Art’s Prophetic Burn

A guest post by Sarah Lodwick

In Ian Morgan Cron’s novel, Chasing Francis, a chapter titled “Art is the Grandchild of God” uses a dialogue to point to burgeoning Protestant involvement in the arts. The conversation summits with this:

I lifted my glass. “To beauty!” I said.

Liam and Carla replied, “To beauty!”[1]

Cron leaves off exactly where Protestants have left off: at beauty. How will we define that word theologically? The raw lump of mud is on the potterclay.jpgceramicist’s wheel; the Protestant Church has affirmed that beauty in artistic expression has much to say about our Creator. Our Protestant minds are like spinning clay; we anticipate the new shape of the artistic Protestant Church yet we don’t know how to define beauty – or art – because we lack a tradition of Protestant art theory. Like willing hands physically able but paralyzed by lack of experience, the Protestant Church has not yet molded its art appreciation into biblical theory with well-formed definitions and concepts.

This predicament makes the Church vulnerable in its current relationship with art. Protestants have the potential to settle on a comfortable and unchallenging definition of beauty that will influence future interaction with art and artists for years to come. What is needed in this impressionable time? We need Christians who courageously define beauty in art as truth – even when truth comes in a disturbing artistic package or leaves the prophetic burn of conviction on our hearts.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver “five minutes longer.” Perhaps a Christian who is truly brave in her appreciation of art is one who observes the art for five minutes longer. Have you ever held a paper cup of coffee without the jacket? You don’t sense its heat at first, but a nanosecond later you become more than aware of its heat. Art can be like that.

Art that convicts

Some artwork is beautiful because it disturbs our spirituality. Upon reflection, it convicts us. Consider these works of art: Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, U2’s album War, Picasso’s “Guernica,”

guernica.jpg

and Nick Ut’s “Vietnam Napalm.”

Nic Ut.Vietnam Napalm

Are these few works not spiritually challenging for the Christian, urging her to yearn for justice and the reconciliation of creation with its Creator?

Art can grasp the heart of an observer and tighten its squeeze as seconds pass. Some art is difficult to look at but beautiful: After it unmasks the sin in our world, our country, our community, our churches and our hearts, it implores us to live in Christian fidelity to the gospel.

In this new era of Protestant art, will we have the courage to call disturbing art beautiful because — given to us providentially and creatively by the Holy Spirit — it presents an opportunity to change our lives?

Protestants have reached a point where we support artistic expression as an occupation that, through the work of reconciliation described in Colossians 1:15-20, is being redeemed. Will we have the courage as Christian leaders to support artists who, despite how painful it may be to dwell on such convicting compositions, will help us along the path of sanctification? Artists who will do so by reaching out to grip our hearts with a message of truth and to edify us by breaking our hearts over social injustice and unrighteous stewardship, ultimately moving the Church to be the hands of Christ on earth?


[1] Ian Morgan Cron, Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2006), 111.

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One thought on “Art’s Prophetic Burn

  1. Kent and Colleagues,

    It has taken a while, but I finally made it to your site. And, having arrived I can only say, “Well done.” A fine site in both substance and style. Press on.

    Per your highlighting, Kent, after roaming a bit (I will return to the several well chosen links you provide to other sites) I read Sarah’s post. Her line of sight is clear, and her questions among those that need to be asked . . . and, in good time, responded to. How *will* we define beauty? And, as we set about the task of responding, she is right to alert us to be self-aware enough to recognize that many of us Protestants don’t have the categories or skills, at least not yet, to offer an adequate and rich reply. Perhaps Sarah will be among those who lead us in this endeavor.

    Prompted by a portion of Sarah’s line of thought, I can’t resist offering an accompanying observation on a completely different topic.

    Permit me to quote a portion of Sarah’s essay, and then to move briefly to a different–and for perhaps most of your readers, far less interesting–subject. Sarah writes, “Our Protestant minds are like spinning clay; we anticipate the new shape of the artistic Protestant Church yet we don’t know how to define beauty – or art – because we lack a tradition of Protestant art theory. Like willing hands physically able but paralyzed by lack of experience, the Protestant Church has not yet molded its art appreciation into biblical theory with well-formed definitions and concepts.”

    As I read this, I could not help but think of the we Protestants are similarly ill-equipped, theologically and theoretically, to address doctrinal development. And, I think this is of current significance as many thoughtful Christians wrestle with contemporary currents of change, be they “postmodern,” “emergent,” “global,” or other. The category of “doctrinal development” has never been a prominent category for Protestants, and so we have never had an extended, distinctively Protestant, conversation about a theology of change.

    This is not the time to go further with respect to this (perhaps another time) and I don’t want to detract from my primary purpose for writing, namely, to say, “Kudos to you” and “Kudos to Sarah.”

    David

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