This post is part of a series walking through the third volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace
Continuing his discussion of art, Kuyper notes that art rises above nature in the beauty of the already/not yet. Though nature provides inspiration, we created in nature. Art is more than this as well, it “has the calling to dignify nature.” (604) This dignity elevates culture and mankind.
Art’s split into high/ideal and popular has caused a decline in the artistic sensibilities of the people.
Divine order dwells in the world of beauty. It was hidden but then discovered by the Greeks. God allowed and ordained this discovery. We must not make taste the standard of art, however. Though certainly: 1) there is a subjective component to art, more so than in any other sphere; 2) reason is always subject to taste when we’re talking about beauty. Still, there is an absolute standard that we must look to.
Art became independent with the growth of the guilds. Here it both tried to speak to the people and find its own voice. This brought it to its peak. When the focus is on one or the other (though Kuyper focuses on the appeal to the people side of things), art is debased. Society’s tastes drive–and corrupt–art.
The true artist both sees beauty and calls the people back to it. We overcame the evil of the day by purification of the person, raising them above art itself. This enables the artist to find beauty in the natural world as it is, and glorify God because of it.
Idolatry of art also undermines this, and just establishes a class of parasitic lecherous snobs. This approach now dominates the culture.
And yet, art still does it’s “priestly” job. (610) It still takes what we can not see and makes it accessible to us. Obviously different kinds of art do this in different ways (Kuyper gives us a hierarchy of the arts), but they all raise us up, as praise raises out emotions in worship. In fact we see these kinds of art in the background of worship. Here we must do art for God rather than for ourselves. We fail at this, but art can help us even with these failures.