We are created by the Creator God to worship God, to give God glory. This helps define “Christian” art. Creating is part of who we are as human beings. We were made to create, to “tend and care for the earth,” and to unfold and discover the wonders of God’s universe. His goodness and common grace are given to all of humanity in spite of sin. This enables us to enjoy the beauty and art that are produced by all people. But it is the work of an artist who is “a vessel for honor”– to “give worth to” the God who created him or her. If we do not “give worth to” God, we will worship something or someone else.
Understanding this human need to worship helps us discern the “spiritual direction” of a work of art. Art that is “Christian” glorifies God. There is much art that does not recognize the Creator. We can enjoy and study it, but should also understand the direction of the heart that created it. I think of Anselm Keifer the German Abstract Expressionist whose work has influenced my work.1 It takes much study and discernment to understand art and it is part of the calling of a Christian artist.2
The religious antithesis is real. Sin and the fall of humanity affect the direction of the human heart, mind, and soul, as well as creativity. We must be faithful to look at art and culture through the lens of God’s Word. God calls his vice-regents to duty to “test the spirits of the age.” Leland Ryken writes, “Because art is created by humans art is never neutral. It presents experience but also interprets it–since it has ideational content and embodies a world view or ethical outlook–it will always be open to classification as true or false, Christian or humanist or Marxist or what not.”3
Art that is “Christian” is art that is true and good but is not afraid to deal with the Fall and broken human condition. This does not mean that it should be didactic or preachy. Rather good Christian art “comes in slant” like Emily Dickenson’s poetry. It is winsome and a bit mysterious. Mystery and abstraction allow the artist and viewer to use their God-given imagination to make visible the invisible. Mystery is not the same as obscurity or muddle. A mystery is a truth we know but don’t fully understand—exactly the sort of meaning abstract art addresses best.
I once took a painting class with a professor who assigned me to fill a sketchbook with drawings using my left hand and my eyes closed. It was the challenge I needed to draw with my “mind’s eye!” “Lord, Show Me Your Glory!” is one painting that resulted from this assignment.
I inscribed this poem by my friend Barbara Knuckles around the perimeter:
We children of God are gold,
hammered flat into brushished scribblings–
From oblique angles we appear earth-ochre dark devouring light.
Yet turned full front illumined by the One who makes us what we shall become, we are filled with brilliance, flashes of glory,
etched and defined by the colors of our sorrows.
I used the color of straw and ash to show our human condition. When the painting is tilted towards the light, the interferance acryilic reflects the light of glory.
I also sketched Scriptures like, “You, like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house”, which also resulted in a painting (below). I was free to “make visible the invisible!” Abstraction allows freedom to explore the mystery of spiritual reality.
God’s Word uses story/parable, figurative language, types and symbols to help us know and “see” God and His kingdom. His kingdom is like a mustard seed.4 Jesus spoke in parables: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world,” (quoted from Psalm 78 in Matthew 13).
Below is a painting from my Seed Series.
Madeline L’Engle in Walking on Water said,
“But even when one denies God, to serve music, or painting, or words is a religious activity, whether or not the conscious mind is willing to accept that fact. Basically there can be no categories such as ‘religious’ art and ‘secular’ art, because all true art is incarnational, and therefore ‘religious.’” She is basically agreeing with Leland Ryken that we are all worshipers who make visible our view of the world. Art “puts flesh on” to “incarnate” ideas and truth. And all great art deals with who Christ is. That is the reason for the “Christ-figure” in Hemmingway’s novels or the sacrifical artist as atonement in Kiefer’s large apocalyptic paintings. And Christ is the “One” whom Mondrian and his fellow theosophists were seeking but failed to find.
Thus it is so important to reference the Incarnation in my work. Only Jesus, the God who became flesh, can bring visible reality and equally true invisible reality together. He holds all things together.5 My statement reads “The Incarnation is the focus of history and I want it to be the focus of my artwork. Christ, the God/man, is both Spirit and flesh, as well as Word and image of God. He alone resolves the many dichotomies of artistic imaginative work. Through Him I attempt to join the tangible world and the spiritual world apprehended through the eyes of faith. Only the Holy Scriptures can help me reclaim this holism of imagination and intellect, spirit and flesh.”
The above artwork is an ongoing series of media explorations combining collage of various papers, low relief, impasto, gold leaf, graphite, acrylics, waxes, oils, and varnishes. It focuses on changing the conceptual and spacial context of recognizable figurative forms, sometimes taken from past Christian imagery, and placing them on non-objective grounds of text and image or manipulating them in other ways. In my Resurrection series I have incorporated a figure of “Isaiah” by John Singer Sargent (1856), and pages from a 19th century edition of Pilgrim’s Progress. Both allude to the word/image dichotomy that I am dealing with as it relates to Christ who is both the Word of God and the image of God. And in my Global City Babel series, word and the confusion of words since Babel are layered along with an appropriated image of Pieter Bruegel’s Tower of Babel.
My work continues to be inspired by the incarnate Word of God – the double-edged sword of wonder – in all its terror and irresistible truth that liberates my imagination.