Lee and I circled the podium and, like everyone else around us, our eyes turned upward in awe. Mouths slightly agape, breathless at the sight of one of the greatest pieces of art of all time. We were in Florence, Italy and we were standing in front of the Statue of the David.
To say that this sculpture is impressive is an understatement. It is truly the most spectacular thing I’ve ever seen, and I think I could have stayed in that room for hours studying it. The marble was exquisitely crafted into the image of a man, but what made it impressive were the details. The sinewy muscles of the shoulders and legs stretched made it appear that at any moment, the man would step off his pedestal and begin walking.
Masterful art by a master artist. How did Michelangelo do it? How did he form something so spectacular out of a damaged piece of marble over 500 years ago? Could it be because the artist was also the art and, therefore, the creating was merely an extension of his God-given gift?
Let me explain.
In response to Monday’s post, I had some really wonderful, thought-provoking conversation. Can an artist be a Christian without making Christian art? After a lot of thought, I’ve come up with what I hope is a worthy (and theologically sound) response.
The short answer is this: Yes and No.
Ah, ambiguity. Don’t you just love it?
If you look at the history of the Church, though, perhaps you will begin to better see what I mean. This idea of “sacred” verses “secular,” particularly when it pertains to art, is a modern concept. We began to draw a line of distinction between that which honored God and that which honored the world, and in so doing, we the Church (and in this case, the Church refers mostly to the Protestant Church) set up a false view of life and art, and ultimately of God. We began to claim and preach that anything that didn’t directly point to God, or speak of Him, did not bring Him honor and, therefore, art within the Christian realm was dumbed down.
A friend emailed me after Monday’s post with some thoughts on the matter and his words were good. Really good. I won’t embarrass him by sharing his name, but I’d like to pull a couple of quotes from his message:
“I think the dichotomy that sets [art] up as “intertwined” or “separate” is a false dichotomy. As Christians, everything we do takes place in a renewed, renovated, redeemed, forthcoming, there-but-not-yet, kingdom (on earth as it is in heaven). Therefore, there is no “separate,” as Christ is part of our identity, sealed upon rebirth. EVERYthing is intertwined. The gist of your point, though, on whether the art can be accessed within or without a (somewhat artificial) lens of “religion,” is merely one of public perception, and that’s one that’s changed substantially throughout history.“
If God is the Creator, the painter of this world and all that is in it, the Word from the very beginning of time, the rhythm to which we sing, the measured beat of the poem, and if we are His created beings fashioned in His image, then in a very real sense all forms of creativity have the potential to point to Him.
Do you see the beauty and the freedom in what we are discussing here? My friends, as his created beings, we are all the art.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10
When Paul wrote that we were “His workmanship,” the Greek word he used was Poiema, meaning “made or crafted.” Friends, we as believers are the poem. We are the song. We are the beautiful painting. We are the handcrafted evidence of His Creative Power. We create because we were created.
What beautiful freedom to be found in this truth!
What does that mean, then, for those of us who create art that doesn’t explicitly point to God? This is a concept to be broken up in two different ways.
First, a believer can create something that reveals God without ever once mentioning His Name. It happens all the time. Paintings, photographs, novels, music, and so on – all of these can be written, and have been written, by Christians who used their creative gifts to showcase God, without ever once mentioning His Name. Faith and Art are intertwined, because the Poiema is simply living out the craftsmanship of God.
But art can be made that flies directly in the face of God. We can just as easily point to paintings, photographs, novels, music, and so on, that go against the very nature of who God is – so what do we do with this?
As believers we have been given the Holy Spirit, and through the Spirit we have discernment to know and understand and see that which does not bring glory to God. For this reason, I can still appreciate the art of a non-Christian as a revelation by God, though the artist may not have intended it to be such.
I can also discern when an art form is in direct contradiction with the very character and nature of God, and I can choose to look away. Not all art reveals God, because as sinful man our very first tendency will be to glorify ourselves.
But again, all forms of creativity have the potential to honor God.
If all of creation reveals the Creator, then creativity (as defined by the act of creating) will always begin with the potential to honor God. But…
There’s still so much more to say on the topic, so I will conclude this message in one final post. In the meantime, what are your thoughts? Feel free to share in the comments, or to shoot me a private message if you’re more comfortable with that.