Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Episode #3: Renaissance

Here are some questions on the last film.

1. How can a Christian appreciate art which has a nonChristian meaning or purpose?
2. What is a proper understanding of humanism?
3. Is there a Christian humanism?
4. How much emphasis should Christians place on art, even nonChristian art?
5. Why is so much "Christian art" so bad today--if you think it is?

Another book that looks at the development of modern art that you may want to read is Hans Rookmaaker, Art and the Death of Culture, which has been republished by Crossway. Rookmaaker was an associate of Schaeffer's, who taught at the Free University of Amsterdam and led the Dutch L'Abri for a time. Sadly, he died as a young man (about 51) in 1977.


Clint said...

Let me first state that I am no expert in Aesthetics. With that said, here are my answers to 3 & 4. I will need to think about 1 & 2 some more:

3) I think that Christians should place a huge emphasis on art. God is a creative being and we are divine image-bearers. As God exercised his creativity to produce beauty (sunrises, waterfalls, colors, my wife, etc.), so should humans. Thus, those gifted in art should seek to develop their abilities. Those who aren't should value good art and reject bad art as good. That is not to say that lessons may not be learned from all art. Moreover, good art does not have to be Christian. Christians do not have a monopoly on creativity and beauty.
4) I think that much Christian art today is bad because of a misplaced emphasis. In the Christian community art has been valued for its instrumentality or utility, as opposed to possessing inherent value. If art is not valuable first as art, there won't be much value placed on developing it beyond a pragmatic level.
As a result, it seems as though the creative abilities of many Christians have been stifled or redirected to other mediums. While there is good Christian art, I would not say that this is par for the course. Most contemporary Christian art is qualitatively inferior to historical standards of good art.

Doug Groothuis said...


That is a superb answer, which (your wife and) I appreciate.

A debauched pragmatism is the bane of life today, including life for many Christians. We tend not to ruminate on "useless" things, things that "don't get things done." A painting doesn't "get things done," so we don't value it. We want cash value, immediate emotive value, not aesthetic value. We like malls, not museums; we like paint, not paintings.

But this approach opposes biblical anthropology. We are creators, artists. God is the supreme Artist. Richard Mouw argues (cogently, I think) in "When the Kings Come Marching In" that all that is of objective cultural value will be retained and purified in the world to come. So, works of art that honor God--even those created by the unregenerate--will be on eternal display as evidence of the goodness of creation, the divine image, and of God himself.

I expect to hear (at least some) of John Coltrane's music in the afterlife--even though there is, to my knowledge, no good evidence that Coltrane himself was a Christian. I think also of a line from the film "Amadaes" (about Mozart) in which Mozart says, "I am a debased man, but my music is not."


Josh said...

I must also admit that I do not hold any sense of authority regarding Aesthetics.

Nevertheless, I have been slowly working through Os Guinness' book "Prophetic Untimeliness" and one of his (many) reflections was in regards to how reform in today's western church exhibits "little apparent appetite for a long, sustained struggle with the challenges of the modern world." Especially with regards to the thinking Christian in the US, Guinness notes that "it has been decades since they thought seriously of a sustained and decisive response to the modern world that was decisively Christian...Mimicking modernity in Christian language is the best that many Christian thinkers have been able to muster for some time."

I think that this description fits well with Clint's notion that many Christian artists have a misplaced emphasis and have lost sight of the inherit value of art. Trendy and trivial - which seem to fuel the fire of the debauched pragmatism that Dr. Groothuis spoke of - rule the day as many contemporary Christians seem to suppose that we must free ourselves from the stuffy and haughty past (and hence from those historical standards of good art that Clint spoke of).

Doug Groothuis said...


The Guinness book is a fitting companion to Schaeffer. It explains our "hurry sickeness" (not his term), our historical amnesia, and our intellectual laziness (the sin of sloth or acedia [Latin]). The latter is one of the seven deady sins.

Read all the Schaeffer and Guinness that you can!

Daniel said...

Here's me thinking out loud and I'd love any feedback...

I've never really been that into art as far as admiring it for its beauty or even striving to find some sort of esoteric meaning "behind" the art itself.

But since reading through this Schaeffer book and the amount of emphasis that he puts on art and the meaning behind the art I have grown to appreciate it more and cultivate a desire to learn more about it. I think an issue that I've thought of is that I wonder if it is wrong to be more interested in the history and interpretation of the art, rather than admire the beauty of the art for the shere sake of admiring beauty. In other words, do you think art can be appreciated more for its historical-cultural context that it was created in, or should the focus of the art be on the art itself?

I'm thinking specifically about the Renaissance art with so much interesting background information surrounding why the artist did what they did. While the art is certainly objectively beautiful, I am more interested in (for example) Plato pointing up to the universals while Aristotle pointed down for the particulars.

Doug Groothuis said...


The art can only be fully appreciated in light of its cultural-historically background--or this at least gives depth to our understanding of it. The art speaks on many levels:

1. It's form.
2. The technique or style of the artist.
3. The worldview of the artist.
4. How the worldview of the artist effects the art itself.
5. How the art is received by the public--in its day and later in history.

Next time you are at the seminary, spend some time contemplating the large paintings in the educational building and make sure to read what Sarah Lodwig wrote about each piece--if you have not already done so. (Of course, one of them has "Truth Decay" in it!)

I also strongly suggest you read "Art and the Bible" by Schaeffer. It is only a booklet, really, but very profound.

Daniel said...

Thank you Dr. Groothuis, that was helpful. Sarah's paintings are remarkable, with good commentary in writing next to the one.

I'll look into the other Schaeffer book as well, thanks!