Regarding aesthetics and biblical worldview, Dr. Brian Morley of The Master’s College makes the following observations:
The subject of beauty is greatly neglected in studies of philosophy from a Christian perspective. The following kinds of questions are sure to arise for the serious Christian thinker: “Is beauty a matter of each culture’s values; or is there a trans-cultural standard of beauty—traceable to the Creator?” “What is the relationship between truth and beauty?” “What is the role of aesthetics in Christian worldview?”
Dr. Morley goes on to say, Nancy Pearcey’s comments in her book, Total Truth,certainly apply regarding the ‘secular captivity’ of the cultural arts. “Christians watch—helplessly standing by with hardly a clue as to how to impact culture; relate to the arts; or make any impact at all. The current state of affairs is a vast departure from the role of the arts in church history. For the last 2000 years the church has been the force which has influenced the arts far more than any other force. Christians seem to be alienated from the arts. Most dedicated Christians go to work, join a church board, go home, and make almost no impact upon, or contact with, the cultural arts.”
Morley’s observations serve as a catalyst for discussion. After all, biblical worldview affirms that there is a perfect correlation between the Word of God and human experience. Therefore, we should expect that our human yearning for beauty would be addressed in the Bible. The following article is intended to explore these questions from the perspective of a Christian artist.
God is the ‘Master Artist’
God has created us to be enthusiastic spectators of His excellence. The universe is the ‘stage’ of His glory. We were designed to think God’s thoughts after Him as we marvel at the order in creation. Our aesthetics are keyed to God’s own expression of truth and beauty.
By way of example—we are impressed and inspired by the grace, courage, beauty and strength of a black stallion. But God is the original artist. He thought upthe very idea of ‘horse’ in the first place. He determined every aspect of its anatomy and behavior. He planned that this animal would be domesticated by man and that it would fill an immense niche in the development of human culture. When the Lord heightened Job’s understanding of the divine wisdom which pervades creation He alludes to this ‘original divine design’ while describing the behavior of the horse (Job 39:19-25).
From the historic use of the horse in farming; in warfare—everything from carriages to racing—we are amazed at the versatile uses of this noble animal. I think how often horses have been depicted in art. Whether the activity is recreation, agriculture, transportation, or war—the horse has served as a living ‘tool’ utilized by man.
The artist is necessarily a ‘student’ of God’s creation. When a painter of sculptor begins his creative work; he is forced to consider angles, radii, textures, colors, patterns, shapes, and forms. In a word, he is confronted with God the Master Designer.
Whether the artist is drawing hands, head, nose—a shark, a tree, or a golden retriever; the person seeking to do the creative work is faced with the ‘geometry and design’ used by God the Master Designer. The human artist is confronted by the original design genius of the Creator.
As light defines the musculature and skeletal systems beneath the skin—the artist (if he or she is to be a truthful and deft draftsman) must diligently study his subject. In the artist’s observations; he observes and takes mental notes. He mustknow his subject if he is to make it look real and believable.
When we look at a painting or a sculpture and we say that it looks real—what we are saying in actuality is that the artist has repeated a small degree of God’s design. The artist in using oil paint or bronze has captured many of the same ratios, angles, forms, and relationships that are found in the creation. The artist has been visually thinking a tiny portion of God’s thoughts after Him.
Jonathan Edwards saw beauty as consisting of the order in which parts are rightly related. In Edwards’ words, beauty consists mostly of ‘sweet mutual consents’. By this he meant that the things which make up an object of beauty (whether the creative work of God, or the craft of a human artisan) are ‘rightly set’ or rightly related (Albert Mohler, A Christian View of Beauty, Part One, p. 3).
Examples abound from nature whether foliage, cloudscape, glacier, lightning, purple grapes, antelope, or flowers, everything in nature speaks of God’s order and design. Even holding up a freshly cut orange wedge to the light reveals a world of design and order. The Christian artist takes none of these for granted. He or she studies all the features and relationships within the design of his subject.
God the Master Artist has set the Standard for Aesthetic Beauty
God’s truth and goodness determine the standard of beauty. The beauty that God has placed in the creation is immediately related to His goodness. For Adam and Eve were placed in paradise—a place of limitless beauty—thus God’s bounty and goodness are joined to beauty.
Humans have a yearning for beauty. We seek to surround ourselves with beauty. The aesthetic evokes satisfaction and admiration in us. This trait is unique to the creatures made in God’s image. We find the order in an English garden very pleasing to the eye; but a wild boar sees only that which he may root up.
The creation speaks of the order and of the cycles that form man’s habitat. The flower; the pollen, the bee; and the fruit speak of the goodness of God in creating and arranging systems which constantly replenish man’s food supply.
Beauty is related to order because God has given us a standard of unity, proportion, and clarity (Thomas Aquinas). God has created a nearly infinite number of living things which are complexes containing parts. The individual parts (in an organism or plant) bear a precise relationship to the whole.
