Guest post by copywriter and painter Richard DeVeau.
Our introduction to God at the opening of Genesis places us in the midst of His work as creator of the universe.
We get to look over His shoulder, if you will, and watch as He creates everything from nothing.
Beauty for it’s Own Sake
Not only do we see God create things that serve a purpose and function, but we also see He creates some things simply to be “pleasing to the eye.”
While beauty is the sole reason for some of God’s creation, it is also apparent in all of His handiwork.
Created in His image, we too have the ability and desire to appreciate and create beauty.
The imagination, creativity and beauty are clearly important to God, making them important to us as well.
What About Now?
But what role does imagination, creativity and art play in our lives as Christians today? Is being an artist a legitimate vocation for Christians? Why do some churches have such a negative view of the arts?
First, by “art” I mean every creative discipline: music, dance, painting, sculpture, performance, film, writing, and those endeavors that combine and straddle these disciplines.
So let’s look at these three questions in order.
In his book, Simply Christian, N. T. Wright says, “The arts are not the pretty but irrelevant bits around the border of reality. They are the highways into the center of reality which cannot be glimpsed, let alone grasped, any other way.”
Creativity and the arts are central to our response to the Genesis 2:15 mandate to “cultivate the earth.”
This is a culture-shaping directive.
We are told to influence and impact our culture (which by definition includes art, music, literature and other endeavors) to reflect God’s glory.
In his book, Art for God’s Sake, Philip Graham Ryken says, “Art has tremendous power to shape culture and touch the human heart. What we need to recover (or possibly discover for the first time) is a full biblical understanding of the arts—not for art’s sake, but for God’s sake.”
Christian painter and writer Makoto Fujimura, in his book, Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture, wrote, “Art is a building block of civilization. A civilization that does not value its artistic expressions is a civilization that does not value itself.”
And John Calvin said, “All arts come from God and are to be respected as divine inventions.”
Art of the Bible
And if we look at the content of the Bible itself, we see that 75% of it is narrative,15% is poetic, and 10% is instructional.
This means that 90% of the Bible is story and poetry, which engages and appeals to our imaginations in order to communicate God’s truth.
The imagination, creativity and the arts are intrinsic to our understanding of God, the world around us, and ourselves.
Artists Are Called
As the Bible has the answers to all of life’s questions, this is where we will look to determine whether or not being an artist is a legitimate vocation for Christians.
In Exodus 31, God has just given Moses explicit, detailed instructions for building the tabernacle, the structure where God will manifest His presence on earth and communicate with His people.
God then tells Moses that He has chosen Bezalel to build it, with the help of Oholiab. God says:
…and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts, to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship.
Not only does God call these artists by name and bless them with the very gifts they’ll need for the task, but it is also worth noting that this is the very first time in Scripture where God fills someone with His Spirit.
Ryken states, “Taken together, skill, ability, and knowledge refer to what the artist is thinking in his mind, feeling in his heart, as well as making with his hands. The artistic work that Bezalel and Oholiab did came from their whole persons.”
But God could have built the tabernacle himself.
On this issue Ryken adds, “Instead, God called artists to make the tabernacle, and to make sure that they did it well, He equipped them with every kind of artistic talent. By doing this, God was putting the blessing of His divine approval on both the arts and the artist.”
In addition to calling Bezalel and Oholiab by name, we see in Genesis 4:21 that Jabal is called “the father of all who play the harp and flute.”
God clearly chooses some men and women to be artists.
I could go into more depth than this post will allow to cover how we can know if we are being called to be an artist, but suffice it to say that the short answer is passion, gifting, commitment to developing and honing our skills, and submitting our work to be judged by others.
Artists and the Church: a Rocky History
But why does the church tend to hold a negative view of the arts and artists?
At one time in history, the church was the world’s largest and most influential patron of the arts.
Then came the Reformation, where the arts, particularly the visual arts, were deemed secular endeavors that encouraged idol worship and were essentially banished from the church.
In its defense, the church has a right to be suspicious of an endeavor that is so susceptible to becoming idol worship. The commandment not to create graven images is still debated in some circles today.
Suffice it to say it is not the image itself that is sinful…it is what is done with the image and the image maker.
But the answer isn’t to simply reject all art and all artists.
Doing so has caused great harm and has resulted in many lost opportunities to glorify God through the arts once they were rejected by the church and relegated to the world.
As Ryken stated earlier, we need to regain a full biblical understanding of the arts, and that goes for both the church and the artist.
Reclaiming The Arts and Imagination for Christ
While the church has made tremendous strides to embrace the arts and its artists over the last two or three decades, there is still more that both can do to reclaim the arts and imagination for God’s glory.
I’m greatly encouraged to see more churches embrace and support its artists, not only by making them part of the worship service, but also providing encouragement and support outside of the church’s walls.
There are many churches that now have pastors and affinity groups for artists.
And there are more Christian colleges offering degrees in nearly every artistic discipline today than there were even a decade ago.
A Call to Christian Artists
My appeal to Christian artists today, who by nature tend to be isolated because of their work and temperament, is to become part of the body of Christ and submit their lives to the oversight of a pastor, preferably one who understands the blessings of their gift and the temptations and potential pitfalls artists face every day as they pursue their calling and hone their craft.
If God puts such a high value on the arts, so should we. But not, as Ryken states, only for arts’ sake, but for God’s.
I’d love to know what your experience with the arts has been, either as a pastor, an artist, or an observer.