Why do I say that “faith without art is dead”? Here’s a fourth reason.
Creating art deepens our understanding and appreciation of the Beauty and Truth of God.
When my daughter was in college studying art, I stirred up a little hornets’ nest of discussion one Thanksgiving when I asked the question, “Is art all subjective, or is there an objective way to measure art?”
“Subjective” means that you the subject determine the worth or truth of something. “Objective” means the object determines the worth or truth of something. 2+2=4 is an objective statement. “Math sucks,” is a subjective one.
So what about art? Is art merely subjective – to the point where we can only say “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”? Or is there an objective quality to art? Is there a beauty out there that comes with a capital B, before which all beauty is measured?
The question is not unimportant. And think through the consequences of your answer. If you say that there is no such thing as Beauty – capital B – that there is no way to objectively measure art, that it’s all subjective – then that means you can have no opinion about the music your teenagers listen to or the movies they watch. When Robert Mapplethorp drops a crucifix in a bottle of urine and calls it “Piss Christ” you can’t speak up. Nor should you be offended.
When a rap artist writes a song praising the murder of police and the rape of women you have to zip your lip, because he’s just artistically expressing his culture, we’re told. One man’s pornography is another man’s art, and who are you to judge it?
If art is all subjective, then this is where we end up. If beauty is only in the eye of the beholder, then art can mean anything, and ultimately then art means nothing at all.
“An author should never conceive of himself as bringing into existence beauty or wisdom which did not exist before, but simply and solely as trying to embody in terms of his own art some reflection of the eternal Beauty and Wisdom.” ~ C.S. Lewis
But we all intuitively know that there is something objectively measurable about art. There is something that allows there to be a consensus that this painting is a masterpiece, or this movie is Oscar-worthy. We even detect the objectivity of art in subtle ways. When the evening news broadcasts a story about a death or a tragedy, John Philip Sousa is not played beneath it. The music is always somber and reflective. Which is fitting and appropriate. It’s what ought to be played. Which points to the objectivity of art.
Of course, Christians know what that objective reality is pointing to – it is God, who embodies for us and defines for us what Beauty – capital B is, and Truth – capital T is. So art when it functions the way God intended, will deepen in some way our understanding and appreciation of the Beauty and Truth of God.
In Exodus 28:2 God instructs Moses to “Make sacred garments for your brother Aaron, to give him dignity and honor.” (The King James Version says, “to give him glory and beauty.”) Art which functions the way God intended will gives us these things: dignity, honor, glory and beauty. It will ennoble us, enrich us, inspire us, and will move us closer in some way to Beauty and to Truth.
C.S. Lewis put it this way – “An author should never conceive of himself as bringing into existence beauty or wisdom which did not exist before, but simply and solely as trying to embody in terms of his own art some reflection of the eternal Beauty and Wisdom.”
Bear Clifton is a pastor, writer and screenwriter. His blogs and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, “A Sparrow Could Fall”, and “Living Under The Cross”, all available through Amazon.