Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Aesthetics and Absolutes

Last week a mistake was made in an article titled “Missional Art.” The term Christian Artists was used. This is a term that has been discussed early on here at Nonmodern, and not one that is deemed a good term due to the baggage it carries.

Other philosophical perspectives are alright as labels to describe art (Existential Art, Postmodern Art, etc) because they simply describe the perspective the art is coming from. "Christian Art" is dangerous because, while it could simply mean art that shares a Christian worldview of reality, it has also been used by people to pass off garbage as something good. The idea is most Christians will swallow anything hook-line-and-sinker if they are just told it is “Christian.” (Unfortunately this is true.) So, many a talent-less singer or hack painter has established a career on selling junk to Christians.

Art should be judged on two qualities. For simplicity sake they could be called the aesthetic and the absolute. Aesthetic is the beauty or sensory appeal of the art. The Absolute aspect is the message it communicates or the perspective it takes on reality. Does it communicate truth?

For example, Salvador Dali’s “The Sacrament of the Last Supper” in Washington D.C. is aesthetically a masterpiece. It is incredibly well done, beautiful, and shows the tremendous skill of the artist. However, the message the painting sends is one of irrationality in respect to the life and work of Christ. It represents Christ as something outside of reality. It denies the reality that Christianity is based on. On the other hand, one need only walk into any Christian bookstore in the United States to find example after example of more Biblically accurate yet aesthetically crude paintings that are sold at a 60-80 percent mark-up.

Thus the reason Christian Art can no longer be freely used to describe works created by artists who happen to be Christians and are trying to communicate their perspective.

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