The Meaning of Art

The Meaning of Art February 25, 2023

For centuries, Western art has been closely linked to Christianity. Christian subjects have often been represented in literature and the other arts. That’s partly because the dominant religion of the West, from the Middle Ages to the Modern period, was Christianity. But it’s also because Christianity has so much room for artistic exploration.

As a writer, and one who has been interested in music and the visual arts, I feel a kinship to the artists throughout the eras I mentioned. The way the writers and artists valued beauty, and the way they teased out the meaning inherent in the universe, resonates with me. But the arts today seem to have lost a lot of their value.

Meaning in Art

I’m not the only one to think this. What is considered “art” and “literature” today doesn’t seem to resonate with the vast majority of the population. White canvases and Jackson Pollock paintings may sell for vast sums of money—to the elite few—but most people with an eye for art would rather decorate their homes with something from almost any other era.

And in college, I slogged through literary books that were highly acclaimed for their cleverness in defying expectations, but nobody could explain to me what was the value of reading Tolkien for pleasure. These books, and many of my professors, didn’t seem to have the goal of understanding the meaning and the morality underlying the universe. The books they chose seemed to revel in the idea that this life is meaningless, and that we are only the sum of our desires. Yet Tolkien, with his deep faith in ultimate meaning, outsells them all.

One could say that we need more Christian art. But on the other hand, much Christian art today is hardly even art. For example, many artists create pictures that are intended to serve to accompany a Bible verse or a saying. Or they may be trying to use it to make some kind of point that could be communicated just as well through a straightforward statement. That’s not art. If the art is simply the slave of a point that you could say without referencing the art, then the art doesn’t mean anything.

The same is true with literature. If a story is only meant to prove some point that is reducible to a straightforward statement, then it’s not carrying meaning as a story.

Art has meaning if it communicates something that can’t be said in another way. It might communicate a particular emotion or a particular beauty. It may even communicate a truth, but it does so holistically rather than mechanically.

Enter the Curator

Over time, I’ve developed friendships with others who share a taste for literature as enjoyment and exploration. We value connecting with the timeless themes of Western art, literature, and philosophy, while exploring these themes anew in our own writing.

Because of this perspective, some friends and I started a literature publication. The Curator is dedicated to quality in art and literature, and one of our main purposes is to spread that value far and wide, especially among Anabaptist communities. Our mission is to build communities of readers, writers, and thinkers, and we do that by publishing online and in print, and by holding events. We’ve had a lot of positive responses so far. I’m honored to be part of the effort!

If you enjoy art or literature, I encourage you to join us in creating new art that sees the world God created as something to be celebrated and explored.

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