Art-Intoxication

My favorite kind of work is allegorical montage. There’s a sort of freedom in it because it’s typically not published — no parameters, no time-constraints, no imperative of matching the vision of someone else; just the Word and my soul (and of course, Adobe). This montage is really just a patchwork creation made from portions of the following images. It didn’t quite make the translation between my heart and the screen but then, few things ever do.

The other day I posted something about my forays into the abstract world of graphic design. Let me offer the balance.

There’s a difference between illustrating as a means of escape and illustrating as a way to convey. In our increasingly visual age, believers should absolutely take advantage of every means to proclaim the Gospel. It’s a concept that is not new. Rembrandt fought the notion that art and faith could not intersect; Handel battled those who opposed his use of Scripture in song; Oswald Chambers entered the fray with a view to reclaim the arts.[1] Even the much maligned Calvin was a great lover of the arts.

Why did these men so fervently embrace something so apparently sensual? It was because they believed that the Gospel itself “furnished the foundation for the liberation of art.” [2]

“Understand that art is no fringe that is attached to the garment, and no amusement that is added to life, but a most serious power in our present existence, and therefore its principal variations must maintain, in their artistic expression, a close relation with the principal variations of our entire life; and since, without exception, these principal variations of our entire human existence are dominated by our relation to God, would it not be both a degradation and an underestimation of art, if you were to imagine the ramifications, into which the art-trunk divides itself, to be independent of the deepest root which all human life has in God?”

“And if it cannot be denied that many court [artistic] pleasures in ways that are less noble and too often sinful, it is equally certain, that in many instances this love of art leads men to seek enjoyment in nobler directions and lessens the appetite for lower sensuality… it is but fair to concede that, threatened with atrophy by materialism and rationalism, the human heart naturally seeks an antidote against this withering process, in its artistic instinct. Unchecked, the dominating influences of money and of barren intellectualism would reduce the life of the emotions to freezing-point. And, unable to grasp the holier benefits of religion, the mysticism of the heart reacts in an art-intoxication. [3]

Creativity is the spark of the divine image, it’s true. But on this side of eternity, there is also its despair. Despair that things are not as they should be. Despair that we have fallen so very, very far. But despair is really just a part of the design—a “pixel” as it were; and ultimately, despair is the design of a summons. We want… we long for… something. What it is we cannot collectively say; still we look for it with all the unassembled yearnings of our fallen hearts.  And just as “Aaron’s visible priesthood on earth gives place to the invisible High-priesthood after the order of Melchizedek in Heaven,” “the purely spiritual breaks through the nebula of the symbolical.”[4]

This is the work of art redeemed—that it whispers to the yearning heart, suggesting[5]the way to the Cross.


[1]Before embarking on a life of professional ministry, Chambers trained at London’s Royal Academy of Art with a view to becoming “an ambassador for Christ in the world of art and aesthetics.” Only after a profound period of loss and spiritual desolation did he surrender to pursue ministerial studies. Though ultimately called to convey a more literal artistry, Chambers never lost his desire to see the artistic world reclaimed for Christ. For an excellent treatment of his life, see David MacCasland’s book, Abandoned to God.

[2] Cornelius Van Til and Eric H. Sigward, The Articles of Cornelius Van Til, Electronic ed. (Labels Army Company: New York, 1997).

[3] A profound and entirely pertinent treatment of the correlation between art and the life of faith is found in Kuyper’s lectures. His reasoning was simple (insofar as Kuyper ever was “simple”). “It is not the prevailing tendency of the day that induces me to do this. Genuflection before an almost fanatical worship of art, such as our time fosters, should little harmonize with the high seriousness of life, for which Calvinism has pleaded, and which it has sealed, not with the pencil or chisel in the studio, but with its best blood at the stake and in the field of battle. Moreover the love of art which is so broadly on the increase in our times, should not blind our eyes, but ought to be soberly and critically examined.” For further study see Abraham Kuyper, Calvinism: Six Lectures Delivered in the Theological Seminary at Princeton (New York; Chicago; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1899), 189-230.

[4]Abraham Kuyper, Calvinism: Six Lectures Delivered in the Theological Seminary at Princeton (New York; Chicago; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1899), 189-230.

[5] This is by no means to suggest that art displace the pulpit. God forbid! “For ‘everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching… As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:13–15). Rather, my meaning is that art communicates on a level that can, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, prepare the heart to hear the message. Art is nothing more than a tool; it is neither the prescribed means of reaching the lost or of achieving the sanctification of the saints.

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2 thoughts on “Art-Intoxication

  1. “This is the work of art redeemed—that it whispers to the yearning heart, suggesting[5]the way to the Cross.” :-)

  2. Pingback: Photoshopping Jesus | Diapsalmata

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