The Disciplines of Knowing: The Humanities (3)
Art can be an important resource for increasing in the knowledge of Jesus.
So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1.27
Made to create
As the image-bearers of God, people are made both to create and to appreciate and benefit from the creative works of others. God is the great Artist. He uses every conceivable form and genre to communicate His beauty, goodness, and truth into the world. He has hidden His glory in all His works, and He calls us to discover from those works what He is communicating about Himself (Prov. 25.2; Rom. 1.18-21).
The works of art “commissioned” by God in Scripture demonstrate His willingness to use art for His purposes. The tabernacle and its furnishings, the priestly garments, the temple, the psalms and other poetry in the Bible – all these reach us in unique ways and draw us deeper into the knowledge of the Lord. Jesus affirmed that people are able to do beautiful things that bring honor and glory to Him (Mk. 14.6, where the Greek word καλός can mean both beautiful and good).
The art humans create can be a mirror of the divine process of creating, and a pointer to the Lord Jesus Himself. We should expect, therefore, that art can be an interesting, enjoyable, and enriching resource for helping us increase in the knowledge of God.
As Dorothy Sayers points out in her book, The Mind of the Maker, all human beings are creative, and not merely in the arts. All of life offers abundant opportunities for people to work creatively. But in art, creativity comes to a sharp focus; and in the creative works of human beings, we can see something of God’s Being and character.
Dorothy Sayers points out that the process of human creativity offers a glimpse into the mystery of the divine Trinity. God exists in three Persons – the Father (Who ordains), the Son (Who executes what God ordains), and the Holy Spirit (Who applies what the Son has accomplished). All Three are one God, though each Member of the Trinity has a different role in the divine economy.
Similarly, every work of creativity – in the arts or otherwise – reflects this triune template, because people are made in God’s image. In any work of art, first comes the Idea (what to paint, sculpt, or write), which is like the Father. Then the Energy gets to work, to bring the Idea to form, as Jesus did during His incarnation. Finally, once the work is finished, the Power it carries to interpret the Idea recalls the work of the Holy Spirit, Who teaches us all things.
By understanding the arts – the ideas and themes, genre and media, and interpretations of works – we can grow in our appreciation of the greatness of God’s work and the infinite variety of His beauty. This is true, Dorothy Sayers insists, whether or not the individual artist we’re studying is conscious of reflecting God in his work. We’re made in God’s image, and whatever we create invites contemplation of the creative process and the great Artist Who upholds the cosmos and the artists who adorn it.
The usefulness of art
We don’t turn to the arts because they are useful to us, at least, not merely because they are useful. But the arts are useful and can aid us in pursuing our calling to the Kingdom and glory of God.
Studying works of art, meditating on the themes, pondering the way all the separate parts – colors, textures, themes, moods, imagery, and so forth – work together as a unified whole, and drawing conclusions about the meaning of a work, can train our minds to analyze, our hearts to discern, and our consciences to approve or disapprove. By thus exercising the components of our soul, art can help us be more aware of and sensitive to the Presence of God in all His works. By learning to look at art, we train ourselves to look at the world as well, and to see more of God’s Presence and glory there.
Art is also useful for enjoyment, in bringing the delight of beautiful works, interesting ideas, and important themes into our purview and perhaps – if only through inexpensive prints – even into our homes. Learning to enjoy art can help us enjoy God, Who is supremely beautiful, unfathomably interesting, and important above all else. Our enjoyment of God – and, with it, our love for Him – will increase as we look to the arts to teach us how to recognize and appreciate beauty, goodness, and truth in various forms.
Art can also serve as a witness to our worldview. The art we study, enjoy, talk about, encourage others to consider, and display in our homes can provide abundant opportunities to explain what we believe. “I just think it’s pretty” should not suffice when a guest asks about a particular picture hanging on our wall. So much more could be said; and when a work of art opens a door for conversation, we should be ready to go through, and to share our experience of God through the works of art we are coming to understand and enjoy.
Art is obviously a vast, complex, and potentially confusing field of study. We don’t have to master it all, but we should be able to appreciate certain works and artists for how they help us in learning to know, love, and serve our Lord Jesus Christ. Make up your mind that you’re going to get an art education, sufficient to help you gain some of the benefit of learning Jesus, that this aspect of the humanities can provide.
You might do some reading about the history of Christian art. Books and online resources are available to help. Since a great deal of Western art uses Christian themes, you should have no trouble identifying several works that will reinforce, illustrate, or expand your understanding of Jesus. Look for help from those who understand the arts and how they work. Visit a museum and chat with a docent there about a work of art that interests you. Learn to look at works of art so that you study them like you might a book, asking questions about images and their placement, titles of works, color palettes, use of light, line and proportion, and more; making notes in a journal; and sharing your observations and questions with others. Art can open up new vistas on the beauty and greatness of God as He speaks to you through works of art.
Let the arts have a new and edifying role in your home. You don’t have to turn your home into an art museum to have a few replica pieces that remind you constantly of the Lord. Above my workspace hangs a print of a painting by Vermont artist Peter Huntoon, entitled “Spring Confluence”. The coming together of those two springs into one river puts me in mind of many spiritual truths: our Lord’s incarnation, for example; the fact that our world is made up of both seen and unseen realities; and that we as human beings are creatures of both matter and spirit.
Apps are also available that can present works of art and give you some rudimentary guidance in understanding what you’re viewing. But you’ll have to think, pray, talk with others, and reflect deeply on works of art before they draw back the veil and give you a glimpse, through their Ideas, Energies, and Powers, into the greatness, majesty, beauty, and mystery of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The arts provide a broad and fascinating field of study to help us increase in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. You’ll have to work a bit to get the hang of how the arts can help us grow in the Lord, but the effort will be worthwhile.
1. Do you have a favorite work of art that you have enjoyed over the years? Does this work of art turn your thoughts to the Lord? In what way?
2. What would you have to give up time-wise in order to begin learning more about the arts, and how they can help you increase in the knowledge of the Lord?
3. How do you expect learning to appreciate art will help you see more of the glory of God throughout the day?
Next steps – Transformation: Choose one work of art that you are familiar with and enjoy. Start asking questions about the Idea of this work, the Energies (genre, images, etc.), and its message (Power). Study it like Jacob, wrestling with the angel, and ask the Lord to bless you with some insight into His beauty, goodness, and truth. Share this exercise with a friend.
T. M. Moore
We hope you find ReVision to be a helpful resource in your walk with and work for the Lord. If so, please prayerfully consider supporting The Fellowship of Ailbe with your prayers and gifts. We ask the Lord to move and enable many more of our readers to provide for the needs of our ministry. Please seek Him in prayer concerning your part in supporting our work. You can contribute online via PayPal, or by sending a gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.
Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- T.M. Moore
- January 20, 2020
Learn to look at art, and you'll see more of God's glory.
The Disciplines of Knowing: The Humanities (3)