So fundamental and primary are these relationships between the parts—we find humor in a drawing that intentionally distorts ratios (such as a man’s nose drawn half the size of his face). Even the untrained eye can notice when the legs of a horse are poorly drawn perhaps as too short, or with joints in the wrong places.
The standard of beauty is fixed; it is not evolving. Some would no doubt contest this statement; but God finished His creative work on the sixth day and rested on the seventh. There is no possibility of progress in the sphere of beauty becausebeauty is not evolving. The standard has been set once and for all by God when He pronounced all that He had made exceedingly good (Gen 1:31). God’s unspoiled creation formed the original ‘canon’ (or standard) of what is beautiful.
A rose or an orchid has intrinsic beauty because contained within its design and purpose is the thought of God. Truth, beauty, and virtue have no existence independent of God—they originate in the thought of God. When a man or woman expresses truth, beauty, and virtue—it is but thinking God’s thoughts after Him.
Beauty is an expression of unity, clarity, and coherence set into a well-organized whole. The parts are well-formed and properly proportioned to one another. This is true of a beautiful symphony as well as a beautiful Victorian piece of furniture (note the need for experts who know the ‘standard’ when judging art shows, dog shows, horse shows, or wine competitions—they are intimately acquainted with the proportions which make up the standard).
Beauty is to be admired, enjoyed, appreciated for its goodness—but beauty is not to be worshipped. Beauty is intended for our enjoyment that we might bless and glorify our Creator who is good—and who has placed His goodness in the creation as a testament to His creatures of His benevolence (see Mortimer J. Adler,Six Great Ideas, pp. 64-123).
Thus the doctrine of creation is the starting point when thinking about beauty and creativity within Biblical worldview. God’s creative work is both beautiful and functional—colors, sounds, patterns, textures, and fragrances fill God’s creation.
Not only is creation evidence of God’s infinite wisdom and power; it also testifies to His creativity and artistic imagination (Leland Ryken, “The Creative Arts,” inThe Making of the Christian Mind).
Torrential waterfalls, rainbows, fragrant meadows, sunsets, snow-capped summits, produce a human aesthetic response. “The Christian knows that very fabric of the universe expresses God’s presence with majestic beauty and grandeur. Psalm 19:1 states, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows forth His handiwork.’ Nature has been called the ‘aesthetics of the infinite. Everything in the natural world can be appreciated for its aesthetic qualities which find their source in our Creator” (Jerry Solomon, Jimmy Williams, Art and the Christian, www.probe.org).
Art that is Beautiful communicates Truth
God the Master Designer has joined form and function in what He has made. God has designed certain structures to perform specific functions. From our earliest childhood years we remember books about zoo animals. We memorized the unique things about them; their shapes, their lifestyles; the noises they make.
Each creature has distinctive features which perfectly join form with function (note the body type in the following creatures: giraffe, ostrich, pelican, kangaroo, hummingbird, blue whale, wolf, shark, river otter, and buffalo—body design perfectly fits lifestyle).
The Lord highlights His own creativity and imagination when speaking to Job about the diverse behaviors and lifestyles of the creatures He has made (Job 38-41). Though the ostrich is a bird, it is created to run like a horse at full gallop—ostriches do not migrate like flying geese. Kangaroos bound effortlessly in great leaps, penguins ‘fly’ underwater propelled by ‘wings’ that are designed to serve as flippers that paddle water not air.
It’s almost laughable how trite the creatures are which are invented by science fiction writers. The ‘norm’ in sci-fi is something which has mutated into a savage gray-brown monster dripping with goo pursuing human victims across the silver screen. Mutants are ‘easy’ to invent; but what is difficult to design is a new creature that is truly beautiful. This is next to impossible because God has already filled every niche of creation with a nearly infinite variety of creatures—animals which fly, hop, slither, waddle, leap, glide, walk on hundreds of legs, or travel by jet propulsion (squid).
The original systems, plants and animals, and relationships in our world are purely the thought of God. The Creator has given us the concepts; the categories; and the first principles. It is these which we work with in the aesthetic realm. God has set the standard of beauty—it is not evolving because He has provided, and immutably set, the categories for reality.
When an artist is engaged in creative expression; he can be overwhelmed by the sheer potential number of possible arrangements. But it is the things which God has created that are brought together in creative combinations. Consider the infinite wisdom which is demonstrated in the lovely meeting of form and function.
When an artist studies God’s creation; he is forced to reckon with the union of form and function. We take the aforementioned animal behaviors for granted—often forgetting the infinite wisdom that went into their design. But, as soon as the artist begins to draw a living creature which God has designed; he comes face to face with the connection between form and function (Carl Zimmerman, Christian Art—Cultivating a Biblical Worldview).
