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Friday, August 16, 2013

A Very Personal Philosophy of Art

Before I start, a few things about my background: I have a degree in art and minored in English. I love everything arty: art, music, words, drama, photography, poetry, architecture . . . all kinds of creative expression. I have worked as an artist, both creatively and teaching. I enjoy visiting galleries, museums, historic buildings, and attending concerts and plays. I have a wide appreciation of visual, spoken, and musical expression.

According to Jesus’ Great Commission, our reason for being on this earth is: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen (Matthew 28:19-20). This is disciple making.

Another Christian life purpose verse is 1 Corinthians 10:31. Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

We’re supposed to think about whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (from Philippians 4:8).

Here’s a Bible verse about making beautiful things, in this case probably the furnishings of the Old Testament tabernacle, And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it (Psalm 90:17).

My philosophy of art is inspired by these four Bible references.

I’m noticing that, in almost all Christian art forms, the mood has drifted towards darkness, questioning, brooding, and representations of suffering and pain. Whether it’s a play, a reading, visual art, or a song, it’s evident that the fashion of the day, in Christian circles, is toward darkness. I understand that art portrays reality. And, the reality of today is not very pretty. But that’s the reality of the world, the unsaved world.

My personal opinion is that this is not the direction Christian artists need to be going. As Christian artists, our goal should be to glorify God, to attract people to Him, edify other Christians, and reflect God’s beauty in our work. A Christian’s reality should be full of hope, the sure hope, the victory that Jesus has won for us.

I don’t think for one minute we’re to be “ostrich Christians,” unaware of the problems and suffering around us. But, as artists who know the Lord, we have the answer—the answer—for this lousy world.

We should do work that actually reflects Christ.

How can we do this? 
  1. Produce a positive message. Whatever the medium, make sure the work conveys something that is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, and full of praise (from Philippians 4:8). If it doesn’t go in that direction, something isn’t right. I know we like to push boundaries and find new ways of expression, but there are some eternal Christian guidelines that should be followed, if we’re to please God with our art.
  2. Exclude the ugly, extremely dissonant, dark, crude, weird, nude, or images of suffering or torture. They don’t help anyone’s thoughts or meditations.
  3. Focus on representing Truth in our art. How can we make God’s Word, God’s attributes visual? How can I represent Truth in words, song, or melody? When someone listens to this or sees this, will they see Jesus?
  4. Make it beautiful. If it’s music, give it melody and phrasing. If it’s spoken, be positive and uplifting. If it’s a play, make sure the moral tone is right and the outcome is redeeming. If it is visual art, strive for beauty of form, line, texture, and color. You can even represent Christian themes. In photography or cinema, honor God. (He made everything beautiful. Capture it!)

I don’t think every representation needs to be rosy posies and yellow light, like in a Kincaid painting. (It’s quite okay if you like his work.) I think you can use abstract art, close harmonies, surprising shapes, and communicate a wholesome, Christian message. You will certainly be different if you’re not like the world.

I believe you can ask questions, but those questions should also be answered. Pushing boundaries is okay—as long as they don’t get pushed into what the world is saying. We should be pushing into the light, towards the truth, towards the message of redemption. Our art should encourage.

We who are Christians can be refreshingly different. We can prod people to think about what’s honest, pure, lovely, and all the other adjectives in Philippians 4:8.

And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us:
and establish thou the work of our hands upon us;
yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.
(Psalm 90:17)

Do you have any ideas about honoring God with creativity? Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


  1. Great post. Great verses. I totally agree with the need for positive and constructive art in all forms. it is a. language.

    1. Thanks, Danielle, well said: it is a language. God bless!

  2. I enjoyed this personal and insightful meditation. I'm in agreement with you. We need to shine our lights to draw others to Him. We already see enough of the darkness without recreating that and calling it "art". Thank you for your authenticity and your love of teaching. You are a blessing.

    1. Thank you, Rose. I know you are shining your light for the Lord, and I truly appreciate your testimony. God bless you.

  3. Good thoughts! I would like to say, though, that light and hope is less powerful when the deep darkness of sin and pain is lessened or omitted in some way. It goes back to the statement that the hero in a story becomes notably less heroic when the villain is presented as "not so bad."

    A reason you might sense a "trend" towards darkness in art (and this might be something you are already aware of, so if it is, pardon the restatement) is that for most of my childhood (and before my time definitely), Christian art seems to have been rosy posies, with cantatas, children's plays, Christian films, etc, that were hokey or cheesy at best and unrealistic or heretical at worst. Part of this is also because of the low value placed on art, giving many Christian artistic projects a skeletal budget that almost made a poorer end product inevitable...but of course that is a discussion for another time.

    Anyway, this trend in past years is part of the reason why I, and many of my colleagues in theatre and fine arts are wanting a more realistic representation of the world. Art is a mirror for life - or it should be - and Christians experience the same heartaches as non-Christians, though they of course know the outcomes.

    So, all that to say, thank you for writing about this! Those are a few of my thoughts over the past several years, and I appreciate you sharing yours! I will keep following this blog :)

    1. I think you're right. Especially in speech and drama we need to be REAL. Sometimes the piece seems to dwell in the darkness and have some light tacked on at the end--or no light at all. I remember reading a book that was lent to me. The writers were Christians, and the whole book was nothing but the raw, nasty world. I finished the book which had a satisfactory but not happy or redeeming ending, and I felt like I had just had a trip through a garbage can. Know what I mean? The bad overpowered the good. I've seen this over the last maybe fifteen years, that the trend seems to almost glorify the darkness and not celebrate the light.

      Love your ideas on quality! Definitely needed and appreciated here. :o)

      So glad to have you visit! God bless!

  4. You've probably read about everything I have to say about creativity n the last few weeks as I went through A Hidden Art of Homemaking. :-)

    I do agree with Katrina that the light has to be shown against darkness, and that includes describing the darkness to an extent, but like you said, there should be something redemptive and hopeful in it or else the darkness wins.

    There is a big controversy among some Christian authors about the use of "bad" language, some claiming that to be "real," writers have to write the way people talk, so they are sprinkling expletives throughout their work. But I have seen Christian novelists get across very well the fact that some characters are unsavory or bad-mouthed without inflicting the specific details on readers.

    1. I really enjoyed your series on The Hidden Art of Homemaking. It brought up some themes that struck a chord with me.

      I personally think that, what we produce as a Christian reflects who we are and reflects Christ. So, we can portray darkness carefully and without providing a voyeuristic thrill by telling too much raw detail. That goes for language, too. What we read/hear affects our minds, and we're to think on what things are pure, lovely, etc. (Phil. 4:8). When a Christian author uses crude or nasty language, he subjects his audience to something that will affect their minds in a bad way. I personally try to stay away from authors I know use questionable language. I don't use it, don't repeat it, and I believe you can convey "badness" in a character--if you're a good writer--by staying away from that. (Think Dickens!)

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. God bless!


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