Manifesto for the arts

My summary points from a talk given to the spouses of vicars-in-training earlier this week:

  • Art is not just decoration for the more serious business of the Word – background visual element to church life. Art is part of the Word. Incarnational, material. Christ is the image of God, holding everything that is created together. (Colossians 1:15-17).
  • Art is not visual propaganda for mission. Too much naff, and poor quality work from Christian artists which, in assuming that representation in art works like language, ignores the whole of the twentieth century history of art: abstraction, conceptual, nuanced, allusive.
  • Art is the explosive stuff that churches often say ‘shouldn’t the money have been better spent on the chairs?’ (cf. disciples and perfume). God wanted the temple to be Decked Out (Haggai 1). Bring intelligence to a celebration of imagery in the Bible, not suspicion of idolatrous power.
  • Art is the cultural expression of our society’s worldview. Galleries are described by the media as ‘today’s cathedrals’, Hockney and Hirst both have angles on theology, so do Eastenders and Emmerdale. We ignore these undercurrents at our peril!

I want to say yes to the wider application of artistic practice – everyone has creative talent.
This understanding makes art person-centred, and deeply reflective of creative ways of thinking, which is God-given. BUT, yes also to narrower application for artists with specific gifts. Art as a profession – Bezalel example. Cultural commentators who produce work for others – artists need appreciators!

Os Guinness in Fit Bodies Fat Minds:
Christian artists are ‘the least understood and most alienated single group of people in evangelical churches’.

Header image: Spirit (installation view at Christ Church, Clifton, Bristol), 2008, by Sheona Beaumont.

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