By Chris Woolley
[This post is part of a conversation around the new book by Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper,Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art, now featured at the Patheos Book Club.]
Artists On Call in Culture: A Generous Mind Conversation
Art is strange stuff. We don’t really know what it is, but we certainly know when we don’t have it. There is a certain intangible nature about it. We can explain the elemental structure of it; why it may be relevant to society or how it appeals to the human psyche, but that’s not really it.
Art’s true source of beauty eludes us. I always tell people that when the art is really good there is a certain resonance about it. As though you’re tuning a guitar. The tension tightens up between the two strings and suddenly they start working in harmony and if you listen to your heart you can feel the weight of life lift for a moment. We may mistakenly believe that this resonance is the result of the beautiful subject matter of a work of art. However honest artistic beauty is independent of such trappings. Its gift rings true whether the image is hard or soft.
I try to remind myself that I don’t have to like all artwork, even if it’s good. Picasso’s work is very good but I’m not too crazy about it. However, I have a real eye for Pollack’s drip paintings. I know that he took great care in putting that crazy paint on the canvas. When I look at them I can see the resonance even though his art isn’t of anything.
While this resonance is something that can be found in all creative pursuits it is most purely found in the fine arts. As an artist myself, I can attest that it is difficult to obtain and vague to handle. Just when I think I’ve finally figured it out, it slips through my fingers like smoke. But when it’s right, it is something to behold. A little paint and canvas suddenly becomes a treasure. We feel weak before it. These treasures have no earthly value except to lift man’s soul. It is the essence of the aesthetic. Art is the transcendent scent of God…our earthly glimpse into Heaven.
God tells us that in the beginning He created, and that He created us in His own likeness. Our sense of aesthetics is part of our God DNA. The family of Christ has always been confused with the subject of aesthetics. We fear that when it’s too good, it must somehow be sinful. These fears are a byproduct of the Reformation; the proverbial baby going out with the bath water. We somehow feel that enjoying life that much may cause us to forget our debt to Christ.
But our debt has been paid and the sins forgotten! We are now to stretch out our hands and begin to bring our world to Him for redemption; not just in purity of morals, but in the true richness of life. In John 10:10 it says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
An important part of being “On Call in Culture” is to have a life more full. We must accept the aesthetic as part of the Church’s inheritance from our Father. We must work toward excellence as an act of worship. And we must embrace aesthetics in our worship. There are many artists who are believers. Find one and commission them to create something worshipful as a gift for your church. When it’s complete, put the art in the sanctuary as an offering to Christ and as a gift to our fellow believers. Do not look upon these works with eyes of materialism. It is with your heart that you will see Gods abundant harmony, and if you look with your heart you will feel the weight of life lift in that moment of resonance.
My passion is to create that moment of resonance through my art. You can find out more about my work at http://chriswoolley.com/.