Friday, April 16, 2004

Art and God...

Dave at Welcome to the Planet has a post titled, artists, scientists, theologians oh my, in which he addresses the aspect of art and the Christian faith. It all started with a post he did on The Passion, in which he contrasted getting caught up in all the media / marketing hype with just appreciating the film as a work of art. He concluded by exhorting people to simply take the movie for what it is - art. In his latest post he refers back to his original post by stating:
I made the statement that Christians don't know what to do with art. In my comments, I made the statement that good art takes us places, forces us to see a different reality. That is exposes us and moves us.
He then quotes a comment that I made to his original post:
“Rusty then responded with:” Maybe this thing with art has a lot to do with personality types. I look at a painting like the Last Supper and take in the use of color, the structure DaVinci chose, the symmetry or lack thereof, placement of persons, expressions, use of light, etc. Yes, I lean heavily on the objective side, but I do experience the subjective. I think, however, that the artist's intent is primarily objective and, therefore, public, whereas any subjective experience will be purely private.
From his current post he writes:
It is obvious that people approach art very differently. People also approach God very differently. Is there a correlation between the two? Let me explain my thought process here. There are those who look at art from a strictly compositional standpoint. Color, symmetry, structure, perspective, etc... are all that's considered. There is no allowing the art to move, to challenge, to expose. There is no entering into the art. I am not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, it just seems to be the way it is. Art gets reduced to technical proficiency and "I like it" or "I don't like it" There are also those who look at God in somewhat the same way. Theology becomes an exercise in solving the paradoxes of faith. God becomes an almost scientifc endeavor. It all becomes an intellectual persuit. There doesn't seem to be room to enter into the mysterry of God. It is easier to try to "understand" and explain God than it is to allow room for the unknown and mystery. I think that it is important to state that I really believe that there is danger in either extreme. I think that it is important to understand art composition, and it is important to understand what we can of God. I also think it is important to allow art to move us. I think it is also important to be able to enter into the mystery of God.
One person left a comment at his site that stated:
Of course art is subjective, that's one of the greatest things about it. No one can truly answer the question "what is GOOD art?" because it will be different for everybody...and it should. But art is not just about composition, color, perspective, etc. I can't even imagine thinking about it in just those terms. You're right, art evokes something in our souls. I believe that people are drawn and moved by different works of art because somehow they recognize in that painting, or piece of music, or sculpture... whatever, something of themselves. It's like their soul says - "yes, I have had a similar experience! I recognize that!" I know that's what happens to me at least. I can be moved to tears by art...and I know lots of people can. That in itself says to me...yeah it's a whole lot more than just a picture on the wall. I liken in to a great violinist. There are thousands of people who can play the violin with great, maybe even close to perfect technical skill! But they aren't all famous. What singles out the one that is called great. It's their soul that they pour into the music, the feeling. You can feel their emotion when they play, and your own emotions recognize that. Without the soul, without the feeling, it is simply a piece of music played correctly. It is like that with all true artists, no matter what their medium is. And God...well he is the ultimate Artist! And we are all reflections of Him. I honestly believe that we all are's just that some people have never explored that side to themselves.
I appreciate Dave’s comment that there is danger in either extreme – that of approaching God as a mere intellectual pursuit vs. approaching God from a purely experiential point of view. If that is what he is means, then I agree with him wholeheartedly. Yet my concern has to do with the apparent argument from the person who left a comment at his site. Maybe I'm a little trigger-happy, but the combination of subjectivity with an experientially motivated view of God always sends up a red flag for me. We have so liberally applied subjectivity to Art, that it seems to have become our culture's mantra. If there are any standards with which to measure a piece of art’s worth, they are simply left to the beholder – indeed – note the cliché “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” But is such relativistic thought healthy? Consider a crucifix sitting in a jar of urine. Is that art? The artist and some of his followers certainly thought so. I don’t (and I doubt that Dave and the person who left a comment on his post would either). Well, you may say, "we’re not talking about someone else’s response but how the art affects each one of us personally. Besides, art will be different for everybody depending on how each person experiences it." Is great art, therefore, validated by how each person’s soul is moved by the experience? So what? What does it matter if art is subjective? It matters because the worldview pushing the idea of subjectivity applies that same experiential verification to matters of God. If God is the ultimate artist then why not view the world in a manner which seeks experiential verification? Now I’m not stating that anyone who is moved by art is guilty of a relativistic view of God. Even though I view art in a mechanistic way I still appreciate the way in which it affects me emotionally (believe it or not). I’m just saying that we need to understand that the physical, rational, and logical world is just as much a part of God’s created realm as the emotional. Whether or not one accepts the fact that a great painting is the product of an artist’s intense thought regarding composition, perspective, light theory, pigment analysis, etc., is beside the point. The painting is, first and foremost, the physical manifestation of the artist’s intentions – any subjective experience we may derive from the painting is, for the most part, private. Note the distinction here – that which the artist has intended to convey is public (i.e., sharable between all who view the painting), while that which moves an individual is private (i.e., specific to the individual). The correlation with God is apparent (or it should be). In His Word, God has revealed Himself to us. Through the form of literature He has conveyed His intentions to us. The words have meaning in and of themselves, but they also have the intended meaning the Holy Spirit wished to deliver.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. - John 1:1 (NET)
Those words have a public meaning, regardless of whether they give any individual a subjective experience.

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