The human hand is far more complicated than the human heart. Why? Because the functions the hand performs are more complicated than the functions of the heart. Art helps us understand more of God’s handiwork in creation because art makes us ‘see’ in new ways—with greater depth of observation. (EX. Examples of the union of form and function are everywhere in nature: an elephant’s trunk, a pinecone, a sea urchin, a hawk’s eye, a kelp forest, a tentacle, etc.)
Man as a creative spirit made in the image of God imitates God in his pursuit of form and function. Art and imagination touch so many areas of our lives. Nearly every modern convenience—every industrial/manufactured product you depend upon began as a drawing—as a piece of conceptual art—from the car you drive; to kitchen appliances; to your ipod; to your clothing; to your furniture you sit on and sleep on at home.
Untold billions of design dollars are spent by auto makers worldwide to find just the right combination of form and function. We want a vehicle which performs well and is pleasing to look at. Inventors and designers are always looking for a glorious blend of the two.
Along these same lines; think of how much historic architecture in Europe is based upon the arch. The arch is beautiful; aesthetically pleasing—and yet it is one of the most efficient structures fulfilling the function load-bearing in a visually pleasing and economical fashion (minimum bricks for maximum load-bearing capacity). Thus, form and function unite in the architecture of the great cathedrals of Europe. I also think of the most famous bridges in America which are engineering masterpieces. Suspension bridges are engineering marvels which also possess beauty. The greatest beauty is where form and function meet most perfectly.
The masterpiece of the human body is an engineering marvel. Your face alone contains a number of highly efficient organs needed for your survival—sense of smell, taste, sight; facial expressions, speech, taking in food, drink, oxygen, listening. In addition, your face is unique from all other humans—it is part of your identity. The organs on your face perform so many utilitarian functions; yet your spouse regards your face as beautiful or handsome and desires to kiss you.
As the image of God, man shares with God the characteristics not only of rationality and morality; but also the desire and ability to make things. “The image of the creative God in people is why people create” (Leland Ryken).
Abraham Kuyper said the following, “As image bearers of God, man possesses the possibility both to create something beautiful, and to delight in it. . . . The world of sounds, the world of forms, the world of tints, and the world of poetic ideas, can have no other source than God; and it is our privilege as bearers of His image, to have a perception of this beautiful world, artistically to reproduce, and humanly to enjoy it.”
Beautiful art communicates truth because it says that if God made it—it is worthy of being depicted in art and talked about (Francis Schaeffer). God as Creator has filled His creation with subjects that are not immediately religious (galaxies, forests, birds, whales, mountains, and brooks).
Therefore, art within the Christian worldview is not always identifiable as ‘religious’ (that is not containing symbols and themes that are immediately recognizable as religious). Christianity is not just salvation—it is total truth which concerns the world in its totality and the cosmos itself. Man’s emotions, body, values, and surroundings are therefore important subjects in God’s world because the individual is made in the image of God and possesses an immortal soul. In a word, the individual counts (Francis Schaeffer, Art and the Bible).
By contrast in much of modern art man is but an abstraction; a symbol void of divinely bestowed dignity. Contemporary art tends toward nihilism—man is flattened out into an abstraction without purpose and significance—he is frequently pictured as adrift in a meaningless world ruled by chance instead of placed in a purposeful world ruled by an all-wise and infinitely good Creator.
The Artist’s Creative Process underscores the fact that he is made in the Image of God
Man as the image of God is ‘creatively receptive’ of God’s truth and beauty. By ‘creatively receptive’ means that man is designed by God to receive divine revelation. In art creative receptivity manifests itself in countless combinations. When an artist incorporates a tulip motif into a stained glass window; he is being creatively receptive. In other words, he is taking what God has made and using it creatively.
Examples abound. Even in interior decoration designers bring in beautiful specimens of stone, wood, coral and plant life—weaving them and integrating them into the décor of the home.
We show our creativity by using what God has made in aesthetically pleasing ways; it is part of our stewardship. We see this in the design of musical instruments—yet another example of a manmade union of form and function (trumpet, violin, and kettle drum are made of different materials given to us by God).
God gives a wonderful example to mankind of creative receptivity when He gives the ‘blueprint’ for the tabernacle in the book of Exodus. Instead of a structure of sanitary white; He employs bells, flowers, precious stones, sculptures, symbols, angles, animal likenesses, color tapestries, sweet fragrant incense and anointing oils.
Instead of commanding the construction of a tabernacle that is solely raw utilitarian; it is filled with aesthetics. In essence, He is guiding man in the process ofcreative receptivity; He is setting an example of constructing something that is creatively receptive. Craftsmen are selected to work in gems, hardwood, textiles, metallurgy, and gold leaf. The end result was that the sacred tent (and it accoutrements) was for glory and for beauty (Ex 25:33-36; 28:2, 40; 39:24).
