Hope Blog

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  1. Art Topic: “Art-ing”


    In our last Art Topic we broached the question of the relationship between Art and Worship, and whether art alone led to worship, or if worship could lead to art, and just what if anything could be meant by “art-ing” (or, “art-ifying”).

    We are told to submit our bodies as living sacrifices, which is our holy and pleasing form of worship. No where are we told in scripture to “make art,” and scripture only seems to discuss artisans and craftsman  in the fashioning of the ark of the covenant or the temple (but not as in any other role within temple worship). This assumes artisans and craftsmen had places within the community, and that such places were assumed natural.

    But here is a question: the artisans and craftsmen were given a mandate in the fashioning and building of the temple, yet the new temple is the Body of Christ, what is the mandate for artists today in fashioning and building the new Temple?

    What art leads one to worship God? What subject matter? In what manner do we, through “art-ing” make art in a way which is holy and pleasing “art-ing”?  What does “art-ing” in general look like — does it go beyond making a piece of art in a certain way, and found manifestation even in how live our lives and perform our tasks? If so, a Christian aesthetic comes into play, right, an aesthetic which is applied not to a piece of art but to how an artist lives their lives and performs their tasks? What “materials” are used in “art-ing” in life? Faith? Fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control, not keeping records of wrongs or coveting but trusting and believing)?


  2. Art Topic: “Art and Worship”


    In the course of a discussion with an arts pastor friend of mine the claim was made that all Art leads to worship, and it is a question really only of that to which we are lead to worship — God, or other.

    The thought bears a great deal of chewing for any artist. Through the ensuing discussion other questions were raised: can Art itself be worship; does worship ever lead to Art? The discussion stopped at this point to delve into the definitions of “Art” and “Worship.”

    At the risk of appearing to needlessly ask tired questions, either through rhetorical device or for which we have little practical need to ask, Today’s Art Topic would initially want to consider the questions of those definitions, what are Art and Worship? It is arguably safe to say we as artists never actually leave off  from answering this question. More saliently, it could be said that never leaving off from answering (from being within or doing the activity of answering) those questions is in part what it means to be an artist, and notably a Christian artist.

    Abraham, in a moment, was asked to sacrifice his only son, the son of promise, and that a moment of believing in God (to be able to raise Issac from the grave if necessary to honor the promise) was credited to Abraham as righteousness. In the Christian scriptures we are told to “offer [our] bodies as living sacrifices, this is [our] holy and pleasing spiritual act of worship”. Elsewhere we are told to “love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our strength, with all our mind, and Christ himself said that was the greatest commandment, the second unto it being to love our neighbor as ourselves.

    Unlike with Abraham’s singular act (which occurred over the course of a few hours), our spiritual act(s) of worship (as believers) seem to be ongoing, continual even, albeit perhaps continual across numerous instances specifically (as, in general, as we seek life, and Life). Put differently, submitting our bodies as living sacrifices is a continual act. Experience tells us that, as parents trying to follow the Lord and to raise our children in the knowledge and admonition of the Lord we are repeatedly “offering our children” (back) to the Lord, or, rather, are seeking His direction continually with what He would leads us in doing with His children He has entrusted to us. Again, continual action.

    Putting a fine point on it, worship thus understood never stops. Worship is not (merely) singing songs, hymns, and praises on Sunday. And singing songs and praising are but one manner of worshiping (whereby notably we are submitting our bodies in a traditionally artistic way).

    If worship is a continual, ongoing act, then what is “art-ing”? Can “art” be a continual act, as worship is a continual act — could “art” ever be a verb? We use the term “creating,” and we are arguably creating just as continually as we are worshiping when we create (or worship, respectively).

