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Christianity and Art


For our loss, Protestantism destroyed lots of Christian art in its history. Not because it disagreed with the message, but rather it disagreed with art, as if in principle. So, it hasn’t created much art at all. But, not to gut the movement, it nearly single-handed lead to the focus on the written text, arguably as an art form. We came up in a Protestant, 70’s jesus-movement tradition which also had very little art, and no liturgy. I find this strange because other Christian traditions have a rich history of art, and their liturgy is rich in music. It is one reason I enjoy going to Anglo/Catholic services.

An article on Handel’s Messiah in Christianity Today shows just how powerful music is. The Chinese government has banned the performance of western religious music. One word. Amazing.

In accordance with the understanding of the power and history of art in the Christian tradition, I hope our communities move in a more liturgical and artistic manner. I saw this discussion of art within Christianity and was very intrigued. Granted, it is a little high-brow, but here are the conclusions:

(8) Instead, art must be created or performed in such a way that it becomes a part of a life-giving process of mutually liberating solidarity with victims and survivors, the dying and those left for dead, around the world.

(9) Indeed, to think that art can ’seek the beautiful’, or be ‘a parable of redemption’, or come into the ‘proximity’ of the ‘beauty of God’ in the ‘crucified Christ’ apart from engagement in this life-giving process of mutually liberating solidarity is foolishness. Again, more strongly: to engage in artistic endeavours that seek the beauty of God (which is found in the crucified Christ), without simultaneously engaging the crucified Christ who is revealed in the poor people of history is, to borrow Adorno’s language, idiotic.

(10) To make this assertion is not to suggest that all art must then engage in some sort of overt or superficial didacticism. It is simply to suggest that the Christian artist — like Christians in every other profession — stands under the Lordship of Christ and is accountable to certain basic, and unavoidable, Christian commitments.

It sounds like a good starting point to me. Thoughts?

3 Responses to “Christianity and Art”

  1. on 30 Dec 2008 at 5:13 amMark C.

    One poster wrote in the comments on that page:

    I think I would prefer to find a way to hold Holocaust and Advent in tension as competing historical trajectories, and try to find a “Christian” aesthetic somewhere in that incredible tension.

    I think the gospel of the coming kingdom does this. The true gospel says, yes things like the Holocaust have happened and they are terrible, but a better day is coming when righteousness will prevail and the downtrodden shall be vindicated. This could be expressed through art in many ways. Rather than saying ‘how can we have art after the Holocaust’ we can and should provide hope.

  2. on 30 Dec 2008 at 8:26 amJohnO

    I definitely think you’re right Mark. The question ‘how can we have art after the Holocaust’ is merely the starting point for understanding the purpose of art. I can’t imagine living around that time, the Holocaust must have shattered so many ideals and principles that were common to so many people. So the philosophical response was, since the world will never be the same because of this event, the Holocaust, we have to rethink things in those terms. And hope is definitely a part of it.

  3. on 01 Jan 2009 at 2:13 pmM. Leary

    “Rather than saying ‘how can we have art after the Holocaust’ we can and should provide hope.”

    Yes, and I think we even see a better response to Holocaust-like tragedy in Jewish history than Adorno’s in the art of Marc Chagall.

    We now have the privilege of prioritizing advent/resurrection in all of our thinking about culture and representation. We might as well go ahead and do it.


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