How do we begin to engage and find meaning in the often bewildering splashes of what many of us consider absurdly bizarre offerings by contemporary artists of all sorts AND to reflect on the place of art within a context of a Christian world view?
Art in Christian Universities
Art departments in Christian universities are tasked with the teaching of how to make art and present art to the public. They are not interested in trying to offend anyone or shock folks with scary pictures. There does exist a desire to provoke deep-level thinking by offering art works that have substance for our minds and hearts and not just display eye candy in the gallery.
The integration of faith and learning and culture is not always as clean and neat as it would appear for institutions with a Christian worldview.
Art students are taught to analyze works of art by examining the components of the composition, then interpreting the work while being as informed as possible from the artist statements, and finally making a judgment of quality after the previous thinking happens. This is the standardized art education process which helps but is not the end-all of how to enjoy works of art.
In place of over analyzing, we can approach art works with a strong emphasis on form. Susan Sontag encourages people to, “reveal the sensuous surface of art without mucking about in it.” This does not imply turning your brain off and just enjoying the color, texture and form without content, but to have an experience of the wholeness of the work which at best will transcend words and find a deep sense of truth glimpsed in creation and in one’s self.
Art curriculum is organized with a scope and sequence that is rational and not designed to offer art as solely entertainment. The exceptionally wonderful ingredient however is that when God and His great mysteries are allowed space in the process, transformative opportunities can happen. Eventually more Christian learning communities will mature and find a good balance between the learning about art and the real experience of art.
Is there an appropriate Christian approach to contemporary art?
I recommend Daniel Siedell’s book, “God in the Gallery” for a more detailed take on this broad topic. He recounts Edvard Munch, painter of the famous “The Scream”, and how he said “art comes from both joy and pain, but mostly pain.”
Much of our life is the experience of pain and it is from a place of suffering that God’s grace most often comes to us. Therefore, art reminds us that we are sinners, that we are redeemed in Christ, that the expression of art (even secular art) reflects how the world is not always a nice place. Art, the brutally honest and gritty kind, reminds us that the world and the people who live here are a long shot less than perfect. Yet, it gives us hope in the belief that someday the world will be redeemed.
We need to learn that art viewing requires effort and that meaning can change over time. It also requires the viewer to suspend judgment. Art that leaves us feeling a bit lost or addresses mystery can actually make us feel more human. This is the place from which the better artists gain their insights and give us pause to reflect on our humanness and where we stand in the world and in God’s presence.
Worldview thinking is sometimes helpful but sometimes misses what any given work of art can say. Artists, whether they profess a Christian worldview or not, can inform us with valuable insight. Rather than being overly critical and casting thumbs up/ thumbs down on any given art work, Christians are free to see God at work everywhere and any time.
We don’t have to love or approve of everything; but, allowing a work of art to unfold and be viewed with openness is, in a way, an expression of love.The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor offers innovative art degrees in a beautiful, brand new, art facility. Stop by for a visit, and see if UMHB is right for you.