A friend of mine loaned me a book that she thought I’d enjoy. It certainly speaks to the issues I’ve attempted to address in my book, The Genesis Approach to Art, but this book was published in 1983. It is called The Gift of Art by Gene Edward Veith, Jr. So I guess an issue that is at least three decades old is worthy of our continued attention. Therefore, I am going to review the book through this blog over the next few weeks.
The basic question that Mr. Veith grapples with is, “What attitude should Christians have toward the arts?” In Chapter one Veith presents some unique challenges that the Christian artist faces.
Challenges for the Christian Artist:
•The Potential Misuse of the Arts:
According to Veith, the Christian artist needs to guard against using his art to commit the sin of idolatry.
“Today the arts are sometimes used as substitutes for religious faith. A friend of mine says, ‘My religion is art.’ His desire for transcendence, values and meaning are all satisfied by aesthetic experience, by attending a symphony or reading great poetry. Secular aestheticism is a great rival to Christianity, especially in academic and artistic circles.” (pp12-13)
Veith insists that if we look to the arts to meet needs that are only appropriately met by God or if we ascribe to the arts qualities that belong to God alone, we have committed idolatry. He reminds us, “human beings cannot save themselves by worshiping their own creations, however magnificent.”
Veith concludes his words of caution by insisting that in spite of the potential dangers we must not reject art out of hand, “fear of misuse is no reason to reject the gift.” (p. 13)
•Finding an Acceptable Form:
Contemporary art forms (abstract painting, rap music, and modern dance as examples) are often rejected by the religious mainstream and not without reason. “Contemporary art forms do originate in [a] non-Christian world view, as Francis Schaeffer and others have shown. The fragmentation, pessimism, and abstractionism of modern art have developed at least partially out of the idea that, since the external world is harsh and meaningless, human beings much create their own meanings from with themselves.” (pp14-15)
“Christian artists cannot, however, escape their contemporary context.” While we do not accept the philosophy that dominates modern art, our training and our imaginations are conditioned by our era. If a Christian artist were to insist on embracing 17th or 18th century art forms to express their faith, Christianity would appear to be “an out-moded religion with nothing to say to the needs and imaginations of the modern condition.” (p 15)
•The artistic establishment tends to reject our faith (p 15).
•Fellow Christians tend to reject our art (p 15). “A more painful difficulty is that Christians in the arts are not always supported by other Christians.” (p 14)
Questions for the Christian Artist that Veith’s Book Promises to Answer:
•“Can one be both contemporary and Christian, or should Christianity in the arts recapture older forms?”
•“Is it possible to be both biblical and original?”
•“Is Art a legitimate vocation for a Christian who desires to serve God?”