‘Creative receptivity’ extends not only to the arts; but also to the sciences and related disciplines. Creative receptivity belongs under the broader heading of common grace; for God’s benevolence allows man to research and investigate all the categories of knowledge He has given. Through human labor, men compose, investigate, design, and synthesize. Their resultant contributions to science, medicine, industry, and engineering allow us to better fulfill the dominion mandate (Gen 1:28; Ps 8). In addition, through the discoveries made in these disciplines—the suffering born of the curse is relieved (diseases are prevented and cured; housing conforms to safety standards; etc.). But we must add that common grace is an expression of God’s present long suffering; divine judgment is coming (Rom 2:1-11); only the redemption that is in Christ Jesus will ultimately reverse the curse.
Whether in the visual arts, drama, or literature; the creative process utilizes the ‘symbolic vocabulary’ of God’s world. By ‘symbolic vocabulary’ is meant that all that it is around us belongs to God’s world. The world in its unfallen state was the unblemished thought of God. When artists and writers express themselves creatively, they are employing the ‘symbols’ which exist in the real world (Francis Schaeffer, Art and the Bible).
All effective communication depends upon the use of these symbols (home, family, mother, father, tree, cow, friendship, mealtime, sleep, work, dress, stars, emotions, etc.). Without the use of symbols; we cannot know what the artist is saying.
“Abstract art” may contain color and design; but without symbols it remains in the category of ‘non-representational’. It misses an entire dimension—it has an undefined relationship with the viewer. It is alienated from the viewer so to speak—it does not connect so as to communicate.
In great art there are symbols employed which immediately register as recognizable to the eye of the viewer. When I first began to sell and create art worthy of purchasing; I felt a little intimidated by great photography—as if I were in competition with the camera.
But the more I studied the great masters (like Corot and Sargeant) the more convinced I became that a painting is offering something far different than a photograph.
True art gives us something that pure objectivity (like the camera), cannot give us--art gives us the human response—the soul’s response to life. One of Robert Frost’s most memorable poems is titled, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” A photo could not possibly say what Robert Frost does in just a few lines of the English language. He expresses emotion—the soul’s response to snowfall in the woods. And we are grateful—willing to pay for his poem. In Frost’s poem he communicated what has impressed his spirit. He gave us a window into the human soul. We are grateful he put into words what he felt at the time.
Great art does something similar. The artist controls the treatment of the subject he is painting—whether it is a picnic, a sunset, a baby, or a civil war battle. The painter seeks to communicate what he feels about the subject. He uses color, design, lighting, composition, and gesture in order to tell a story.
Beautiful art not only demonstrates the principles of draftsmanship and aesthetics; it also communicates the artist’s uniqueness and personality—and most of all, the artist’s convictions about his subject.
Therefore 10 great artists would paint the same subject in 10 different ways. This can be frustrating to people who like precise rules—for there is an immense amount of room for individual interpretation. In fact in great art the uniqueness of the individual painter—with his own interpretation of his subject—permeates his work.
An artist brings to the creative process his own passion, convictions, experience, and understanding of his subject. These factors separate fine art from other forms of two dimensional representational art such as illustration, commercial art, and industrial photography.
When you buy a piece of really great art you are getting the ‘soul’s work’ of that man or woman who painted the piece. Through modern laser technology we could cut a marble statue of a man that was more anatomically faithful than Michelangelo’s ‘David’; but as a piece of art it would be ‘soul-less’.
The artist’s ‘toolbox’ does not just contain paint and brushes—he brings curiosity, a sense of wonder, experimentation, expectation of discovery. He also brings a willingness to wrestle and grapple with the problem—until he finds a satisfying solution—ultimately he seeks a way of portraying the symbols so that what he wants to say will be understood by the viewer. He wants to impress the viewer with what has impressed his own soul.
In William Turner’s “Shipwreck of the Minotaur,” the viewer is made to feel the devastating power of the sea as it overwhelms the little craft which float upon it. A slanted horizon duplicates the pitching feeling of being tossed by the waves. Turner wants the view to reach for Dramamine (a drug to prevent sea-sickness) as we view the scene.
Turner is giving us an experience—through his creative receptivity he combines a monstrous raging sea with sky, and little boats with hopeless men. Through these symbols in our world he effectively communicates a mood of fear, panic, and despair, as well as a pervading sense of the smallness of man (emotions common in our fallen world in which God often sends his temporal judgments).
The Presuppositions behind ‘Evil Art’
Art forms add strength to the worldview which ‘shows through’, no matter what that worldview is—or whether the worldview is true or false (Schaeffer). ‘Evil art’ is Francis Schaeffer’s term. And even as an artist; I don’t believe that it is unfair to use this designation when referring to art which presents a life view hostile to biblical worldview.