    So, let me just make the personal claim here (and stop pedagogically seeding the flower bed for that claim) which I want to make. L’Engle brings up the young virgin Mary, asked to bear the seed and bring to life the person of Christ. L’Engle goes on to draw the similarity of the artist to Mary, saying that the Story we tell as a writer (or visual artist, or sculptor, or weaver, ect.) comes to us, asking us to perform artistic midwifery and give it “incarnation.” And like with Mary, we artists have the choice to serve it or not. We never stop being parents / artists, and we repeatedly as parents / artists are giving the children with whom we are entrusted back to the Lord. And, sometimes we are asked, as Anne Lamott is found of saying, “to sacrifice our darlings”.  Earlier before this reference to Mary, L’Engle discloses how everything she does flows out of her nature as a Christian and as a writer, and verily speaking, we Christian artists are adopted children of God and new creations in Christ, invested with the Holy Spirit causing us to will and to desire (thus to create) according to His good pleasure (if it is to the spiritual nature submit).

    So I ask again, what is the relationship of Art to Worship? What is the profound calling to which we are called as artists? As worshipers and as the redeemed?

    Afterthought: {and, also, a digression from the above}

    In the truest philosophical senses, an “argument” can easily be made for the case that, as God’s creation we are His art, creating ever continually within an ever continually creative creation (which is that of Creation), ergo, we are art and are always creating, always “art-ing”. Art, in this philosophical argument, is a state of being, just as worship is a state of being, that is, when we participate in being (according to the spiritual nature), and when we don’t (according to the flesh).


  3. Art Topic: “Burt Reynolds is Dead”


    Burt Reynolds is dead…


    Burt Reynolds is dead … and I am listening to an utter stranger’s Southern Gothic playlist on Spotify. Since Sunday of Labor Day weekend my time has been spent revolving around the “Christmas in July” play (penned by our very own Dennis O’Donnell), and it’s final tech week preparations. On the ride into the church building from my suburban home I’ve listened to a podcast on Christian and Pagan reliquary given at the Met. Museum of Art, and another podcast of an introductory lecture on Plato’s aesthetic notions by an Oxford professor.

    Burt Reynolds is dead… I am listening to an absolute stranger’s Southern Gothic playlist… and (oddly even to me) this all seems to make some sense that I would write Today’s Art Topic, despite it having nothing to do with such a context — while nonetheless being crafted in the midst of it all. There just is … something… about the irrelevancy of it all to the topic: the relationship(s) of ourselves to Art, and of ourselves to creating/creation (of works).

    What does it mean, what does it look like to be “charitable” towards an artist and their work? What does it mean to “be the Body of Christ” to the artist, to an artwork, to creating, to Art itself?

  4. Arts Topic: “the Holiness of Creating”


    In summation of our discussion/posts so far on Christian Aesthetics I recall our minds to the notion that a Christian Aesthetic involves, in part, an ethos towards Art like that of Shem’s and Japheth’s reverential carrying of cloaks across their shoulders to PROTECT the vulnerability and beauty of their father.  

    If Creation and a creation, Art and some piece of art, all are so holy and venerable, then so to the act of creating, an act of creation, ought to be considered as a holy thing.  Creation ought to be considered one of the holiest of activities, esteemed as a holy pursuit. Aye, you could say that an act of creation is a sitting at His feet, a laying at His feet, a glorifying Him in that manner in which He Himself choose to do for Himself.  Our Holy God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), deserving glory, in holy activity created, so that His reflection might be seen in His creation, that His Holy nature might be known. When the artist creates, in that act of creation, she is modeling back to God that holy activity for which He is so deserving of glory.

    Do we consider the activity of art making in such ways? Going back to the refrain of Philippians 4:8, in light of these thoughts, isn’t art making noble, true, good, righteous, excellent, praiseworthy, loving, just activity?


  5. Arts Topic: “Christian Aesthetics pt.2”


    “Finally, Brothers, whatever is … noble… think on these things.”

    What is this verse of Philippians 4:8 (NIV) indicating?  Does this verse indicate a basis for an Christian Aesthetic of Art?

