Art as Discipleship Pt. 2

I tried to make the case last month that art, because it tells a story, has the ability to tell the Christian story. Christian art can, and should, tell the story of good creation, ruinous fall, gracious redemption, and anticipated consummation. By creating along this narrative arc, I argued, artists follow Christ, and lead others to follow Christ as well. I should offer some clarification on that point.

Art, unless it abandons all subtlety and, not to put too fine a point on it, artistry, doesn’t tell the gospel message. Art which attempts to do this (i.e. seemingly all Christian movies) usually ends up being laughably bad, for the simple reason that art isn’t supposed to be propositional. It doesn’t fill; it shapes.

So the way in which Christian art functions as a form of discipleship isn’t be reinforcing the truths of the Christian faith, but it’s patterns and textures. Christian art stands and looks. Where it stands and where it looks are incredibly important, as well as how it feels about where it is standing and looking. Art is commentary; Christian art should comment so as to make us feel the way we should about Christian realities. A Christian landscape should make us grateful to God for his gifts. A Christian break-up song (and why shouldn’t Christian’s write break-up songs? What else should Christians listen to when they’re going through a break-up?) should envision the new heaven and the new earth, where righteousness dwells. A Christian film should create an imaginative space for reconciliation and redemption. In doing so, Christian art creates the patterns which are filled by the propositional content of our faith.

Honestly, I think that when non-Christian art is honest, it can express a longing for redemption which is almost Christian (like this song and this song). As good as non-Christian art can be, however, it can only communicate the longing, never the finding. Only Christian art, having been through the door, can return to show us the shape of the world beyond.

Art as Discipleship Pt. 1

Every year, by some twist of fate, I find myself invited to give a lecture on the intersection between art and Christian faith/practice for our Media Summit. Generally, it’s the one time a year that I get to think about art and its creation and reception from a distinctly Christian point of view. One aspect of art I have been struck by every year that of narrative. Art tells a story, and whether the meaning of that story is to be found in the act of communication or the act of reception, some tale is being told.

For Christian art, the ‘tale’ being told needs to contain elements of the Christian story: good creation, ruin and fall, atoning sacrifice, and glorious restoration. In other words, for art to be considered ‘Christian,’ it must tell the truth about the world—not just as it is, but as it was and will be. We don’t live in a paradise; nor do we live in a hell-scape. We live in a world that was created good and has fallen into dark ruin, one which has received the promise and payment for restoration and is now waiting for the coming dawn.

It would be somewhat unrealistic to say that a Christian work of art must express all this in every lyric, line, or brushstroke. But good art will show an understanding of the context into which it is given, and in so doing speak volumes about the artist’s understanding of the metanarrative we creatures find ourselves inhabiting.

So art, as a story, must do what all good stories do—it must echo the words and the pattern of Scripture, and therefore of human history. Another way to say this is that the movements of the narrative found within Christian art mimic the movements of the life of Christ. He was born, he suffered under the futility of the Fall, he give himself as an atoning sacrifice, and he rose again to new life as the first fruits of the coming age. The story of Christ starts out as the story of history inverted and ends by sweeping up history in its wake, leading it to the end for which it was designed.

Good art tells this story in miniature. In this way, art follows Christ, and draws others along in its pursuit.

Back at the Mirror Museum

Middle-aged docent for scale.

About a month ago Kara and I were in Columbus, and we decided to go to the Columbus Museum of Art (I should say I decided, but it was my birthday). Toward the end of our walkabout, we sat down in front of Frank Stella’s La vecchia dell’orto, a sort of three-dimensional piece about 13’x15′, all aluminum and fiberglass and canvas. A real monstrosity in my opinion, but that’s where the chairs were.

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