inspire other writers, artists, musicians, or anyone else attempting to channel his or her creative energies. The focus is on combating resistance and living the destiny that Pressfield believes is gifted to each person by an all-powerful deity. While certainly of great value to frustrated writers struggling with writer's block, Pressfield's highly personal philosophy, soundly rooted in his own significant life challenges, has merit for anyone frustrated in fulfilling his or her life purpose. Successful photographer Ulrich (photography chair, Art Inst. of Boston; coeditor, The Visualization Manual) explores the creative impulse and presents an approach to developing creativity that, like Pressfield's, will be relevant to artists and others. He identifies and explains seven distinct stages of the creative process: discovery and encounter, passion and commitment, crisis and creative frustration, retreat and withdrawal, epiphany and insight, discipline and completion, and responsibility and release. He also develops his view of the three principles of the creative impulse, which include creative courage, being in the right place at the right time, and deepening connections with others. Rooted in Eastern philosophy, Ulrich's fully developed treatise nicely updates the solid works of Brewster Ghiselin (The Creative Process), Rollo May (The Courage To Create), and Julia Cameron (The Artist's Way). It also supplements Pressfield's inspirational thoughts on overcoming resistance through introspective questions and practical exercises that further elaborate the creative process. Both books are recommended for public libraries needing additional works on creativity. ~ Dale Farris
Ned Bustard and Sandra Bowden, eds. (Square Halo Books: Aug 2000)
The goal of this book is to provide a deeper discussion of what a believer practicing their discipline for God's glory would (or should) look like. Rather than a defense of the believer's place in the arts — which has been done very well in other works — this book is intended to be primarily about art MAKING. The premise of this work is that a Christian looks at the world differently than the non-christian due to a restored relationship with the Creator. Imagine a christian sitting down to create a piece of pottery, write a novel or paint a picture. This believer has decisions to make: color, form, content, theme... as well as where they fit into their church and larger community. Of course this book can't dictate things such as, "Paint a red bird... write the song in standard time... the pot should have three handles...". But decisions do need to be made and it is the intent of this book to give the readers ideas to work through so they can develop the internal tools needed to carry out their artwork with a biblical worldview. In this way, It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God will offer both theoretical and practical insights into the making of art from a biblical perspective. We as believers in the arts can show through the common grace of art a fleeting picture of Eden. We should not allow the arts to be the sole dominion of the enemies of God but instead we should join with Martin Luther in affirming our desire to see all the arts "in the service of Him who has given and created them."
Richard Viladesau (Paulist Press: Jul 2000), 288 pages.
Richard Viladesau's book takes a look at an inviting topic that has come into increasing prominence in a number of fields lately — including theology. Theology and the Arts explores, in a timely and engaging manner, several aspects of the relations between theology and aesthetics, in both the pastoral and academic realms. The underlying motif of this work is that beauty is a means of divine revelation, and that art is the human mediation that both enables and limits its revelatory power. Using examples from music, pictorial art and rhetoric, the five chapters explore different aspects of the ways that art enters into theology and theology into art, both in pastoral practice, e.g., liturgical music, sacred art and preaching, and in the area of systematic reflection, where, Viladesau contends, art must be recognized as a genuine theological text. A reader-friendly feature of this work is the addition, after the central chapters, of a discography of illustrative musical works and lists of internet sights of sacred art and art history resources-a virtual museum — that will complement the text. These enhance the value of this well-written, provocative text. Although aimed at undergraduate theology students, it will certainly capture the interest of art students, pastoral ministers and anyone who appreciates the arts.
Jeremy Begbie, ed. (Baker Academic: Jan 1, 2001), 176 pages.
Although the arts have played a significant role in both world history and Christian history, the contemporary church has often shunned them in favor of a more intellectual approach to theology. Beholding the Glory argues the necessity of renewing an engagement between theology and the arts. Specifically focusing on the incarnation, the book shows how the arts have an indispensable role to play in disclosing God's wisdom. With an introduction by the editor, the book consists of eight essays written by practicing artists (a sculptor, poet, dancer, and musician), theologians, and professors-all well-versed in the relationship between imagination and theology. Beholding the Glory demonstrates the indispensable role the arts play in disclosing God's wisdom to us. Writing from different Christian traditions, practicing artists, theologians, and professors-all well-versed in the relationship between imagination and theology-focus on the incarnation and draw out a wealth of meaning in the belief that God entered our world as one of us.
Paul Corby Finney (Oxford University Press: Sep 18, 1997), 352 pages.
This revisionist study challenges the received opinion that in its earliest manifestations Christianity was a form of religiosity opposed both on principle and in fact to the use of pictures. Paul Corby Finney argues that the well-known absence of Christian pictures before A.D. 200 is due to a complex interplay of social, economic, and political factors, and is not, as is commonly assumed, a result of an anti-image ideology. The book documents the origins of Christian art based on some of the oldest surviving Christian archaeological evidence, and it seeks to show how the Christian products conformed to the already-existing pagan types and models. This study will interest scholars and students in the fields of church history, ancient history, archaeology, art history, classics, and historical theology.
Ric Ergenbright (Tyndale House: May 1, 2004), 160 pages.
