Saturday, August 10, 2013

Rethinking Our Reasons for Art / Chewing the Cud

The relationship between Christian culture and art seems to be an ambiguous one (heh, seems to be ambiguous, heh heh). Do we like art? Isn't art a form of idolatry? "Thou shalt not make any graven images." Is art a memory aid so that children can learn doctrine better? Perhaps art is just entertainment. "I just need to relax, unwind." At the end of the day, the question is often raised, why? Why make art? Why watch/read/listen to/view art?

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo
The primary argument I've heard justifies art as an expression of the image of God in us (and rightly so). Since God is The Creator, we should be creators too. However, there is an objection that sometimes surfaces, but I think rarely gets mentioned explicitly. That the physical world is fallen, and so, sinful. It's normally hidden behind some other argument. Art is mere entertainment. Or, art is idolatry, because God is spirit, and we are liable to worship the images we make. Of course, we do need to be mindful of the distinction between God and Creation. However, when we focus on God's otherness and ignore the beautiful implications of Christ's incarnation, we do ourselves a great disservice.

Saint Joseph with the Infant Jesus
by Guido Reni
John of Damascus, in his On the Divine Images, tied the whole discussion of worship and art to Christology. There was a time when Creation was under the curse of the Fall. However, while we are still dealing with the effects of the curse, something has changed. God became flesh. Not only did Jesus come in the flesh, Jesus remains in the flesh. "God's body is God because it is joined to His person by a union which shall never pass away." God has brought flesh into his Godhood. Why does this matter? "Because of this I salute all remaining matter with reverence, because God has filled it with his grace and power." We express meaning, and more importantly, we express redemption in and through material things because that's what God did in the Incarnation.

The foundation for a Christian view of art rests on the image of God in man. But God is not only the Creator, He is also the Redeemer. We incarnate our message to the world because that's what God did. Art is justified as a concrete expression of God's love and redemptive power right here and right now. How does this affect your view of art? Or perhaps, does Christ's incarnation have anything to do with movies, books, and/or music?


I am indebted to St. John of Damascus' Three Treatises On the Divine Images.

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