Tuesday, October 28, 2014

According to the Pattern

“Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.  Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” (Exodus 25:8-9)

There is probably no better subject for sparking controversy these days than "art" as expressed in pictures and sculptures.  Even among Christians there seems to be serious disagreement about what true art is, what are the standards for art, and whether Christians should be involved in art at all.

It may be tempting for homeschooling parents to ignore the whole problem by either avoiding art altogether or simply doing the "exposure" thing — show your kids a lot of famous art and let them figure out the rest. 

But Christian parents are called to something higher than that.  God Himself commanded beautiful and skillful art for the tabernacle and temple. Art makes a major impact on our culture.  At least a rudimentary knowledge of the arts is desirable in training a child to be a person of godly influence when he grows up.  

First, let’s define our terms.  "The arts" refers collectively to things like pictures, movies, photography, music and sometimes architecture.  "Visual Art" usually refers more specifically to something illustrative or decorative, usually a painting, drawing, or sculpture.  In this article I will be focusing on visual art, rather than all of the arts. 

Visual art is more than simple creativity.  A true work of art requires some skill and talent. It usually conveys a message, however vague, that sparks emotions.  And generally, good art is understandable and therefore enduring.  A chair spattered with paint might be creative, but it requires little skill and no talent.  It conveys no understandable message (beyond a klutzy painter) and rarely sparks emotions other than confusion.  Furthermore, spattered chairs (and other modern examples of so-called "art") are hardly ever enduring.

So what are the biblical standards for art?  

Are there any? 

Yes, indeed!  Nearly every artist you talk to will tell you that they want their art to inspire their audience to think about something.  The Bible is very clear about what we should be thinking on.  "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things."  (Philippians 4:8)  That’s pretty comprehensive!

A painting of a hideous, unreal scene is neither true nor lovely.  Statues or paintings that are obscene or immodest are neither excellent nor praiseworthy.  When we start applying these biblical adverbs to art, it quickly becomes apparent what is good and what is not.

"But wait," someone will say.  "The Bible talks about sin and suffering too — that falls in the category of 'true.'  A painting of a naked person or a dead animal is true and conveys the fallenness of our world."

That is a valid point.  But we must keep something in mind.  While any unsaved person can see and convey the consequences of sin in our world, only a Christian can see the big picture of ultimate salvation and redemption for all who will trust in Christ.  We have been given the Great Commission to share this big picture.  Therefore, it is a Christian’s responsibility to show not only the hopelessness of sin, but also the hope of salvation.  When we create or immerse ourselves in art that only focuses on sin — a naked person — or only focuses on suffering — a dead animal — we are leaving out the punch line, the end of the story.  We are leaving out the gospel.

So let’s make this practical.  How does a Mom or Dad who knows little about art teach this important subject in a way that is godly?

First, children should be exposed to art that is good.  This means not only good content, but technical excellence as well.  In our city, the Bob Jones Museum and Gallery has many well-recognized, biblical and beautiful paintings.  Our city art museum also sometimes has displays of great works of art (though we have to use judgment as to which exhibits are appropriate).  Every area of the country has some good art museums and exhibits.  On your vacations, check out art museums in the areas you are visiting.  Let your children see the enduring, "the greats."

We also collected a few of those big beautiful picture books of art. Some were the works of one artist, others were compilations of an era or genre. This made it easy for us to look up questions we had about art in general or great artists in particular.

Teach your children how to discern good art based on biblical principles.  My parents never let us see obscene or disturbing art when we were young (and we still avoid it if possible), but they did let us see some of the silly and pointless modern "art."  They helped us to understand the futile thinking that prompted these so-called artists to chop up a block of wood and pompously name it "Lost."  They showed us the pointlessness of sticking up some slabs of metal to supposedly illustrate "dynamic spatial interaction."  And they also helped us to analyze famous works from good artists, pointing out techniques that show beauty and truth. 

We learned to think through questions like, how does the artist use this painting to make me sad about, say, the crucifixion of Christ? How does this sculpture of a soldier show action even though it is technically static and lifeless? What is the artist purposely leaving out - and leaving in - his message to us?

Help your children to become skillful in their artistic creativity.  Not everyone has artistic talent.  But everyone can attain some degree of technical excellence. If nothing else, the experience of trying to create good art will help your children appreciate the hard work and dedication of other artists.

Young children can simply be encouraged to have fun with finger paints, play dough, and paint-by-numbers.  As children grow up they can be taught to consider things like realism, perspective, and color combinations.  Basic art training can then be a jumping-off point for applications in "the arts" — things like calligraphy, stenciling, pottery, photography, painting and scrapbooking.

The world looks on art as a selfish pursuit.  "I’m just expressing myself!"  But a Christian knows better.  Nothing, not even art, should be done selfishly.

Instead, we are to do everything for the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31).  A picture is worth a thousand words. Parents would be wise to teach their children how to use these thousand-word statements to impact others for good.  When we create art that is according to the pattern of thinking God gives in His Word, it will glorify Him and bring people to know Him.

1 comment:

  1. The Christian writer, Dorothy L. Sayers , in a book of essays entitled "Letters to a diminished Church, says this about art:" ... the artist's work comes to us as a revelation of new truth. ... (It) tells us something about ourselves that we had not always been saying, something that puts a new knowledge of ourselves within our grasp. It is new, startling , and perhaps shattering and yet it comes to us with a sense of familiarity. We did not know it before, but the moment the poet has shown it to us, we know that ,somehow or other , we had always known it."