All art is Christian art. That’s a rather bold statement. Immediately, objections start to pop into our minds. “But what about modern nihilistic art?” “What about a novel that teaches spiritualism?” “What about someone screaming viciously into a microphone with zero identifiable words?” All of these are good objections, but rather than disproving my statement, they lead us to the deeper question that lurks behind them all.
What is art?
We are Christians and we base our lives and beliefs on the Bible. Let me bring you to the very beginning of that book. Genesis 1? Yes, Genesis 1:1 words 1-5, “In the beginning God created…” Two words stand out most in this string of five words. “In the beginning” is kind of like an announcement that a big statement is about to be made. Then we get to “God”: “In the beginning God.” Now that’s something. God is preeminent because He is first. How fitting for the first four words of the Bible. But if He was in the beginning, how does the story continue? Well, God created. God created. The first doctrine we hit after the preeminence of God is art–creativity. Art comes before the doctrines of marriage, work, sacrifice, etc. Perhaps this is because art is what is most obvious and sometimes most important to us. We know God exists by His art. We are deceived, rarely by argument but more often by the art that is tied into the argument—the emotions, the symbols, and the imitations of cosmic ideas.
“God created.” That is our first introduction to art in the Bible. Shall we move on? Shall we keep looking for the meat of what art really is? No! It’s right here! Let’s slow down a bit and dig into the depths of richness right before us.
That is how God expressed Himself. How different the approach of His adversaries. From the very beginning, we see the trend of sinful men and the devil to corrupt what God made. Pagans did not create a different solution to the problem of sin. They knew that redemption required sacrifice. Instead, they twisted the system of animal sacrifice to be a way for them to actually atone for their sins when God had intended it only as a sign of inward repentance and a picture of the Messiah that would come. The pagans did not create a society without government. They knew they could not exist without governments, so instead they twisted God’s design into a system of tyranny.
Only God can truly create ex nihilo. He is at a level of artistry we will never match. There are only two options:
1. We can create after the pattern of God’s creation and join in His creativity.
2. Or we can destroy the pattern of God’s creation.
If I want to share in the creative joy of some architect, I may trace an outline of his skyscraper. It may take me ten minutes and $0, but I have become an artist. Another man may spend years of planning and thousands of dollars to blow up that same skyscraper, but he is not an artist. Why not? Because he has not created, he has destroyed. In the same way, all art must share in the creativity that God has already designed. If any so called art goes against His patterns, it will lose its beauty.
“Because God is God, that which reflects His nature will be art and that which distorts His nature will be anti-art because God is artistic.”
Does this mean that a non-Christian cannot be artistic?
No, but it does mean that we Christians have an advantage. We have a better worldview, so our worldview is going to make for some better stories—if we do everything with our eyes open. If we are going to have our artwork reflect the nature of God (and therefore become artistic) we need to study how He did things before us—after all, He did say that His work was very good. We need to become careful observers and deep thinkers. If we fail to portray an accurate picture of human nature in our stories, then we have missed a bit of how God expresses Himself—not God Himself mind you, but a bit of His nature. We have not looked deep enough into the beauty and majesty of God because we have not looked long enough at His handiwork. Our worldview gives us an advantage in the world of art, but we must be careful or we can easily lose that advantage. If we only express the broad picture of God’s handiwork in our art and miss everything else, an atheist may easily produce an artwork far more beautiful than ours if he is able to see the myriads of beauty expressed in God’s handiwork in all the little areas of life. He may not know that that is what he is seeing, but as long as he sees it and expresses it through his art, that artwork will succeed.
Our new understanding of the basic nature of art leads us to a deeper understanding of our subject in general. For instance, why is it that cliches are regarded as poor art? Is it not because the nature of God is unsearchable with limitless nuance? Why is survival such an important theme in so many stories? Is it not because the nature of God is life? Even a story of vengeance can be thrilling because ultimately God will have His own revenge on the day of judgment.
This last example ties us back into my original point. My original point was that all art is Christian art. Is a tale of vengeance Christian? Let us consider that what we must judge is not just the message of the story (which is tied into the art) but the art in its whole. A tale of vengeance well told can have great power and this is because it finds its ultimate theme in the nature of God—in Christianity.
But wait! A tale of vengeance is not about divine vengeance: it is about human vengeance. That is very true, but think of this. The power of the tale (its artistic quality) increases the closer the human vengeance appears to divine vengeance. Why else do authors have their vengeful characters view themselves as “the hand of God”? I might make a similar point about the book The Scarlet Letter. If you carefully examine this book’s philosophy, I believe you will find that it has a major error. In the end, it is accepting of sin. This is a distortion of the nature of God and therefore diminishes its art. The story does, however, place a very high emphasis on guilt and the fact that sin does have its consequences. It is this theme, displayed so powerfully, that makes this book a masterpiece. This book is powerful because its lie is so full of truth. The distortion is so slight that the story blows you away. It’s an awe-inspiring piece of literature. Consider, however, if this book had treated sin as a light matter not even worth considering. Anyone who has read this book will know that it would have turned the book into an absolute flop. It is this way with all of art.
The closer it comes to the nature of God, the more powerful it is and vice versa.
So now we understand why human vengeance (while a distortion) can yet be so powerful. To be fair, it is still a distortion, but let’s not draw any judgments just yet. Instead, let’s look at what the Bible says in John 9.
“Now as Jesus was passing by, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who committed the sin that caused him to be born blind, this man or his parents?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but he was born blind so that the acts of God may be revealed through what happens to him.”
So we see that even a distortion of God’s original creation can be good in God’s eyes because He uses it to eventually point back to His own glorious and holy nature. We should consider this when writing. Light (while it is not dependent on darkness for its existence) may often catch our attention when contrasted with the darkness.
Let us review what we have learned in this article.
- First of all, art is creation.
- Second, true creation is that which reflects the nature of God (and hence is founded in Christianity). Therefore, all art is Christian art. Q.E.D.
- We also learned that even though we have a Christian worldview, we can still miss many expressions of the nature of God if we are not careful and observant.
- We also learned that even an art piece that does not reflect the nature of God with perfection can still have a lot of power the closer it is to the truth.
- Finally, we learned that darkness can sometimes be used to accent the light.
Let me leave you with a note of caution.
While we may technically find a remnant of Christianity in almost anything and learn from it and grow to appreciate God more, we have to use a cost-benefit analysis. We would do well to learn from the wisdom of Paul when he said,
“‘All things are lawful for me’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me’—but I will not be controlled by anything.”
There may be a little bit of true art mixed in with chaotic “art” forms, but that does not make them beneficial. Poor art can often contain elements of temptation.
For instance, I try to be discriminate in the music I listen to. There are songs many of my friends might think fine that I detect a tone of anger in. Listening to such music tempts me to that same feeling of anger. This may not be the same for everyone, but for myself such music is very powerful in a negative way. At the same time, I can often detect anger in Beethoven’s music, but with his music I tend to sympathize with his feelings rather than to share in them. His music also contains much good that I find beneficial. We have to carefully consider the positive and negative points of any piece of art and also judge between that piece and others.
The world of art is a battleground. It is one in which we should be very wary and very active. The good news is that God staked this ground out for Himself right from the beginning. You can find it in the fifth word in Genesis.
Enjoy this article? Read Daeus’s sequel, “Can You Keep a Pure Mind While Reading about Darkness in Literature?” where he explores how Philippians 4:8 relates to creating Christian art.