Luther, Evangelicals, and Modern Art

Lucas Cranach the Elder, The Wittenberg Altarpiece, 1547, Wittenberg, Germany Modern and contemporary painting is the heart of my theology of culture. It is not the kind of cultural practice, however, that receives any positive attention from evangelical cultural theologians and critics, for whom art is irrelevant at best and harmful at worst. But painting [Read More...]

Velázquez, Dwarfs, and the Contradiction of Graceful Painting

The Spanish artist Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) is a contradiction. His disarming virtuosity, combined with an ambivalent attitude toward painting that borders on contempt, resulted in one of the most stunning and enigmatic careers of any artist in the Western tradition. He also produced some of the most graceful paintings in the history of art. Velázquez’s [Read More...]

Art and Explanation

Susan Sontag has a point. In her well-known essay, “Against Interpretation” (1966), Sontag argues that the classical mimetic theory of art has created an unnecessary distinction between form and content, which modern (and now postmodern) theories have merely intensified. Interpretation presumes that art must have content that can be extracted for use outside the work. [Read More...]

Art and Culture, or Politics by Other Means—Evangelical Style

Justified by Use Lutheran theologian Oswald Bayer reminds us that in An Essay on Human Understanding, John Locke argues that “person” is a “forensic term.” The need to justify one’s existence to one’s self  and to others, to gain and maintain recognition, is the foundation of the human condition under the sun. In this transactional, [Read More...]

The Red Herring of Public Decency

The Chinese government’s “pixelation” of Michelangelo’s marble sculpture, David-Apollo in a television story previewing an exhibition of western art at the National Museum in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, raises the question again of art, nudity, and public decency. Rather than make the sculpture safe for public viewing, did pixelating the work create an indecent or pornographic situation?  Should a work of [Read More...]

Concluding Thoughts on Thomas Kinkade

Thomas Kinkade has been an easy target for art critics. But my decision to write about his work, with “The Dark Light of Thomas Kinkade” and the “The Final Word on Thomas Kinkade,” was an attempt to explore a different path toward understanding the challenges that it posed to my work as an art critic [Read More...]

Art and Grace

Andrei Tarkovsky, The Passion of Andrei Rublev (1966) Grace and Sacrament Grace is known through experience, not through description, analysis, definition. Grace is heard, seen, and felt. It is aesthetic, opening and expanding our experience of the world, which becomes, as Lutheran theologian Oswald Bayer describes it, “breadth, breath and liberation.” It is the pastor [Read More...]

The Ear and the Eye

Makoto Fujimura, The Golden Sea, 64 x 80, mineral pigments and gold on Kumohada paper, 2011   I recently spent the weekend with artist Makoto Fujimura at his new studio in Princeton, New Jersey, and in the course of our conversations, some of which were videotaped for a documentary, we discussed the presence of grace [Read More...]

The Final Word on Thomas Kinkade

  Thomas Kinkade My theological analysis of Thomas Kinkade’s work (“The Dark Light of Thomas Kinkade”) was an attempt to make sense of my abiding discomfort with his work as well as respond to my dissatisfaction with the commentary it has generated over the years. Neither his supporters nor his critics have offered compelling arguments. [Read More...]


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