What is art?
In other words, if people make beautiful things (buildings, stories, even clothing) and make them well, they’re performing an artistic process.
The Guggenheim debate is a great example of how complex art can be. Architecture can be art, paintings and sculpture can be art. So, critics wonder, which is more artistic — the Guggenheim building or the artwork inside it?
Either way, art can be anywhere.
Very often, Protestant evangelicals don’t realize art plays such a pervasive role in everyday life. There’s this unhealthy (sometimes unstated assumption) that if art isn’t explicitly for ministry uses, then it’s frivolous or sinful.
For example, Steve Turner mentions an incident in his book “Imagine” where he met a pastor who asked, “Gospel music is made for the glory of God but for whose glory is pop music made?”
One reason for this unhealthy assumption is simply the downside to how Protestant Evangelicals do church services. High church denominations (such as Catholicism) tend to integrate multiple art forms into church buildings and services; consequently, many people credit those churches with exposing them to art and beauty.
In a recent interview, actor Liam Neeson mentioned Catholic services, often very theatrical, were where he discovered “the magic of performance.”
Meanwhile, Evangelical church services may integrate art into children’s programs (church plays, pictures of Bible scenes) but adult services usually only have worship music played in minimally decorated sanctuaries.
Granted, not everyone likes cathedrals and this minimal style may keep people from idolizing church buildings.
It may also suggest that overtly religious art alone honors God since it only exposes adult churchgoers to worship music.
Another reason for this unhealthy assumption is how Protestant evangelicals emphasize Scripture. Francis Schaeffer noted in his book “Art and the Bible” that evangelicals tend to start their understanding of Christianity with salvation, not creation.
Consequently, Protestant evangelicals tend to give the Old Testament lower priority than the Gospels – and most Bible verses that discuss art and beauty are in the Old Testament.
As theologian Edward Meadors noted in his book “Creation, Sin, Covenant and Salvation,” the first two chapters of Genesis are “a text of poetic truth,” which establishes God is an artist. “Genesis 1:1 tells us that God by his very nature is creative.”
Schaeffer noted another Biblical passage that mentions art is Exodus 25-31, where God commands the Israelites to make the Ark of the Covenant and the tabernacle, detailing exactly how to make them.
These objects had practical purposes but were also aesthetically pleasing. They were works of art.
Schaeffer gives many insights about how God views art based on this Old Testament passage. I’ll only highlight two insights, about the priestly robes God commanded be made in Exodus 28.
First, Schaeffer notes that God wasn’t just concerned about the tabernacle art being symbolic; he wanted it to look good. In Exodus 28:2, God specifically said the priestly robes should be made “for glory and for beauty.”
It follows then, that “art is not something we merely analyze or value for its intellectual content. It is something to be enjoyed.”
Second, Schaeffer notes that God commanded the priestly robes would have blue, purple and scarlet pomegranates depicted on the hems.
Pomegranates are not naturally blue.
God was allowing – in this case, actually commanding – artists to use artistic license depicting things he created.
Therefore, “Christian artists do not need to be threatened by fantasy and the imagination, for they have a basis for knowing the difference between them and the real world ‘out there.’”
Scripture passages have lots to say about art. Forgetting these passages has left many evangelicals to make their own views, which often miss how important beauty is to God, beautiful things God wants us to enjoy, and the beautiful things we can make to honor him.
(This article first published by The Odyssey on February 6, 2017).