The presuppositions of the Enlightenment which fed into the thinking of the French Revolution—sought to throw off the moral truths of God’s Word. The Bohemian ‘freedom’ concept promulgated by Jean-Jacques Rousseau lauded the idea of the autonomous man who lived above reason and the moral government of God (Schaeffer, Art and the Bible).
The lie that man can ‘be free’ by throwing off God’s Word permeates the cultural arts today. In nihilistic art, man is ‘junk’—he is nothing but a biological machine without freedom, dignity, or purpose.
In the paintings of Francis Bacon (20th C.) the brokenness of man is depicted in the artist’s very intentional painting style which uses gore and deformity to communicate the human condition. “Bacon painted half-truths. He presented deterioration and hopeless despair, but he did not present mans’ honor and dignity” (Solomon and Williams, Art and the Christian).
Picasso’s cubism is also a statement about the human condition. Many of his works capture the fractured nature of modern man (note the use of cubism in Picasso’s, “Demoiselles d’ Avignon,” 1907; the ‘brokenness’ of the prostitutes fits the use of cubism).
I recently attended a ‘concert’ by two Cal Arts college students. They employed a damaged radio from which emitted squawks and bursts of static—as well as a poorly tuned cello that was strummed like a guitar. This cacophony was accompanied by hammering on a five-gallon jug. It was clear that their worldview was showing through. When I asked them about their life view; I wasn’t surprised to find that they believed in a chance universe. By their ‘music’ they expressed their chaotic view of the universe.
The three great themes of redemptive history—Creation; Fall; and Redemption are inseparable from ‘truthfulness’ in art. The ‘minor theme’ in biblical worldview is that men have revolted from God—and as a result, evil, death, and decay are reigning. The ‘major theme’ in Christian worldview is that life is not absurd; but meaningful. God has created us in His image—true morals exist. God’s own character forms the law of the universe.
The Creator’s relation to the universe is the essence of created reality. Death, suffering, and injustice exist only because man has rejected God and thrown off His moral government (Schaeffer).
God in His infinite love and wisdom provides the solution to the sinner’s dilemma. Through Christ’s death and resurrection sinners who repent and place their trust in Christ are redeemed from sin and death.
As mentioned above, there is legitimacy to the ‘minor theme’ of biblical worldview—that is the lost-ness of man and the abnormality of the universe in its present state. But, to major in the minor theme alone is unbiblical and untruthful (ibid.).
Majoring in the ‘minor theme’ is the content of so much of contemporary art. Modern art galleries feature art pieces which major in man’s lostness, depravity, inhumanness, and brokenness. When the ‘minor theme’ is turned into the major theme; pessimism reigns; and is treated as ultimate reality. Granted, the sinful human condition captures a ‘shard’ of reality; but misses the major theme entirely. Life is indeed absurd apart from Christ—nihilism, pessimism, and hopelessness dominate life without Christ. ‘Evil art’ is man seeking to make sense of the world without Christ.
Modern sinners prefer the ‘absurdity perspective’ of life in order to free up their lusts and justify their apostasy from God. The knowledge of God is the onlyrationality. Man made in the image of God cannot make his own new rationality.
Sinners suppress the knowledge of God and commit idolatry in the process (Rom 1l:18-23). They worship and serve the creature and the creation instead of God. Everything that man turns to in place of God can be designated a false integration point (Schaeffer’s synonym for an idol, True Spirituality).
Man was created as a complex unity—he was designed to find wholeness and unity in the worship of his Creator. Idols fragment that unity. They are false integration points. Therefore in ‘evil art’ we see false solutions to man’s dilemma. Examples include the flowery romanticism of nature worship as well as sexual eroticism, humanism, utopianism, Marxism, etc.
Leland Ryken makes the following observation, “Human depravity and evil are one of the leading subjects of art. The fallen nature of people makes it possible for the arts to express falsehood and to have an immoral effect on an audience” (Leland Ryken, Culture in Christian Perspective, quoted in “Lost Arts” by TamelaBaker, Moody Monthly Magazine, June, 1995).
Artists who ‘normalize’ immorality in their art are responsible for their willful rejection of divine revelation. An artist may seek to justify depicting pessimism or sexual eroticism in a painting by using the following explanation, “I am only painting reality; I am a creative unbiased observer.”
Man as the image of God—was made by His Creator to be creatively receptive—but this is a ‘moral universe’ because its Creator, Upholder, and Ruler is holy. God’s good gifts—the overflowing bounty of His generosity—more often than not are set within a moral context.
Work, food, resources, sexuality, relationships, and ownership are all gifts of God which have a moral context. Francis Schaeffer drives this point home when he describes human evil as the perversion of virtue. In other words, the misuse of God’s good gifts—their removal from the moral context in which they are given results in selfish ambition, coveting, sexual immorality, idolatry, violence, and greed.
Art based upon the worldview of secular humanism sends the message that life’s joys and pleasures are ours for the taking—and not a sacred trust with a moral context set by the divine Giver.
