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Bad Art Insults our Creator

February 14, 2013

Theology of Art

In considering the idea of a Theology of Art, I believe that we need to begin with the source of artistic impulse and ability. Since we are calling this a “theology” it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to look to God as that source. God or Creator is the ultimate artist. Consider the universe in which we live. God could have created a world in monochrome with all straight lines. Why would we “need” so many different kinds of plants and animals? And, why so many stars? God created a universe of beauty and diversity. And, we are told that when He finished, He saw that it was good. If He had created a simple world, we obviously would never have known the difference. But, He would have known and it was important to Him.

Humankind is a part of that creation and we are told in Scripture that God chose to create us in “His Image”. We are not told exactly what that means. Rather obviously it does not involve our physical appearance, because God is a spirit without a physical reality to image. So what then is the “Image of God”? For purposes of this exploration, I would suggest that one aspect of the image is creativity. Humankind seems unique in that we have the capacity to act creatively. I certainly believe that there is more to the image than this but further exploration of that is for another time. We only have the ability to rather poorly to reflect the Creator in our creative endeavors but we do have some capacity. That capacity was also likely corrupted by the Fall as were other of our capacities, but I believe that there remains in all of humankind some core of that creative image.

It is my belief that anytime that any human being acts creatively he/she is reflecting the innate image of the Creator. While human creativity reflects God, it also reflects the imperfections and limitations brought on by sin. Even the most vile and wicked human, who does not acknowledge the Creator at all, can in spite of themselves reflect God. The creative activity of a person who is a follower of Christ has the possibility of reflecting, in addition to the general image of God, grace. The perspective of creative activity in a connected relationship to the Creator represents an additional dimension.

While all humans have to some degree the creative aspects of the image of God within them, like all talents the distribution is not equal. Some of us have special capacity to be creative far above the norm. When these people develop and use these talents we call them “artists”. I love music. I have always had many friends who are excellent musical artists. I would love to be able to create and perform music. But, if I tried, you would not want to hear it. I simply do not have the talent. Within the Body, members who are artists should be recognized and encouraged to maximize their abilities. Their creative work should be appreciated and excellence should always be the goal. Where there is talent and ability, there is also responsibility.

It is time for a quick side note. Although I have often heard it referred to as such, I do not believe that artistic ability is a “spiritual gift”. It does not appear in any of the lists in the New Testament. I believe instead that it is a talent that can be used in conjunction with “spiritual gifts” like teaching, evangelism, helping, etc. Interestingly, one of the very first examples in the Bible of the Spirit of God being given to individuals for a specific purpose is the “artists” who were assigned the task of creating objects for the Tabernacle to direct the worship of the people of Israel.

What about a sound perspective on appreciation of art for followers of Jesus? We should have the capacity to appreciate and learn from all quality art because all of it reflects the image of God in the artist. Believers who prefer the comfortable and bland to truly creative expressions in their corporate live actually insult the creative God that they claim to worship and serve. Take the realm of music for example. Much music that is part of the “worship” in most congregations, regardless of what century it derives from, is predictable and boring. The industry that is called “CCM” is primarily formula driven, imitation of “secular” pop music. There is very little room for those true artists who are really creative to break in. In visual arts, again the gravitation is toward the safe. Thomas Kincade is tremendously popular and has made millions by mass producing schlock non-art paintings. At the same time truly creative painters can rarely make a living. Believers, individually and corporately, should encourage and support talented and creative artists both for the internal benefits to the Body and for the benefit of the world in which we live. Admittedly, there is a great deal of subjectivity when it comes to judging the quality of art. What I am suggesting is that we need not be as concerned about what we “like” as we are with the attitude that goes into the process. When the controlling interest behind a painting, or a piece of music, or a photograph is commercial viability rather than quality, that is bad art. And, when those who claim to follow Christ intentionally opt for mass appeal over being a quality reflection of their Creator, they do the Creator a disservice.

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