“She never looked nice.
She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to
make you feel something.” Rainbow Rowell wrote this line in her now famous
book, Eleanor and Park, as a statement about physical appearance, and
how society often places importance on the wrong elements of life. However,
this quote can be looked at in a different fashion, and can reveal a deep truth:
Art is not merely for casual viewing pleasure or simple entertainment. The role
art plays in every person’s life, specifically Christians, carries significant
weight. The arts include all that is beautiful and creative in this world, be
it literature of any type, music, paintings, architecture or architecture.
While many Christians attempt to escape the significance and burden art
carries, it is wrong to do so. Christians should value art and place as much
importance on it as the other tasks that are so highly valued in society today.
God created and gifted humans with beauty as well as art, and both of those
work hand-in-hand to display His truth in
a richer, fuller sense.
Lewis delivered his speech “Learning in War-Time” to students studying at
Oxford University in the fall of 1939, at the beginning of the Second World
War. He lays out a compelling argument to those present as to why they should
continue in their various studies even though many, possibly including
themselves, believe the war should take priority in their lives. Throughout
this speech, Lewis also begins to reveal why the arts should matter to
Christians as a whole, whether they are on the brink of war or simply living
their normal lives.
begins by discussing how the war itself is not a valid reason to push aside the
arts and learning, since every day society faces the reality that it could be
their last here on earth. He uses the analogy of “fiddling while Rome
burns” and points out that the real problem is not the city being on fire (i.e.
the war) “but that a person fiddles on the brink of hell”. Lewis then points
out that if society used something like a war to delay studying, appreciating
art and beauty, and seeking knowledge, these things would never happen. He
discusses how the role of Christian is to continue “doing most of the same
things one had been doing before” but doing them all for the glory of the Lord,
not themselves. This is also a call to place greater value on wholesome art,
because as Lewis points out, “you are not, in fact, going to read nothing,”
stop thinking, or cease all interaction with all forms of art in life. Paul
reminds readers in Colossians 3:17, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do
everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (The
Holy Bible, Col. 3:17). Christians must do everything in their daily lives
for the glory of God, and there is no way in life to avoid knowledge, art, and
that which is beautiful.
Lewis’ speech is the starting
point for the argument as to why Christians should pursue the arts, whether it
is creating them or simply appreciating and using them. The Bible is very clear
in its instructions to pursue that which is good and glorifies the Lord. As Paul
says in his letter to the Philippians, “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.” (Phil.
4:8). For those who do not create their own art on a daily basis, this is an
explicit instruction to appreciate and value whatever is created by others. The
writer of Ecclesiastes gives a similar instruction to his readers when he says,
“There is nothing better than for a person to enjoy their lot” (Ecc. 3:22).
Both of these authors gave clear instructions to appreciate that which is
beautiful in this world, whether the reader created it or not, for beauty
deserves appreciation. These instructions should be followed closely by Christians,
because as 2 Timothy 3:16 states, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and
profitable”, which shows that all of the authors of the Bible were divinely
inspired, and should be given the respect that God’s Word deserves. Art is
beautiful, so these instructions can be correctly interpreted to mean that
Christians should both create and appreciate art.
Christians, we should know that art is important to the Lord because He not
only gave us the ability to appreciate and create it, He gave us art in
the first place. The primary way this is seen is the Bible. To begin, the Bible
itself is work of literature. As Leland Ryken argues, “Literary conventions are
present in the Bible from start to finish” because “its most customary way of
expressing truth is…the story, the poem, the vision – all of them literary
forms” (The Christian Imagination, 25).
Ryken helps to prove a central point: The gospel, which is the cornerstone of
Christian faith, was given to us by God in the form of an art – literature. If
God had not wanted Christians to appreciate and value art, He would not have
presented His Word in the form of an art.
a similar fashion, God has given explicit instructions for believers to create beauty
as a means of bringing glory to His name. In Art and the Bible, Francis
Schaeffer discusses how the Lord gave Moses specific commandments regarding the
building of the Temple and the Tabernacle in Exodus. The Lord gives specific
architectural instructions, as well as aesthetic instructions, such as covering
the temple “in precious stones for beauty” (quoted in Schaeffer, 26). Schaeffer is quick to
point out that “God simply wanted beauty in the temple” because “God is interested
in beauty” (Schaeffer, 26). Christians are reminded of the beauty of all
creation in Ecclesiastes chapter 3: “He has made everything beautiful in its
time.” If God did not want His people to value and appreciate the arts, He
would not have been so insistent upon creating that which is beautiful.
The reason that beauty is
so important is because beauty leads Christians closer to the Lord, and is a
way He reveals Himself through His creation. Leland Ryken defines beauty as
“something inherent in creation” that “is… visible in the fingerprints of the
Creator on the natural world, in the wilderness, and in human beings who
reflect the Creator’s beauty” (The
Christian Imagination, 82). Frank Burch Brown quotes Augustine, who saw
“beauty…as having its acme and source in the being of God.” (Brown, 104).
Augustine continues by explaining that “the highest beauty, absolute beauty, is
truly divine and therefore does deserve loving for its own sake.” (Brown, 104).
God is the one who gives Christians beauty, and it is something that He loves.
During creation, He repeatedly created things and saw that they were good (Gen.
1:1-31), with this goodness coming from their beauty. Through His creation,
Christians can see the beauty He intentionally made, which reveals Him to us in
a deeper sense.
main reason the arts are so important is because they are beautiful, and the
way beauty and art collaborate is a substantial way Christians can draw closer
to the Lord. Frank Burch Brown discusses how beauty leads to the Lord in his
book, Good Taste, Bad Taste, & Christian Taste. He
cites the thirteenth chapter of the Wisdom of Solomon in saying “from the
greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of
their Creator” (quoted in Brown, 100), and he agrees with Augustine’s belief
that “beautiful objects…come from that beauty which is higher than souls; after
that beauty my soul sighs day and night” (quoted in Brown, 102). Similarly,
Leland Ryken discusses in his book The Liberated Imagination how
impactful it is to interact with the arts: “the reward of contact with the arts
is heightened awareness… of God.” (The
Liberated Imagination, 31). Both of these authors, as well as the authors
they cite, all clearly state that the arts help us make a closer connection to
God. He uses what we perceive in art to shape our understanding of Him in a
richer and fuller way. The more Christians study the art that God has revealed
to us and enabled us to create, the closer we will draw to Him.
Schaeffer once said, “Every Christian is called upon to be an artist…
the Christian’s life is to be a thing of truth and also a thing of beauty in
the midst of a lost and despairing world”. (Schaeffer, 94). Schaeffer
reinforces the belief held by many theologians and believers of all types: The
arts are important, and Christians should take care to appreciate beautiful
art. There will be no way for anyone to escape the arts in their daily life, so
Christians should take care to value good art, rather than filling their
thoughts and days with art that holds no real benefit. The beauty of art that
is seen all around is a gift from God because He has a great appreciation for
that which is beautiful. Through beauty and art, the Christian is able to draw
closer to the Lord and develop a stronger relationship with Him, which should
be the ultimate goal of the Christian life. It pleases the Lord when His people
value what He has made, and it pleases Him when they use the skills He has
given them for His glory. The arts should be a central part of the Christian
life, so that Christians can develop a better relationship with the Lord each
and every day.