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.