Friday, August 22, 2008

Art and the Church Part I

At one time, the Church was the artists' biggest patron. Today, for the most part, the Church (especially the Protestant Church) seems mostly uninterested in the arts, except for music. What happened?

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, church structures were, in a manner of speaking, "palaces for God." The elaborate architecture and decor, complete with paintings and sculpture, seemed to be a visual expression of the Glory and Majesty of God Almighty.

But after the Protestant Reformation, attitudes changed. Gradually, church leaders moved away from palaces for God, using the money instead to develop ministries to people in need. And today, since so many of us artzy types want to get rich instantly by doing what we love, even the Catholic Church doesn't pursue traditional art as much as in the past, 'tho' that may be more of an affordability issue than one of a desire to use art.

Many Protestants also see art as one of the worldly possessions Christians should renounce; after all, it's all going to burn someday anyway, and we can't take it with us, and it's "worshipping the creation instead of the Creator," and we're seeking the applause of men rather than the applause of God, and we can't serve two masters...on and on.

Thus, Christianity has left a huge vacuum in the field of art, and nature -- and artists -- abhor a vaccuum. Christian influence is now mostly limited to complaining and griping about the offensive art, movies and music that are out there today. Unfortunately, the Church doesn't seem to believe in taking a more positive approach -- encouraging its members to become active in the arts and making art for the sheer love of it, not simply generating proselytizing drivel that promotes the Gospel.

I tend to agree with a number of authors, including the late Christian philosopher Francis A. Schaeffer. Everything we do can be done to glorify God (1). God is beautiful, and so He created us with the ability to love beauty in all its forms. We're told to dwell on, among other things, truth and beauty (2); therefore, everything that IS true and beautiful falls within the realm of Christianity. In short, making art glorifies God; in fact, the creativity, desire to make things and the skills to do so come from God (3), and we'd be wasting His gifts by not using them.

Unfortunately, I and others like me are not in a position to take on the entire world of Christianity regarding this school of thought. But I have sold art to customers who identified themselves as Christians (often, Catholic), so: we're out there. We are among the Church's numbers. Maybe someday, we'll prevail!!


(1) I Cor. 10:31
(2) Phil. 4:8
(3) Exodus 31:1-6
Artwork: Michaelangelo's Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

1 comment:

Angela Fehr said...

Excellent post, Mark. As a Christian artist, I have wondered if I should be creating work with a spiritual message, but I just am not motivated in that direction. As I instruct my children that we take care of the earth and its creatures because God made it, I think my art can serve the same purpose, even if not specifically spiritual. In painting the beauty around me, I call others see and appreciate what God has made.
And my (Baptist) church has actually purchased a painting from me which hangs in the church.