When Ric Ergenbright began his travel career, his passion was seeing and photographing the differences between the world’s cultures. But time and experience showed him that human societies are more alike than not. People everywhere laugh when they are happy, cry when they are hurt, and ask the same "big" questions about life. Who am I? Where did I come from? What is my purpose? Does God exist? Is there life after death? How then should I live? In Psalm 8, King David asks the question of the ages: "What is man?" How we answer this all-encompassing question determines how we live as individuals and societies, because our perspective of people, nature, and God is founded on our perception of man. It defines our understanding and expression of love; it governs our rule over the natural world; and it reveals the deity that we worship and serve. From the beginning, God has communicated His truth to man through images and stories of real-life events. Following this example, Ric Ergenbright combines current-day photographs of the worldwide family of man with the historical narrative of man’s creation, fall, and redemption to illustrate the eternal relevance and life-changing power of this story, which is for all people of all nations.
Madeleine L'Engle (Shaw Books: Apr 17, 2001), 256 pages.
Walking on Water collects 12 brief meditations by Madeleine L'Engle on the nature of art and its relation to faith. L'Engle, the beloved author of A Wrinkle In Time among others, has written and spoken widely and wisely about the connection between religion and art. The gist of her understanding is as follows: "To try to talk about art and about Christianity is for me one and the same thing, and it means attempting to share the meaning of my life, what gives it, for me, its tragedy and its glory. It is what makes me respond to the death of an apple tree, the birth of a puppy, northern lights shaking the sky, by writing stories." She believes that "[b]asically there can be no categories such as 'religious' art and 'secular' art because all true art is incarnational, and therefore 'religious.'" And "incarnation," in L'Engle's view, means "God's revelation of himself through particularity." In this book there is some slippage between L'Engle's autobiographical and critical voices. As a result, she often claims Christian significance for works whose meaning is not intentionally Christian. She admits this freely: "[B]ecause I am a struggling Christian, it's inevitable that I superimpose my awareness of all that happened in the life of Jesus upon what I'm reading, upon Buber, upon Plato, upon the Book of Daniel. But I'm not sure that's a bad thing. To be truly Christian means to see Christ everywhere, to know him as all in all." ~ Michael Joseph Gross
Michael Card (InterVarsity Press: Jul 2002), 168 pages.
Card's stunning little book on creativity opens with a story about Jesus: faced with an adulterous woman that he was asked to punish, he knelt down and scribbled something in the sand. Card says that commentators have asked the wrong question what Jesus wrote rather than the more provocative question of why: "It was not the content that mattered but why he did it. Unexpected. Irritating. Creative." This same praise can be heaped upon his perceptive, original combination of storytelling and theological insight. Like Card's other books, this is profoundly biblical, teasing out fresh interpretations of Scripture through deep interaction with the text. Who but Card would imagine Noah's construction of the ark as a creative, imaginative act? Who but Card would then contrast this creation to the erection of the Tower of Babel, which demonstrates what happens when people create out of selfish ambition? Various chapters discuss the role of imagination in the prophetic books of the Bible, the activity of Jesus in helping to create the universe and the need for "a lifestyle of listening." Card's tone alternates between a gentle call to embrace God's beauty and a stinging jeremiad against the glib it's-all-about-the-artist approach to creativity that dominates both Christian and secular thinking. The book is not prescriptive; it doesn't help would-be artists and writers enhance their creativity through innovative techniques or exercises. It simply describes what it is like to know God and, as a result of that experience, to want to respond to him. ~ From Publishers Weekly
Karen Stone (Augsburg Fortress Press: Mar 2003), 160 pages.
"Many people are frustrated at their first encounter with a work of art that seems inscrutable or meaningless," notes artist/art educator Stone (Univ. of Texas). "I have a passion to help those who want to be less confused by the art they see to find meaning in art and even, through their encounter with art, to discern in it the Spirit's voice." With this lofty goal, Stone looks at art as the embodiment of the transcendent, providing specific tools to help the general reader look at a work of art in a more detailed and meaningful way (with observations on color, form, composition, etc.), as well as to find a spiritual meaning and connection to the work of art. Employing a Judeo-Christian perspective, she shows how the communal experience of visual art can transform the visible Word to the prophetic Word. She uses examples from Velazquez (Las Meninas), Picasso (Guernica), Goya, Van Gogh, herself, and others and encourages readers to seek examples of their own from art books, galleries, and museums. A thoughtful combination of art appreciation and spiritual aesthetics. ~ Marcia Welsh, Dartmouth Coll., for Library Journal
Steve Turner (InterVarsity Press: May 2001), 131 pages.
Imagine art that is risky, complex and subtle! Imagine music, movies, books and paintings of the highest quality! Imagine art that permeates society, challenging conventional thinking and standard morals to their core! Imagine that it is all created by Christians! This is the bold vision of Steve Turner, someone who has worked among artists--many Christian and many not — for three decades. He believes Christians should confront society and the church with the powerful impact art can convey. He believes art can faithfully chronicle the lives of ordinary people and equally express the transcendence of God. He believes that Christians should be involved in every level of the art world and in every media. Yet art and artists have not always been held in high esteem by conservative Christians. Art rarely seems to communicate clear propositional truth, rarely deals with certainties and absolutes. And the lifestyles of artists too frequently seem at odds with the gospel. So the arts have often been discouraged among Christians. Throughout this stimulating book, however, Turner builds a compelling case against such a perspective. He shows that if Jesus is Lord of all of life and creation, then art is not out of bounds for Christians. Rather it can and should be a way of expressing faith in creatively, beautifully, truthfully arranged words, sounds and sights. This stirring call is must reading for every Christian who has been drawn to the arts or been influenced by them.