Christian Artists: Fruitful or Futile?
Several years ago, I got into a conversation with a fellow train passenger, who in response to hearing that I was studying an art degree, declared that I would never manage to get a job because my subject would be useless. I pointed out everything he owned had been designed and created by somebody – his clothes, his phone, his house, his video games... and that artist was paid for it! If the world believes that Art & Design is a waste of time (whilst simultaneously consuming it in all aspects of life!) then we as artists can often feel burdened by this attitude, especially when our brothers & sisters in Christ seem to share it.
All artists should feel passionate about their art; and sometimes it is difficult to put to words why we feel that it is right for us to create. So, when we are faced with opposition or we have doubts about the value of our work, where in the Bible can we turn? I think when we look at Creation in the Bible, there are 2 things for us to notice which can give us confidence in our art – the goodness of Creation, and the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Goodness of Creation
Naturally, when we think about Creation, Genesis is a good place to start! In Genesis 1 & 2, we see that God is the Creator of the universe – not that he has used existing material to form the world, but that he has created it out of nothing. Everything God makes is ‘good’ – not meaning bland, or OK, but desirable and agreeable! This creation made by God holds value in its goodness: it is filled with things to enjoy such as plants that produce a variety of fruit and vegetables, the sun, the moon and the stars to gaze upon, and living creatures – just to name a few things! All of creation gives pleasure and reflects the awesome God who made it. Here we can see that material things made skilfully and to a high quality reflect the character of God as Creator, as well as the goodness of his creation.
This justifies buying objects that are more expensive but made to a high standard and in a way that does not abuse workers or damage creation. It also supports the creation of things that might be considered frivolous or luxuries: paintings, poetry, novels – and more! Creation is good and important, not just because the things in it are useful and have function, but because they are beautiful and enrich life in their appearance and ultimately point us back to the God who enabled their existence.
When humans are introduced into creation, it is a surprise to learn that they are described by God as ‘very good’ and that God has made them in his image! Humans are created to rule over creation and to work the land for food. God has intentionally created the world in a way that means that humans need to work to survive. Too often we imagine this is just about farming for food, but people have a variety of God-given gifts and skills which we are called to use to shape the world around us. Humans will need to make pots and vessels to eat from, shelters and houses to live in, write songs and poetry to praise God with, and much more. God has given us freedom to continue to develop the world he has created: he has made humans to be culture-makers! Therefore, we have freedom to be artists, to enrich life, and to shape the world we live in, in a way that glorifies the Creator.
Image by Bethan Wilson, Unloading the Kiln.
Authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the first part of this article, we looked at how in Creation, God gives humans the role to be culture-makers. This frees Christian Artists to make work that enriches life & glorifies God. But we shouldn’t take this task lightly. The Christian Art Scholar Hans Rookmaaker said, art “needs no justification, but it does require responsibility”. (Hans Rookmaaker’s book, ‘Art Needs No Justification’)
In Psalm 8, King David writes that God has “crowned [mankind] with glory & honour” (Psalm 8:5). But it doesn’t feel that way! Since the Fall, all of creation is now broken, and we feel this in our lives & art. We wrestle with the sinfulness of our own hearts and feel the tension between our belief & the idols of the creative world. However, as we learn from the beginning of Genesis, and the beginning of the book of John, the universe has been created for Jesus Christ and by Jesus Christ. He is the one who rules over it, and He is the one who redeems it by His death on the cross, in order that it will be restored.
In Christ, we can see the truth and the answers to our questions about what it means to be human. As a perfect man with no sin in him, we can see what we would (and should) be like without the Fall. We see how we should look after the world and the people we meet. We should have concern for society – politics and the decisions of world leaders, issues in science and healthcare, world peace and poverty, for example. Ultimately, we see how all aspects of our lives should glorify God. As we are still made in God’s image, despite it being marred in us like ‘flawed masterpieces’, we should seek to live like Jesus. Although it is not in our power to redeem the world and restore it, we do partially share in his role to bring chaos back into order.
Therefore, we have a responsibility in our work to reveal the whole truth about creation. We should strive to make art of high quality & beauty which reflects & glorifies our Maker. As a collective of artist, united in Christ, our work should be balanced; it should not give a one-sided view of the world by only showing goodness, love & peace, but it should acknowledge the brokenness of Creation. Otherwise, we fail to communicate a true dialogue about the realities of life.
We can rejoice that we are free to make art that speaks about any subject because Jesus is Lord over all areas of life (Colossians 1:15-23). But we will face internal struggles in our work as we decide what part of God’s world & Gospel to communicate. Thanks to the Fall, these issues are often conflicting – for example in my own practice, I wrestle with the question of whether it is more important to tell the world about the importance being good stewards to the environment, or the design, dignity and importance of work. Each of us of will have our own daily internal discussion, and it is important that we keep this dialogue going within ourselves, and with other artists in the Church. The messages our artworks give to the world have a big impact, so it is imperative that more Christian artists develop their practice and speak the truth of the Gospel in all areas of life.