I was in a discussion with a friend of mine following a seminar in ecclesiology. We were going back and forth on the issue of art appreciation in the church and how it is good, yet narrow-minded. It is a wonderful thing that many churches advocate some kind of outlet for artists to show their talents. However, when we think through why art is heralded more than other activities that should be done to the glory of God, art has won out all too easily.
I realize this will probably rub folks the wrong way, especially my artsy friends. While there is a tendency to defend myself by saying, “I like Picasso!” or “I enjoy Vivaldi” or “I like swirls of red intermingled with hues of indigo,” by its very nature, the blogosphere will have some wiley folks that will cry out against my puritanical view. Before I say any more, I at least want to say this: I think it is a good thing to have some fotos and paintings and music and a film outlet for people to express their worship for God. With that said, can I challenge you, aspiring van Gogh, to think about why art has such a primacy in our current evangelical world?
I have heard of a church that has someone painting a picture during the sermon, and at the end of the preaching it is displayed before the congregation after the sermon. What does this say about the sermon? Is the painting then the high point of the sermon? Is the sermon merely building to the unveiling of the artist’s latest creation?
You may say, “Art, by nature, is meant to be admired and displayed.” Cannot the same be said for sports? After all, the Greek games were spectacular displays of power, grace, and beauty. Why don’t we have someone throwing a discus or doing pushups during the sermon to be able to show off their work ethic and discipline “for the glory of God?”
You may also say, “God has endowed art with a special quality so that it shows off purer beauty than a man shooting a free throw.” However, isn’t art merely metaphor for reality. That is, the artist tries to capture the beauty of the flower by painting it in a certain shade or with a particular background. Art is one of many forms that God has endowed with grace and the ability to portray his creation. After all, man is the ultimate portrayal of God’s grace on earth, isn’t he? Not to take away from Niagara Falls in the least, but man is the <em>imago dei</em> so that God’s rule on earth can be exercised and displayed. On the other hand, there is no real movement in paintings. They try to portray the massive waterfall with lines or colors, but they lisp in vain to capture the essence of the thing they seek to portray.
We should not diminish the importance of art, but we must not elevate it so that the artist has a louder megaphone than the athlete or student. There should be no hierarchy when it comes to displaying and doing all things to the glory of God.
Too many times people want to be known as sympathetic to the arts. It is true that aesthetics are an important part of admiring the natural world around us, but let’s keep the rhetoric to a minimum. It is telling that Scripture doesn’t speak at length about art. It puts primacy on farming…Could we be helped if we put as much emphasis on sowing and harvesting as we do on realism and abstraction?