by MW Cook
I came across an essay written by James S. Spiegel about art and aesthetics. I get a little depressed whenever I think about the state of Christian aesthetics like literature, film, drama, art, music and the like. This essay is a bit of fresh air and a serious encouragement for those of us who love Jesus and are creatively inclined. Here’s an excerpt:
Surely the fact that God himself chose an artistic medium as his primary vehicle of special revelation ought by itself to persuade us to place a special premium on the arts. But the Bible also speaks explicitly to some specific art forms. With regard to music, the Bible is replete with injunctions to “sing a new song” (Ps 33:3, 98:1), to praise him using a variety of instruments (Ps 98, 150), and to “play skillfully” in doing so (Ps 33:3). Dance, too, is endorsed in the Psalms: “Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King. Let them praise his name with dancing…” (Ps 149:2-3; see also Ps 150:4).
The Bible sanctions drama as well. In Ezekiel 4:1-3 we find these instructions:
Now, son of man, take a clay tablet, put it in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it. Then lay siege to it: Erect siege works against it, build a ramp up to it, set up camps against it and put battering rams around it. Then take an iron pan, place it as an iron wall between you and the city and turn your face toward it. It will be under siege, and you shall besiege it. This will be a sign to the house of Israel.
This directive of the Lord to Ezekiel continues at length, symbolizing truths of both civil and spiritual significance. It essentially constitutes a prophetic drama, portraying Israel’s sad fate due to her disobedience.
Lastly, the scriptures speak to the visual arts. The most celebrated example appears in Exodus 35:30-35, regarding the construction of the tabernacle. Here Moses declares to the Israelites,
See, the Lord has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic craftsmanship. And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others…. Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work.
From this passage we learn not only that the visual arts are a worthy pursuit but also that gifts in this artistic domain are endowed by God himself. And it is the Lord’s desire to have skilled persons do such work, whether that skill is a natural (or, better, supernatural) gift or trained ability. Furthermore, we should note that artistic ability is a necessary but not sufficient condition for doing such work. The artist must also be willing to contribute (v. 35).
I especially liked his section on artistic virtues and vices. Read it!
We have failed in the arts as a Christian community because we have not sensed the urgency of the endeavor, and as a result we have succumbed to the aesthetic vice of laziness.