Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Toward a Christian Sense of Aesthetics

Here's an interesting article which explores the intersection of faith and the arts. In it, author James Bryant critiques modern styles:

Sometime during the Ages of Enlightenment and Reason, the acceptance of an objective criterion for beauty and the creation of artistic works was discarded. In its place the idea arose that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. An artistic object -- be it a building, painting, sculpture, or musical composition -- no longer was held to have any inherent truth, value, or beauty, but only that which was accorded to it by the subjective and relative view of the observer. This plays into the reality of the fallen nature of man. The consequences are that if indeed beauty is a characteristic of God, the further one is away from God, the further one is removed from beauty, the ability to comprehend beauty, or the ability to create beauty. In a world that has rejected God, modern art looks into the depths into which humanity is falling, rather than toward the higher state of unity with God and all of creation to which humanity is called.

What Bryant neglects to mention is that the Academic tradition that he so highly esteems (and I do, too) arose not from a Christian sense of honoring the image of God, but out of Renaissance humanism which de-emphasized the fallenness of humanity.

Even creators of great devotional works, like Bouguereau, Tissot, de Morgan, Hunt, Kramskoy and even Warner Sallman were products not of a historic Christianity, but the Academic tradition which was founded in the Renaissance and nurtured to full maturity in the Enlightenment. And the Enlightenment was hardly friendly to Christianity.

I'd like to say that Academicist beauty is rooted in the imago dei, but history won't bear it out. This won't, of course, stop us from seeing the image of God reflected in great works of Academic art; we should just be aware of the syncretist origins of this thought.

Hat tip: Dale Tedder


the reverend mommy said...

At the point that Art (in the larger sense) ceases to describe our experiences of God, I would concur.

Yet I wonder if there is something inherent in the "being of a human" that always is searching for that spark of what we call divine. It is in the searching for beauty and in the finding that we can re-discover the divine even in secular Art.

All artists feel that pull -- that indescribable state of being where you dwell in a place outside of self. Here a Christian will understand that he/she is participating an act that makes God God -- the act of creation. Here will we really find Imago Dei -- the artist participating in Divine Creation.

I have long believed that this is a neglected area of theology.

John said...

That would certainly be a good application of prevenient grace to artistic processes.