by Sierra Clanton, guest columnist
When an artist creates, the choice to convey one message is subconsciously the choice to leave the inverse out. Thus, rather than being fully freeing, artistry might be poignant, declarative, and convicting. What one knows about God expresses itself through life and image, overflowing from imagination and therefore worship.
Whatever the message, it makes impact. Whether the message is razor sharp through succinct writing or more subjective and vague through an abstract image, artistry either declares a truth or inspires one.
As art flirts with human imagination in this way, daydreams guide minds into deeper understanding, or at least deeper exploration of the truth. While speaking into the concept of theology as image, C.S. Lewis asks the playful question, “Does Christian theology owe its attraction to its power of arousing and satisfying our imaginations?”
One might dare to argue that some of the most profound artistry comes from those who never considered themselves makers, those who have a deep enough interest in getting to the intersection of truth and impact that they speak and reveal boldly, without thought of fame.
“Being a Christian is being called to further imaging,” says author Willie Jennings in “The Christian Imagination.” Whether this be through a carefully articulated conversation or an eloquently written letter, true and intentional art speaks images of truth into existence without reserve.
Jennings goes on to say, “That divine image must be transmitted in ever new contexts, in words, in stone, in paint, above all in flesh, our own flesh, in His body, the church.” Just as one’s theology drives one’s practice, one’s art reveals one’s theology.
So many call themselves artists, but are completely unaware of the messages they are communicating. Even those who justoften settle for a quickly made visual that joins a host of similar-looking art. This “host of many” has cultivated an eye for the comfort of sameness, which has become what we call “aesthetically pleasing” because it soothes the eye. This is seen in the minimalist graphic trend that is circling around “hipster” churches everywhere, featuring black and white color schemes, minimalist accent lines, and corner markings. Even this art reveals theology, a desire for comfort and uniformity in the church.
Some artists put forth more effort. Whether their craft be carefully written poetry, the painted canvas, the eclectic sculpture, or graffiti, their lives hang on the desire to perhaps be understood by their medium, and therefore by their audience.
In creation, something is made visible out of nothing. At the same time, whatever once existed as another possible message is by default always left in the dark. Artists’ time is spent shaping their message, their declaration — and that one message is honed with such specific care and worship, “as if to let God know what they believe is worth saving,” says Natalie Vestin in “Reductionist Confessions.”
“If the artist sets out to please, he or she will compromise the good of the thing made. If it is well and honestly made, it will tend towards beauty,” says Rowan Williams, in “Grace and Necessity: Reflections on Art and Love.” Not a beauty, perhaps, that is characterized by tones of light and lovely. But rather, a beauty incarnated for the purpose of death, only to be raised again in the most confusing paradox, defining victory for all of mankind and their human lack.
Williams adds that this honest art will tend towards beauty, “because it will be transparent to what is always present in the real, that is the overflow of His presence which generates joy.” This is the revelation of honest art — the overflow of Christ as Image: tangible existence of invisible God. The image of the one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, in all — imaginatively revealed.