So, whereas talking of ‘Christian art’ may be simplistic, there are Christian approaches to making art. At the end of our last post, Ally Gordon, contemporary artist and co-founder of Morphe Arts, suggested that a good starting point is the question ‘how does art function in the kingdom of God?’ Here’s his answer…
The apostle Paul writes, “In whatever you do work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord and not for men” (Col 3:23). We graft hard for the glory of God in whatever arena of the arts he leads us to. As with every act of service to Christ, making art requires prayer, study and the renewing of our minds through the power of God’s Spirit and his word.
When we ask how art functions in the Kingdom of God we are assuming art has a function (and beyond making walls look pretty, although there is much benefit simply in this). Art can open a window for the viewer to see the world in a way they have yet to experience. The artist can show us something of God’s creation or the fallen nature of the world. Artists can build bridges with those who don’t know Christ by exploring ideas and themes that are common to our daily experiences and the gospel.
Contemporary American artist, Betty Spackman writes, “we make art to remind us of the invisible and to heal our forgetfulness”. Art serves as visual signposts towards what lies beyond peripheral vision or to the realm of ideas and concepts. A painting is more than a collage of pigment and chemicals on canvas but also a window to reveal how the artist sees the world. As such, art is a good vehicle for exploring the Christian worldview. In a similar way, art is well suited to help us document and remember the past, art can help us grieve or lament and it may trigger the memory of important events, people or conversations.
Artists can tell stories through their art. All stories fit into the greatest story of the gospel and some artworks will explore grand and profound themes such as the existential questions, “why are we here?” and “what is the purpose of life?” Others will explore more modest ideas such as “look at that fading flower”.
For pastors wondering how to encourage artists in your church perhaps a good starting point would be to ask them seriously about their work. Ask them how their art functions in the kingdom of God?” Ask them what ideas inform their art and who inspires them. Avoid questions like, “do you do landscapes or portraits”, “what are you trying to say” or “tell me what its about”. An artist takes much time deliberating on the aesthetics of their work to help you engage with their work sometimes in a non-verbal way. Quite often the greatest Christian encouragement for an artist is when other believers appreciate their work enough to buy it. This may be the single most helpful act of support you can offer.
If you are a Christian and an artist may I point you towards the writing of Dr. Francis Schaffer and Dutch art historian Hans Rookmaaker. Rookmaaker’s Modern Art and the Death of a Culture was a breath of fresh air to me as an art student and I still return to Schaffer’s “Art and the Bible” when I need a little spiritual encouragement. More recently writers such as Calvin Seerveld, Steve Turner, Betty Spackman, Hilary Brand and Adrienne Chaplin have also written well on the subject (most their books published by IVP or Piquant).
To understand that this guy doesn’t just talk the talk though, check out Ally’s own work.
Finally, these two posts were originally posted on the Evangelical Alliance website (here). Thanks for the permission to reproduce.