Paul tells us in Romans one that the worship of nature is a ‘default’ response to the willful loss of the knowledge of God. When nature is yanked from its biblical context of revealing the glory of God (as well as man’s stewardship of the created order)—nature can become an idol. Paul tells us in Romans one that the worship of nature is a ‘default’ response to the willful loss of the knowledge of God.
One might accurately say that man’s depraved nature is ‘hard-wired’ to nature worship. Certainly in the history of paganism we see that the arts played a central role in perpetuating myths, legends and rituals, and in providing imagery for the worship of demonic ‘deities’. ‘Neo-paganism’ (the new paganism of the 21stC.) is rapidly taking us back to a worldview of pantheism and nature worship.
Scripture does not forbid making representational art, but Scripture forbids the worship of images. “You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am the Lord your God” (Lev 26:1; Ex 20:4-5).
Recently I visited the De Young Art Museum in San Francisco. As I walked through rooms of beautiful paintings; I entered another immense room of primitive carvings and scowling masks. My daughter was uncomfortable in the room; for there were decorated human skulls and cases full of items used in sorcery.
The De Young Museum was displaying these primitive pieces from Oceania (islands of the Pacific including Australia and New Zealand) as art—just as legitimate as Renaissance art. I quickly explained to my daughter that the worldview of the islanders was coming through in these creations—for they lived in a world of spiritual darkness filled with superstition, animism, evil spirits, and ancestor worship. No wonder their art was ‘evil’—for it was communicating lies about the nature of reality.
Like Great Music and Literature; Excellent Art enriches our Lives—by bringing us Satisfaction and strengthening our Biblical Worldview.
We were made for the appreciation of beauty. God placed Adam and Eve in a paradise with a myriad of sights, sounds, smells, and flavors. Visually, the paradise contained everything necessary to satisfy the yearning for beauty and order (flowers, trees, animals, precious stones, springs of water).
The billions of dollars a year spent on flower gardens testify to man’s longing for the ordered beauty that was inherent in the original paradise. Flowers are not normally used in our culture for their food value; but we recognize the universal appeal of their aesthetic value. They cheer us; refresh us; lift our spirits. The labor of gardening brings pleasure as one looks upon the order and productivity resulting from planting and cultivating.
When a Christian spends the day in an art gallery or an evening at a concert; he or she is engaged in a noble activity. Says Ryken, “To be artistically creative, and to enter into the creativity of others, is to exercise the image of God within oneself” (Leland Ryken, quoted in “Lost Art,” by Tamela Baker).
Since we are made in God’s image that must include the glorious concept that we too are creative (Solomon and Williams, “Art and the Christian”). Adam was to cultivate and keep the garden (Gen 2:15). God the Creator loves the beauty in His created world—Adam was invited to share in the creative process of bringing order to the creation. God has permitted humans to take the elements of His cosmos and create new arrangements with them [and the potential number of those arrangements must be nearly infinite]. Perhaps this explains the reason why creating anything is so fulfilling to us. We can express a drive within us which allows us to do something all humans uniquely share with their Creator. God has thus placed before the human race a banquet table rich with aesthetic delicacies. He has supplied the basic ingredients, inviting those made in His image to exercise their creative capacities to the fullest extent possible. We are privileged as no other creatures to make and enjoy art (ibid.).
What Standards of Judgment for Actual Works of Art may be derived from the Christian Worldview?
Francis Schaeffer utilized the following categories of questions for evaluating a work of art: 1.) Does the work of art show technical excellence? (Regardless of your ‘taste’ in subjects, does the work demonstrate technical excellence?) 2.) Does the work of art possess intellectual content and validity? (Does the worldview come through in the piece; or is it banal, confusing, and/or mundane?) 3.) Does the piece of art demonstrate integration between content and vehicle of expression? (In other words, is there a correlation between the style in which it is painted and the content of the painting?)
Leland Ryken offers the following series of questions when considering a work of art: 1.) “Does it call my attention to something about either reality or modern culture that I need to know?” 2.) “What is the nature of the gulf between this particular work and my Christian values?” 3.) “Does my contact with this work have a negative effect upon my Christian beliefs or morals?” 4.) “Does my contact with this work make me more capable or less capable of being God’s person in the society in which He has placed me?”
(Leland Ryken, Culture in Christian Perspective, is quoted in the article “Lost Arts,” by Tamela Baker).
Jerry Solomon and Jimmy Williams draw their art evaluation questions from Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.”
