Without having to love the artist?
In his article, “The Bad and the Beautiful” (The American Conservative, July 27, 2018). Graham Daseler discusses the problem of enjoying great works of art created by people whose lives are flawed and, in some cases, evil. Can we appreciate the works of such artists and not be, in some sense, endorsing their conduct?
Mr. Daseler believes we can and must: “But if art can do harm, it stands to reason that it can do good, as well. It’s comforting to think that a work of art, if it’s beautiful enough or moving enough or original enough, may atone for the sins of the artist.” Excellent films, moving poetry, enjoyable music, and profound works of painting or sculpture won’t atone for anyone sins, but they can be sources of insight to God and His goodness nonetheless.
This is an important question, and it invites consideration of the doctrine of common grace. We can appreciate the good works unbelieving and even wicked people do so that we give thanks and praise to God Who inspires and empowers all good works. In so doing, we do not condone wickedness; rather, we celebrate grace, and point forward to the ultimate triumph of grace which Jesus has achieved and will one day realize.
No works of any kind, no matter how many or how good, can atone for the sins of even the best man. Yet “The earth is full of the goodness of the LORD (Ps. 33.5). All works of goodness – including works of art, film, poetry, and more – have the potential for pointing beyond their earthly source to their eternal provenance, and we who are called to glorify God at every opportunity should learn how to do this.
Jesus took maximum advantage of this principle, for example, in using a coin to point people to what they owed God. Neither Caesar nor those who minted that coin – a good work for various reasons – had any inclination of wanting to honor God. It took Jesus to remind us that in every good work there is a witness to the Lord, and an opportunity for honoring Him.