I remember most of the school field trips I went on as a kid. I remember staying the night on a “pirate ship” in the San Francisco Bay. I remember the Exploratorium and different educational movies. I remember being jealous of my friends who got to go to “Outdoor Ed.”
I also remember going to some art museum near San Francisco in middle school and seeing abstract expressionism, Jackson Pollack or whatever. I was confused. I thought, If this is art, I have a few masterpieces on the fridge that I did with a crayon on a place mat from IHOP. Now, I’m not setting out to destroy modern “art,” but rather, I’d like to attempt an answer to the questions that my fifth grade brain prompted.
The way I see it (and contrary to modern convention), true art brings the abstract into concrete shapes. Instead of meaninglessness, art should create meaning and add to life. It should act as the bellows of our affections, stoking the fire of our imaginations to re-interpret our experiences into coherent meaning and beautifully (and enjoyably) communicating truth to our hearts in a way that dull, propositional statements are unable to do.
This summer I want to dive into the study of art, mostly from a literary perspective. Each week we will examine a different facet of the subject of art and literature, moving from the general to the specific, going from broad strokes to specific detail-work by genre.
So, why this topic? It seems a bit nerdy for summer vacation. But what prompted this? Well, the movie Noah, mainly. Noah was certainly a movie that had its problems (theologically as well as cinematically); however, I still loved it. It grabbed my imagination by the throat and did not let go. As the internet testified, not everyone in Christendom agreed – which is fine. But it got me thinking: What actually is art? How do we define it? What is it for? How can Christians respond to secular art? How do we even evaluate art?
This series is designed to help me better understand the many different forms of art, including literature (since I teach it, after all). In this, I’m reminded of a quote by the poet Cecil Day Lewis: “We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.” With this series I am writing in order to understand. I purposefully do not want to speak in abstractions, but instead want to bring clarity to subject that I think evangelical Christianity has sidelined a bit. I will do my best to define all terms, use examples, and simply avoid getting my head stuck in the clouds.
Again, this weekly study will see art mainly through a literary lens. For painting and more specific analysis of popular culture, I recommend the following titles: How Shall We Then Live? and Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer and God in the Gallery by Daniel A. Siedell.
I don’t plan on doing this alone. I’m hoping to have a variety of authors chime in on different weeks. And I expectlively and respectful debate in the comments!
Here’s what you can look forward to:
1. “The Imagination Incarnate” – What is Art?
2. “The Doctrine of Sub-Creation”- Why Do We Make Art?
3. “Against Plato”– What is the Purpose of Art?
4. “Through the Ages”- How Have Christians Seen Art?
5. “Real Knowledge and All Discernment”- How Does One Evaluate Art?
6. Excursus – “On ‘Christian’ Fiction”
7. “The Best Words in the Best Order”- Poetry-
8. “The Truth inside the Lie”- Narrative Prose
9. “Sing in Me, O Muse!”- The Epic
10. “In the Frame”- Film
11. “Not Knowing, but Tasting”- Faerie, Fantasy, and Myth
12. “To Hold a Mirror up to Nature”- Drama
13. “Ex Libris”- Conclusion
See you next week!