Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What Is Art???

A friend of our stopped by last night and I was in the kitchen painting. He said, "You know what I don't like about painting? It's so imprecise." I had to laugh. Well, he's an engineer. I can see how my impreciseness may bug him.

But it did bring up an argument that has been going on in my head for years and years and has been more on my mind lately because my pastor was giving sermons on beauty and also because I have been trying to take more time lately to develop my own painting and drawing skills. What is art? Is anything with a frame on it art? Just because it's in your head and you give form to it with some creative process, and it serves no functional purpose otherwise (as opposed to invention, like the invention of a can opener, say.) and you put lighting on it and ask people to come look at it, does that make it "art"? Can a Christian use abstraction as art ever? If you say no, (and some Christians do) then is copying as nearly as you can to the real life subject "art"? Is absolute skill in accurate drawing the highest skill an artist can develop?

Anyway,  when I was younger I read quite a bit of Mennonite stuff. I read at one point an article about Christian art and they made an assertion that Christians in drawing and painting were to accurately portray God's creation. To do otherwise would be to set oneself up higher than God in a way, to portray a reality different than the one he has portrayed. So not only would complete abstraction be out but also tweaking reality into something that couldn't be, like painting apples blue. I think Francis Schaeffer also saw abstraction in art as a progression in man's rebellion against God in the western culture. Someone can correct me if I am wrong, it's been a long time since I've read "How Then Shall We Live".

But Francis Schaeffer was a premillennialist. His view of society was that man would be in rebellion and so the way he would interpret new cultural shifts and such would be in line with his eschatology.

But I wonder if abstraction is actually an expression of rebelling against God in and of itself. It seems to me that before the invention of the camera the primary purpose of art would be to reproduce images one wanted to carry through life with them, even if they couldn't be there or have that person forever. Abstraction would have been an annoyance! I mean if you wanted a portrait of your wife you wanted a picture of your wife! But since the invention of the camera people can have those pictures. So what is the point of the artist now? Is there one? Or has the camera replaced him?

At least I know that as an artist I spent some years trying to represent things as I saw them and these are the questions I asked myself as I drew. Personally, it seems to me that if a person is drawing to accurately represent something, even if it's something beautiful, you might as well use a camera. A camera will always be able to be more accurate (even though it does have some distortions of it's own.) and photography can glorify and enhance a subject just like an artist can.

So, then. Is abstraction a rebellion against God? Or is it a natural shift in the art world as artists work to redefine their craft in the face of technological advancement? Is it a sign of regress in culture? Or actually a result of progress?

More later.


  1. God digs abstraction... read the Prophets! Abstraction is not necessarily degradation or perversion.

    Check out some analysis of the "art" of Piss Christ over here:

  2. Hey, that's a good point Tim! I hadn't thought of that!

  3. I'm full of good points, just ask me! :)

  4. I don't think abstract is wrong. Purposeful uglification is wrong. But then how do you answer "what is ugly?" We watched The Two Towers last night so I am thinking of Isengard. Saruman took beauty and made it ugly for evil purpose. In his twisted mind he saw new beauty in what he created.

    I don't know anything about art, but I know what I like. Distorted views of humans (Picasso) disturb me but I don't know that it's wrong to paint that way.

    As you can see I have no idea what I'm talking about.

  5. I don't have much to contribute to this but I do enjoy reading all the thoughts. I love art that is especially something I cannot do (which would be a LOT of art).

    I think art, good art, often portrays things better than they are, which helps me lift my eyes higher than this fallen world. Your oranges, for instance, look much nicer than many would in real life...the lighting, the colors, the lack of bugs and sweltering heat....

  6. I read in Ecclesiastes the other day that God makes all things beautiful in their time. It would be interesting to do a bible study on the use of beauty by God in the scripture. I think of art as communication. So with that in mind I think any media form can be used to convey true messages about God. I think it might be benifitial to use abstract art to portray the rebellion of man toward God. Now with art the messages are harder to control and may at times not be the best way to communicate.But I love to see things from a different perspective.. Not a hating God perspective but a magnification of some aspect brought out more clearly in my thinking.