Monday, December 28, 2009

The Artists' Sermons

To most people this concept of being deprived of exposure to artistic works, and being middle aged, just doesn’t’ make sense. However, I was raised in the Bible belt where even the public schools had been greatly influenced by the notion that the fine arts have little value.

Then, about the time I was graduating, I became a firsthand fundamentalists. During my college and graduate school years, we were so Dualistic in our thinking that certainly fine art was so insignificant and unspiritual that it wasn’t even on our radar. If every art museum and library in the country burned to the ground we couldn’t have cared less. It would have been further proof that the second coming was at hand . . . something we all longed for.

To make a long story short, I never really started to include forms of fine art into my Christian world view until I “met” Francis Schaeffer (I use “met” in quotes because he had already died before I got involved with the group). Dr. Schaeffer was a lover of the fine arts, especially paintings. He taught me that no only can you be a good Christian and love the arts, but loving the arts was in some ways a prerequisite for being a good Christian.

Besides his emphasis on art in his books and films, during one of the very first LAbri meetings I attend in Rochester, Minnesota, we had a reading of the original Harry Potter book. At that same time, we were being told in our own church setting that Harry Potter was the next great attempt of Satan to steal the souls of our kids.

But since then, I’ve attended LAbri conferences on the visual, musical and literary arts. They taught me to love art for art’s sake. It doesn’t matter if the artist is a Christian or not, he or she still shares the same creator as we all do and that creator is just that . . . a creator.

I think I next started to appreciate the visual arts. My sister is an artist but I had taken her work seriously until then. Then I bought several coffee table picture books of art work. Now, whenever I visit a major city, rather than seeking out their sports stadiums, I seek out their fine art museums.

I’ve told this story before of how my kids introduced me to literary art just a year ago. I know it sounds crazy that I’ve lived so long, so deprived . . . but I fear that I’m not the only one.

Since my recent posting was about my personal feelings of sermon fatigure, I wanted to move on and talk about this other arena of sermons, out of the mouths, pens, and brushes of the artists.

Now, I’m not being totally humanistic here. I mean, just because it comes from the mind of the artist doesn’t mean that it is inherently good. Just like with the preacher from an Evangelical pulpit, you have to be discerning. There is music that uses hypnotic words telling you that you are ugly, worthless and should end your life. That can’t be healthy.

I remember Francis Schaeffer telling a story once about this very issue. I can’t remember if it was in one of his books, one of his films or one of the hundreds of lectures I’ve listened to. But in summary, he went to an art museum in Rotterdam, I think. It was either a museum devoted to modern abstract art or at least that was their major exhibition during his visit.

He made the comment, although there was not one written word in the museum—save the title of the works—and certainly no spoken words, by the time he was finished, there was a powerful message written on his soul. The message was simply, all is chaos. God is not there. Life has no meaning. As he exited the museum he commented that he personally felt far more vulnerable to sin than before he went in. He felt more open to lying, adultery or you name it.

So I am not attempting to glorify art for art’s glory. However, my dividing line between healthy art and unhealthy art is far more skewed in the direction of art verses what I experienced during my upbringing. Harry Potter was just the start. I love to wander the museums and stare at the creative beauty. The true abstract art has its own beauty as well. I might be hesitant though to surround myself with ONLY abstraction and art created in random chaos, such as Jason Pollock. Even Jason could not create totally random art for he, the thinking artist choose the colors and the "machines" for producing the art. And the influence of gravity has its own order.

So what are the sermons of the artists? As I’ve been reading great novels, I see the writers, at least, as field reporters sent to cover the human condition. The look, they observe and they have the talent to craft out words to save and share those observations. This is very important. This is why most of the Bible is made up of story telling and poetry. It has great value and it does not have to come from the hand of a Christian to have value. As I’ve said before, we were humans first . . . then Christians. But this human-ness is not a bad thing, on the other side of the Dualistic divide. But God, Himself created us woman and man. We are as we are reflection the true perfected creation (and thus reflecting the mind of God Himself) as well as the taint-ness of the Fall of Adam.

I hope to come back to this “discussion.”


Johan said...

Thanks for this great reminder of the importance of art.
I attended a weekend of L'Abri in the Netherlands this year, about art, and it opened my eyes to the depth of even abstract art, and the joy and worth of watching this and talking about it amongst ourselves.


MJ said...

Yeah,, I know that paintings had a special place in Francis' heart. His son Franky writes about Francis last moments here on earth. He was dying at St. Mary's hospital in Rochester,MN. Franky came up and filled his hospital room with his (Franky's) own art work and he continued painting in the room as his dad died. One of the last things his dad said to him was, "Franky we sure had a lot of fun in the Museums in Florence didn't we?"

I hope you enjoyed the conference. This will be my first year in a long time missing the annual US LAbri conference. When I go, I don't feel so insane anymore . . . until I get back home and see something on a local church's marquee about a anti-global warming or an anti-Harry Porter lecture or film.

PRS & ALS said...

Amy says:

I so agree with your comments about art and that God, our creator, can speak through that venue.

I recently read a book (can't remember the name) in which the author used the painting of van Gogh, showing his use of colors and figures to speak to us about God. It made me look at his paintings and the work of others differently.

I believe that God can use our own creativity to speak to us as well. We don't have to be "artists" to paint or draw. We were all created in the image of the Creator. Several years ago I attended a workshop entitles "Painting Your Prayers". I intended to paint lovely pictures of butterflies and flowers. But as I searched my heart and allowed God to speak to me, dark images began emerging, showing me issues that I'd buried for awhile that I needed to take a new look at and give to God for healing. This has led me down a road of continued use of art (even though I'm not an "artist") as prayer and as I consider scripture. I've developed a program that uses creativity (art, writing, movement, music) as prayer, to approach scripture and to discover who we were created to be.

I think art, writing and music that is not overtly Christian has been untapped in certain Christian circles and, as you said, villified in many places. It is of great value and is just waiting to be mined.

MJ said...

Sounds interesting, prayer though art. I wish I could draw. My drawings look like second grade stick figures.

It is interesting, that even if the artist shakes his or her fists at the heavens and declares that God is not there, he or she can not escape the image that they bear and the creativity that they share with the creator, nor the truth that they observe in the world and try to depict in their art.

Joani Barnett said...

It's really inspiring to read the comments .
An artist myself I have prayed and
Asked and asked and prayed to know how
To reach precious people through art and
Poetry. reading through scripture and my own
struggles it is coming out and encouraged
many are coming out to help people realize
that Jesus is the Creator God. He is the way
The truth and the life.

jmj said...

I can learn more from a morning in a great art museum than a thousand sermons from preachers, and learn it much deeper.

theartistformerlyknownasgeorge said...

I wonder how much of Francis Schaeffer's reaction to the exhibit you mention was from what he brought to it rather than the art itself.

The observer changes the observed by the act of doing so and then there is the actual interpretation that is filtered through our own personality and ideas.