QUESTIONS: 1.) Truth: Does this work of art represent God’s truth? Does life operate in this fashion in accordance with God’s revelation? 2.) Honor and dignity: Is the life of man presented as having dignity and honor; or only as despairing and hopeless? 3.) Right and pure: Is the subject of this work of art ‘pure’ and ‘right’ or is it sordid, degrading, worldly, and impure? 4.) Lovely: Does the work of art contain aesthetic elements? 5.) Good repute: Does the lifestyle of the artist tarnish his work? (None the less, because all mankind is made in the image of God; hedonistic artists are capable of admirable works of art. 5.) Excellence:Does the work of art demonstrate craftsmanship; does it possess technical mastery? 6.) Praise: Is the art a forceful vehicle of communication which supports the biblical worldview? (Does it encourage a culture to lofty heights; or does it drag a culture toward ruin? (Solomon and Williams, Art and the Christian).
Art is not created in a ‘Worldview Vacuum’
The artist will ‘view’ life and depict life through his or her worldview. When a person is optimistic about life without God; he will lose his or her freedom. Freedom is only found in God’s moral order—restored in Christ. The wishful thinking of utopianism—found in so much of contemporary art—is not neutral. It constitutes a overt hostility to freedom and dignity in Christ.
To live, and work, and create—as if one is NOT made in God’s moral image (and as if it is not a moral universe) is to be enslaved and corrupted in sin. Sin is that which slays the life of God within man. By sinning man further breaks the moral image of God—and further fragments the unity which comprises a human being (H.R. Rookmaaker, The Creative Gift).
Only by God’s redemptive revelation can man make sense of history. Only by God’s revelation in His Word will man be able to reconcile man’s cruelty and nobility; man’s dignity and depravity; and man’s plight and purpose. If Christians are to be a force in shaping culture, “they will have to come to grips with the culture in which they inevitably live and move and have their being. They will have to know where to draw the line against becoming assimilated into a secular culture, lest they lose the quality of being separate. . .” (Ryken quoted by TamelaBaker, “Lost Arts”).
“Jesus didn’t just grow spiritually. He grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). To develop an appreciation f or the arts, we have to be exposed to them—with discretion. The first step is to become informed” (Bob Clark, in Tamela Baker, ibid.).
“Artistic talent should not be hidden under a bushel. It is a gift of God, to be cultivated for the service of God and our neighbor. . . We should never let our lives give credence to the critics’ charge that Christians are enemies of culture” (Charles Colson in Tamela Baker, ibid.).
The arts and sciences do have a place in the Christian life—they are not peripheral. For the Christian. . . .living under the lordship of Christ should include an interest in the arts. A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God” (TamelaBaker in Ryken).
The Christian understanding of aesthetics directly opposes the world’s conventional wisdom concerning beauty.
Biblical worldview suggests that what is beautiful is simultaneously the good, the true, and the real (Albert Mohler).
Plato recognized that the good, the beautiful, the true and the real are all essentially reducible to the same thing. “If there is one good, then that good must also be true, which must also be the real, which also must be the beautiful. So the good, the beautiful, the true, and the real—the four great transcendentals—are unified in the One. For Plato, however, the One had no name” (Al Mohler, A Christian Vision of Beauty, Part One, p. 2).
Augustine identified the One as the true and living God who is perfectly revealed in Christ. Augustine took Plato’s speculations into the heart of the Gospel—suggesting that Christians understand that our Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is altogether beautiful; for He alone is absolute good, truth, and reality. His creation is a reflection of His beauty, truth, and goodness. As self-existent Creator of all (ex nihilo; out of nothing); He is the Source, the End, and the Judge of all that is good, beautiful, true, and real (ibid.).
Our Christian worldview ought to bring us to a greater awareness of the ‘transcendentals’ which are inseparable from beauty—namely that every question of beauty is joined to a moral context and a truth context. When we affirm that these God-given transcendentals are an eternal constant; then we are required as believers to “see beauty as a matter of truth to which taste is accountable, rather than as a matter of taste to which beauty is accountable” (ibid.).
It is precisely at this point (the unity of trancendentals) that biblical worldview is on a collision course with the world’s philosophy of beauty. The world is eager to call something “beautiful” which is NOT good, or true, or (in many cases) real. We as believers are called to be ‘salt and light’; therefore a substantial part of living out our Christian worldview is to keep these transcendentals joined (goodness, beauty, truth, and reality). We violate Scripture and depart from Christian worldview if we “sever the good from the true, the true from the beautiful, the beautiful from the real, and the real from the good” (ibid.).
When we view history through the biblical lens of creation, fall, and redemption; we can quickly see what has gone wrong in the realm of beauty. The original satanic lie in Eden yanked beauty and goodness from its moral context (the forbidden fruit was beautiful to look at, delicious to the taste; but deadly). Since the Fall, we humans have willingly severed the unity which exists “between the good and the beautiful, between the true and the real, and between the beautiful and the true. Why would we want to call something that is ugly ‘true’ [or ‘good’]? . . . . [It] is a symptom of human sickness, and that sickness is sin” (ibid, p. 3).
