What is true art?

This post follows my recent posts ‘Covenanted for culture, redeemed for cultural renewal’. and ‘The role of Christian artists’.

What does it mean for art to be true or for the artist to reflect a Christian worldview?

First of all, true art means producing art that is informed by its context and traditions. Good art shows an awareness of artistic traditions. There is always an element of inter-textuality in art – the appropriation and re-appropriation of other artistic artefacts and techniques. Art is an on-going conversation. True art is aware of that conversation and therefore able to engage meaningfully in that conversation. True art, therefore, cannot be conducted in isolation from the wider culture. We may sometimes speak from the margins, but we cannot speak from the ghetto.

A witness to creation

We have grown used to analysing and categorising the world. We too easily lose our wonder at the wonder-full world God has made and the wonder-full God who made it. The job of the artist is to help us look afresh on this world with ‘wide-eyed, childlike astonishment at the marvellous, mystifying handiwork of the Lord’ (Calvin Seerveld, Rainbows For the Fallen World, 23). ‘Art calls to our attention in capital, cursive letters, as it were, what usually flits by in reality as fine print. There is a type of exploratory, uncovering, at-the-frontier element prevalent in art.’ (Calvin Seerveld, Rainbows For the Fallen World, 27) Consider a photographic portrait of an old woman or a still life painting of flowers. Done well, they make you look  with fresh amazement at the wonder of the human face and all the history it can contain or the intricate beauty of a petal. We see, in William Blake’s words, ‘a World in a Grain of Sand, And a Heaven in a Wild Flower.’

A witness to sin

The goodness of creation means true art will often portray what is beautiful; the pervasive perversion of sin means true art will sometimes portray what is ugly for it will present the world as it is. Christian art cannot be trite. It cannot be mere décor. It must speak of the pain and suffering of our world. It must speak in a minor key as well as a major key. Its testimony to the beauty and glory of the world will always be touched with a note of poignancy for beauty and glory are no longer the whole truth.

A witness to redemption

Christian art will also embrace themes of redemption, hope and consummation. Even as it expresses the horror of sin and pain of suffering, Christian art cannot descend into nihilism. Its testimony to the sin and evil of the world will always be touched with a note of hope for evil is not the last word. If, for example, it portrays the horrors of war, it will also convey our continuing humanity. If it portrays the despair of a fragmented society, it will also convey the hope of redemption. This means that, even as it portrays what is ugly, true art can be beautiful.
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11 thoughts on “What is true art?

  1. Pingback: How can Christians Engage & Create Culture (Rather than simply reacting, copying, or abandoning it)? | missional musings

  2. I don’t believe you know what art is. Why do you call your blog true art blog?
    It is a shame to call your blog by that name when you know nothing about art! A good Christian does not lie!

    Alpha Master

  3. Alpha master was right. You shouldn’t call your blog True art blog. That is a lie.
    You are an impostor!

  4. Tim,

    You are right, they should have given you a better reason. Christians should have strict Christian values. I think they hold you to those values. When you just say art without indicating WHAT ART IS or what KINDS of art can be deemed acceptable under God, then it can be confusing.


  5. Is that your definition for true art? Ha, ha, ha, . . . I laughed so hard that I almost fell out of my seat, and you would have unknowingly become my killer! Do you know who Cezanne is? Or Matisse? or Titian? I bet you hardly know any of those names. My friends, they are artistic geniuses. They would not approve of your definition for art if they were still alive. Like me they would laugh until the shid come out!

    Teem the Impostor (my alias from now on!)

  6. The notion of “true art” goes way back, William Blake spoke of it, and long before him Rumi, the 12 Century Sufi poet wrote of true art. However in Titian’s time true art was that which expressed metaphorical and religious themes. Shortly after that, in the Renaissance, true art, while having religious overtones, was at its root the celebration of the concept of ‘Man’ the supreme creation, as the center of the universe.

    By the time Cezanne came along that precept had been shattered by science, and the age of the machine was emerging. Alienated by both religion and science Cezanne was looking for that which was of pure ‘Nature’. True art to Cezanne was to truly ‘see’ the animating intelligence just underneath the surface of nature. That’s why he said “The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.”

    But the phrase ‘true art’ in the modern area stems from the original abstract painters like Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee, and later artists like Mark Tobey and Morris Graves. If you study the root of their philosophy of art you will see that it explores a concept that goes beyond a mental concept of ‘nature’ and into a concept of a ‘sacred universal order’. Paul Klee said: “Isn’t the ultimate desire of human beings to perceive an order that surpasses us yet is within us, to participate in that order?”

    Participation in that order is to blends into the sacred leaving the ego behind, because the ego cannot go there and survive. Creating from that consciousness can only be true art.

  7. Patrick,

    You are so full of it! I know many like you, who do not see beauty but enjoy opening the mouth to regurgitate whatever they have been told in art classes. You are so blind to the greatness of Cezanne, that is why you have mentioned him alongside Kandinsky, an impostor,–an art illiterate!!!!!!!

    Kindly shut up when you know nothing of a subject and stop pretending. Get real. Make an honest living!

    Teem the Impostor

  8. What a joke! How can anyone mix up Kandinsky , Paul Klee who are mediocre impostors with the great master Paul Cezanne!

    Drop it! Patrick! You have as little relationship to art as a night crawler would dream of the sky. You may be a preacher, but artist? No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  9. This is my last entry. A thoughtful and intelligent dialog, or mature debate, about the notion of “true art’ would have been interesting. (By the way, I am neither a preacher nor a Christian).

    “My first interest is in Being—along the way I am a painter.”—Morris Graves

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