    From the previous T.A.T. it seems the question of a Christian Aesthetic  could be considered a two-way ethic, whereby the viewer has as much a responsibility to esteem and keep worthy the subject matter of a piece of creation, a piece of Art, in every bit a way as we might another person. I think that could be an easily argued assertion, at least. If nothing else, the manner in which the artist puts herself into the work of art, doing so vulnerably or / and (presumably) submitted to the Spirit of God, well surely this substantiates and undergirds the moral onus on the viewer.

    As a writer I do sort of take some comfort in the old adage that the written piece is often more intelligent than the writer depending upon whose reading it. But maybe there really is something there. An artist creates in a sort of meta-language (i.e. her medium), and this medium speaks across the limitations of language, surely, but Language (meta-language) is that which exists between people, and is as much dependent upon the receiver’s supplying of their own experience-steeped associations and nuances as it is supplied (by the same) from the speaker. And yes, I mean language, not merely communication.

    And maybe, here, the real collaboration within Art is the collaboration between audience and artist, like two parents contributing the existential genetic material of experience and understanding (along with  Spirit-born understanding in each) to the child of Creation, a Holy utterance birthed in that co-mingling. In which case, as the viewer comes together, considering what is true, noble, right, just, pure, excellent, praiseworthy, beautiful about that thing the artist has considered true, noble, right, just, pure, excellent, praiseworthy, beautiful, we get something which is just a little bit more of God.

    If the artist creates something, some piece of art which deals with Creation — itself reflecting the glory of God — and deals with some aspect of God (like nobility, or justness), then like Japheth and Shem is there any response we can make as the audience which doesn’t intellectually, soulfully walk in backwards, the robes of truth, nobility, rightness, justness, purity, excellence, praiseworthiness, beauty draped across our shoulders to lie upon that Art?

  6. Arts Topic: “Christian Aesthetics”


    Does our Christian Faith provide for us an in-built (even an in-dwelt) Christian aesthetic for Art? What formulation would that aesthetic take, especially in light of the exhortation of Philippians 4:8, which says:

    “8Finally, brothers,whatever is true, whatever is honorable,whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything isexcellent or praiseworthy — think on these things. .”

    Or, perhaps more saliently considered, Philippians 2:13, which says,

    ” 13For it is God who works in you to will and to act on behalf of His good pleasure..”

    Is good (Christian) art that which most closely approximates the highest notions of say, truth or purity or beauty or nobility (for instance)? Does the worth of Christian art  rest contingently on the maturity of the believing artist more than upon the maturity of craft? How do we define Beauty as Christians?

    One very historic and relevant question: if God’s beauty is expressed in / through His Creation,  and of Man it was said that (s)he was very good, then what of the nude form — is it beautiful? Was God covering up something shameful when He gave Adam and Eve skins of animals to wear, or maybe, was God covering the beautiful up from shaming glances, protecting the beautiful, making it sacrosanct?

    If nothing else does God’s covering of the beautiful suggest that it is the heart relationship towards the Beautiful — the audience’s relationship to the  art (and not the art itself) — which is made unworthy of viewing that nude form which is too worthy to be viewed by shame-filled eyes? Put slightly more direct, God’s covering suggests it is not the nude which is unworthy, but rather the nude is worthy of protection from the shame-seeing onlooker.

    If we truly accept it is the Spirit of God dwelling within us to will and to act according to His good purposes, doesn’t that heart frame the conversation, then, not by asking what is appropriate but by asking have treated or portrayed the beautiful appropriately? Have we loved and done Beauty justice and kindness and rightness and done so praiseworthily?

    Do we in our hearts act as Shem and Japheth, and  carry a cloak across our shoulders backwards and cover our father’s  nakedness? Is it possible to paint a nude but, paint it so that true Beauty is covered in like manner?

    This certainly makes the question of Aesthetics one of Ethics, and of the ethical responses of the viewer (more than a question of the nature of the Art), and arguably (the ethics) of the artist.

    ***(Personally, I think in certain (maybe rare) nudes those nudes can actually function as a cover of / for Beauty as expressed in the human form, in such a manner as Shakespeare wrote of the beauty of His lover by ironically discussing her stinky breath.)