Chapter 8: Create Uplifting Art

 

“An artist earns the right to call himself a creator only when he admits
to himself that he is but an instrument.”
—Henry Miller

Somehow in the last generation or two, art and faith have gone their separate ways. Would you agree?

For hundreds of years, the greatest art in all the world was created to honor or point others to God. From a Christian perspective, that includes extraordinary paintings such as da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” Francesca’s “The Resurrection,” and Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna.” The Bible also inspired classical composers Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn, to name a few. World-renowned architecture, exhibits, literature, and even epic films from before this century frequently explored and elevated biblical themes.

Indeed, all the world’s leading religions at one time brought us breathtaking art including sculptures, temples, mosques, textiles, and jewelry. Even masks, headdresses, and totem poles honored unseen gods. Unfortunately, today’s art seems motivated by lesser ideals. Class warfare. Consumerism. Personal agendas. Political turmoil. Even art created by AI without human oversight.

It’s not difficult to find “shock value” art that purports to “make a statement” but is really just an attention grab from an artist. Examples include Andres Serrano’s “Immersion”(aka “Piss Christ,” a photograph of a crucifix in a jar of urine), Tracey Emin’s “My Bed”(an unmade bed surrounded by used condoms, underwear, and empty alcohol bottles), and the infamous exhibit “Vorm – Fellows – Attitude” in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, featuring what can only be described as four giant sculptures of feces. (Really.)

Slasher movies, porn novels, and music lyrics that are blasphemous or demean women are all examples of creativity that’s really not very creative. Artists—especially those who accept grants from the National Endowment for the Arts—have the responsibility to leave audiences glad they were witnesses to their art. If audience members feel like they need to take showers after attending an exhibit, watching a video, or hearing a song, the artist has failed.

For sure, art has the unique ability to provoke new ideas and encourage discourse. Not every painting has to be filled with daisies. Not every movie has to end with the hero and heroine riding off into the sunset. Choreography should sometimes leave the dancer off balance. A symphony should include minor chords. Artists should have the freedom to expose the dark side of our world, but is it too much to ask that today’s artists also cultivate noble ideals and motivate their audiences to pursue virtuous, ele- gant, or heroic aspirations?

By the way, notoriety or popularity should not be the deciding factor of whether art is really art. Moths are drawn to flames. Motorists rubberneck to look at car wrecks. Just because critics swoon, a venue sells out, or a line snakes out the entrance, that doesn’t mean an exhibition or performance has any redeeming value.

So how can art make the world a better place?

THE POTENTIAL POWER OF ART

ART FOSTERS COMMUNITY

Public art museums, festivals, and workshops encourage strangers to engage with each other while inviting collaboration and mutual art appreciation within communities.

ART BRIDGES THE LANGUAGE GAP

Many forms of the visual arts require no verbal communication. Art can celebrate cultural heritage and promote appreciation for all nationalities. The world becomes smaller.

MUSIC AND DANCE ARE PART OF A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE

Melodies, rhythms, and dance transcend cultural, linguistic, and social barriers. Diversity in the world of music proves that every culture has the ability to elevate the human spirit.

ART SEPARATES US FROM THE ANIMALS

Humans are the only creatures who appreciate creativity. Do you think a shark appreciates the astonishing beauty of the fish swarming a coral reef? He’s just grazing for dinner. Does a wildebeest appreciate the sunset on the African savannah? He’s just biding his time as part of the food chain. The creative process celebrates humanity.

ART GIVES GLORY TO THE CREATOR

That’s what God created us to do—give glory back to Him. So, make your artistry—in any form—an offering. Worship the Lord in splendor. “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him. Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness” (1 Chronicles 16:29).

The best way to respond to art that drags humanity down is to create and engage with art that uplifts. On your refrigerator, in your living room, in your community, and as you travel, do your part to curate, design, style, and invest in art with a mission. That’s an easy and personally satisfying box to check.

For centuries the most brilliant musicians, artists, and writers lived with one purpose and passion—to honor God. You may not think of yourself as a Michelangelo, da Vinci, Handel, Bach, Bunyan, or Tolkien. But you’ll never know how your work will impact others until you step out in faith. The art form doesn’t matter. From dance to weaving to calligraphy, it could be anything.

CHECKING THE BOX

Where do you start? You already know. Follow the clear instructions of Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

TO PONDER OR SHARE…

□ 1.  When was the last time you were moved or deeply impacted by a piece of art, film, song, book, or performance? Did it somehow point to God?

□ 2.  Who’s your favorite artist, no matter the medium? What do they mean to you?

□ 3.  Why might someone support art that offends?

□ 4.  Is it possible that creating and appreciating art is one of the characteristics that separates humans from animals?

□ 5.  Beyond art, what is Philippians 4:8 referencing?

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