We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house. ¶ According to the second law of thermodynamics, things fall apart. Structures disintegrate. Buckminster Fuller hinted at a reason we are here: By creating things, by thinking up new combinations, we counteract this flow of entropy. We make new structures, new wholeness, so the universe comes out even. A shepherd on a hilltop who looks at a mess of stars and thinks, ‘There’s a hunter, a plow, a fish,’ is making mental connections that have as much real force in the universe as the very fires in those stars themselves.
This does not mean that Christianity can be successfully expressed in every style. Some styles are wholly interwoven with aberrant philosophies (indeed, such styles are often nothing more than philosophical statements, which is why they are so bad aesthetically). Sometimes, Christians follow a particular style uncritically without recognizing the implicit contradictions between their faith and the style they are using to express it. Such incompatibility between form and content results in bad Christian art. (Late Victorian sentimentality, heavy metal nihilism, and pop culture consumerism would not seem to accord with a Biblical sensibility, but such misbegotten hybrids fill the Christian bookstores.)
Pleasures of Appreciation are very different. They make us feel that something has not merely gratified our senses in fact but claimed our appreciation by right. The connoisseur does not merely enjoy his claret as he might enjoy warming his feet when they were cold. He feels that here is a wine that deserves his full attention; that justifies all the tradition and skill that have gone to its making and all the years of training that have made his own palate fit to judge it. There is even a glimmering of unselfishness in his attitude. He wants the wine to be preserved and kept in good condition, not entirely for his own sake. Even if he were on his death-bed and was never going to drink wine again, he would be horrified as the thought of this vintage being spilled or spoiled or even drunk by clods (like myself) who can’t tell a good claret from a bad. And so with the man who passes the sweet-peas. He does not simply enjoy, he feels that this fragrance somehow deserves to be enjoyed. He would blame himself if he went past inattentive and undelighted. It would be blockish, insensitive. It would be a shame that so fine a thing should have been wasted on him. He will remember the delicious moment years hence. He will be sorry when he hears that the garden past which his walk led him that day has now been swallowed up by cinemas, garages, and the new by-pass … But in the Appreciative pleasures, even at their lowest, and more and more as they grow up into the full appreciation of all beauty, we get something that we can hardly help calling love and hardly help calling disinterested, towards the object itself. It is the feeling which would make a man unwilling to deface a great picture even if he were the last man left alive and himself about to die; which makes us glad of unspoiled forests that we shall never see; which makes us anxious that the garden or bean-field should continue to exit. We do not merely like the things; we pronounce them, in a momentarily God-like sense, “very good.” … This judgment that the object is very good, this attention (almost homage) offered to it as a kind of debt, this wish that it should be and should continue being what it is even if we were never to enjoy it, can go out not only to things but to persons. When it is offered to a woman we call it admiration; when to a man, hero-worship; when to God, worship simply.
Aidan Nichols (Ashgate Publishing: May, 2007), 152 pages.
GoRedeeming 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.
David Bentley Hart (Eerdmans: Oct 31, 2004), 448 pages.
The Beauty of the Infinite is a splendid extended essay in "theological aesthetics." David Bentley Hart here meditates on the power of a Christian understanding of beauty and sublimity to rise above the violence — both philosophical and literal — characteristic of the postmodern world. The book begins by tracing the shifting use and nature of metaphysics in the thought of Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Lyotard, Derrida, Deleuze, Nancy, Levinas, and others. Hart pays special attention to Nietzsche’s famous narrative of the "will to power" — a narrative largely adopted by the world today — and he offers an engaging revision (though not rejection) of the genealogy of nihilism, thereby highlighting the significant "interruption" that Christian thought introduced into the history of metaphysics. This discussion sets the stage for a retrieval of the classic Christian account of beauty and sublimity, and of the relation of both to the question of being. The main section of the book offers a pointed reading of the Christian story in four moments, or parts: Trinity, creation, salvation, and eschaton. Through a combination of narrative and argument throughout, Hart ends up demonstrating the power of Christian metaphysics not only to withstand the critiques of modern and postmodern thought but also to move well beyond them. Strikingly original and deeply rewarding, The Beauty of the Infinite is both a constructively critical account of the history of metaphysics and a compelling contribution to it.
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
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.
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.
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.
Frank Burch Brown (Oxford University Press: Feb 20, 2003), 336 pages.