Since the beginning, Satan has sought to tempt by means of a false understanding of beauty. By his lies the evil one separates beauty from truth and goodness—then draws into sin by offering evil as a greater allure than good. “Thus the confusion over beauty is not merely an item of cultural consternation, nor is it merely a matter of theological debate. It is a matter of redemption. The only way out of our confusion is to know the Creator” (ibid.). Only in Christ are we made ‘new creatures’ with the ‘mind of Christ’. In Him alone redeemed sinners find the good, the beautiful, the true and the real—restored in unbroken unity.
The fallen world has an axe to grind. Because the kingdom of darkness is make up of ‘truth suppressors’ (Rom 1:18-23); unbelievers suggest that beauty is a matter of taste; not truth. By contrast, the believer affirms the unity of transcendentals, “we are required to see beauty fundamentally as a matter of truth to which taste is accountable, rather than as a matter of taste to which truth is accountable” (ibid, Part Two, p. 1).
The Fall severed the unity of the good, the beautiful, the true, and the real—and we were plunged into confusion and rebellion. Having chosen estrangement from God; we took our ‘worshipping capacity’ and aimed it toward the creature and the creation (Rom 1:25). “We began to look at the human creature as beautiful in and of himself [and herself] rather than beautiful because he or she is made in the image of God. Thus we adopt and bring into the very center of our hearts a corrupted understanding of beauty that bears more signs of the Fall than of common grace which allows us—even as fallen creatures to see this beauty [Ps 19]” (ibid, p. 2).
The world’s seductive definition of beauty has a dehumanizing effect upon those who believe it. Al Mohler provides us with a convicting example of severedtranscendentals when he cites an example of the world’s standard of beauty. A fashion magazine cover girl is ‘beautiful’ when compared to the face of a child with Down’s syndrome. But the fashion magazine has offered us something that is less than real. Through make-up, lighting, and digital air-brushing; we are presented with a woman who is less than real. The ‘perfect’ face of the model on the fashion magazine answers our desire for ‘prettiness’ but not beauty. Beauty involves the unity of the good, the true, and the real. When these are in unity; they call us “to look below the surface and to understand that the ontological reality of every human being is that we are made in the image of God. The imago Dei is the beauty in each of us, and the rest is but cosmetic irrelevance” (ibid., Part Three, p. 1).
Media-driven concepts of prettiness bid us to gaze into society’s mirror for our concept of attractiveness; rather than gazing into our neighbor and seeing the image of God in them. Christian worldview explains why the Fall has produced cultural standards which “tend to dehumanize our fellow human beings. We delude ourselves into thinking that attractiveness means beauty. . . . [W]e lie with the attractiveness we portray on the newsstands, on the television, in Hollywood, or in the mirror. . . The whole category of pornography is one big mutual co-conspiracy to deny the beautiful in favor of a perverted ideal of attractiveness. The real is denied, because given the insatiable desire of the sinner toward erotic attractiveness, the real no longer suffices” (ibid., pp. 1-2).
The restored union of transcendentals, which the Gospel alone can bring, is the destiny of the cosmos. In speaking of the beauty as an evangelistic category, Dostoevsky put it this way in The Brothers Karamazov, “’Beauty is the battlefield where God and Satan contend with each other for the hearts of men.’ . . .[T]he evil one tempts with prettiness, and lies about beauty, and corrupts the good, the beautiful, the true, and the real, sundering them from each other and celebrating confusion. . . Evangelism then is a matter of restoring unity of the transcendentals. . . [That unity] can only be put back together again by the One who created the world, and thus redeems” (ibid., p. 3).
Says Mohler, “Beauty for us is an evangelistic mandate, a missiological purpose. We are the people who know what beauty is. . . we have seen it in a foretaste, and we have been promised it in an assured promise. In this life we live amidst the pretty, the corrupt, and the artificial. We live among those who do not believe beauty exists, and among those who think beauty can be manufactured. In such a context, we are the ones who have to say we know beauty, and it is none other than Jesus Christ the Lord” (ibid., p. 3-4).
When He returns; the reconciliation He accomplished at the cross will be consummated. He will ultimately make a new heavens and a new earth “in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:14). “[I]t was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself. . .” (Col 1:19-20a).
- What do we mean by “God is the Master Artist?”
- Define the concept “Creative Receptivity” in relation to art.
- What is the connection between beauty and the joining of form and function?
- Why does Francis Schaeffer use the term ‘evil art’ when speaking about certain art pieces?
- Explain the phrase, “’Creation, Fall, and Redemption’ are inseparable from truthfulness in art.”
- Why does excellent art enrich our lives?
- What are some standards of judgment Christians ought to use when judging a particular piece of art?
- Explain the phrase, “Art is not created in a worldview vacuum.”
- When Satan tempted Eve, how did his lie separate goodness, beauty, and truth?
- What are some of the elements of the world’s philosophy of beauty and how does that philosophy produce damage, de-humanization, and enslavement?