Many Christians regard artistic taste as a matter of religious indifference, irrelevant to theological conviction. Brown insists otherwise, arguing that in responding to art, we may draw nearer to or pull away from God and other believers. But developing a well-grounded aesthetics requires serious reflection on conflicting traditions within Christendom: Brown does so by contrasting the views of Kierkegaard (who viewed art as a sensual distraction from the stern demands of discipleship) with those of Blake (who reveled in the artistic imagination as a conduit to heaven). As a composer and church musician, Brown naturally resists Kierkegaard's strictures, yet he concedes the risks of letting the artist into the sanctuary, especially at a time when a lax cultural relativism often paralyzes the critical faculties. Without dictating any narrow orthodoxy, Brown challenges Christian readers to cultivate an aesthetic discipline flexible enough to forge fresh ecumenical artistic styles but rigorous enough to ward off the cliches of kitsch, old and new. A provocative analysis, sure to open new lines of dialogue between artists and believers. ~ Bryce Christensen
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
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
This book advances an argument rooted in Christian narrative but driven largely by a philosophical engine that privileges rigorous analytic logic and careful scientific scrutiny. I see this as both the book’s great strength and weakness. Wolterstorff spends an overwhelming majority of the book developing exacting analysis on what he rightly considers the narrowness of contemporary Western notions regarding the arts, with frequent discussions of analytic/scientific evidence regarding the arts and the nature of perception. Unfortunately, this privileging of analytic/scientific discourses significantly undermines the development of a prophetic, coherent narrative that distills a broader, more compelling Christian view of the arts in our lives. I make this criticism partly because Wolterstorff himself claims that this volume is meant to be the more accessible work of a set of philosophical reflections he has written on the arts. Those whose philosophical leanings run in the pragmatic/poststructuralist direction, or those whose theological narratives are indebted more to a Christ-story rather than a creation-story (Wolterstorff relies primarily on the latter), will find that the arguments of this book occasionally seem to miss the mark. Nevertheless, they will also find a cogent analysis and critique of contemporary Western notions of the arts as well as the messy birth of a Christian perspective for the arts. ~ D. Clemens
GoWalking 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
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.
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
GoObjects of Grace: Conversations on Creativity and Faith is a collection ofconversations with some of today’s most intriguing artists—Sandra Bowden, Dan Callis, Mary McCleary, John Silvis, Edward Knippers, Erica Downer, Albert Pedulla, Tim Rollins and K.O.S., Joel Sheesley and Makoto Fujimura—focuses on the intersection of Christianity and creativity. In addition to the interviews and full color reproductions, this work also features a discussion with artist Makoto Fujimura, who lives two blocks from Ground Zero, commenting on how September 11th impacted him and the art community. Objects of Grace promises to enrich our understanding of the artistic process and works of art as they offer insights into the creator God.
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.
Richard Viladesau (Oxford University Press: Mar 25, 1999), 320 pages.
This book explores the role of aesthetic experience in our perception
and understanding of the holy. Richard Viladesau's goal is to
articulate a theology of revelation, examined in relation to three
principal dimensions of the aesthetic realm: feeling and imagination:
beauty (or taste); and the arts. After briefly considering ways in
which theology itself can be imaginative or beautiful, Viladesau
concentrates on the theological significance of aesthetic data provided
by each of the three major spheres of aesthetic perception and
response. Throughout the work, the underlying question is how each of
these spheres serves as a source (however ambiguous) of revelation.
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.
“Artistic value” or “quality” in a work of art is not merely a matter of personal opinion but to a high degree a matter of common agreement among artistically sensitive and trained observers and to a high degree objectively traceable. ¶ Our value judgment is a composite of “subjective” and “objective” elements. “Subjective” I call those which are the purely personal response of an individual; “objective,” those which are agreed upon by trained observers and therefore meet with general acceptance.
Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. ¶ He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid: and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed — love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, and victories without hope and worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands. ¶ Until he learns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.
But passive renunciation is not the whole of wisdom; for not by renunciation alone can we build a temple for the worship of our own ideals. Haunting foreshadowings of the temple appear in the realm of imagination, in music, in architecture, in the untroubled kingdom of reason, and in the golden sunset magic of lyrics, where beauty shines and glows, remote from the touch of sorrow, remote from the fear of change, remote from the failures and disenchantments of the world of fact. In the contemplation of these things the vision of heaven will shape itself in our hearts, giving at once a touchstone to judge the world about us, and an inspiration by which to fashion to our needs to whatever is not incapable of serving as a stone in the sacred temple.
A rabid mania for originality is rife in the modern intellectual world and characterizes all individual effort. We would rather err with genius than hit the mark with the crowd… This violent struggle for the perpetuation of our name extends backwards into the past, just as it aspires to conquer the future; we contend with the dead because we, the living, are obscured beneath their shadow. We are jealous of the geniuses of former times, whose names, standing out like the landmarks of history, rescue the ages from oblivion. The heaven of fame is not very large, and the more there are who enter it the less is the share of each. The great names of the past rob us of our place in it; the space which they fill in the popular memory they usurp from us who aspire to occupy it. And so we rise up in revolt against them, and hence the bitterness with which all those who seek after fame in the world of letters judge those who have already attained it and are in enjoyment of it.
Need is that I bring to a conclusion, for the present at any rate, these essays that threaten to become like a tale that has no ending. They have gone straight from my hands to the press in the form of a kind of improvization upon notes collected during a number of years, and in writing each essay I have not had before me any of those that preceded it. And thus they will go forth full of inward contradictions — apparent contradictions, at any rate — like life and like me myself.