Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Modern Art and the Death of a Culture" by H.R. Rookmaaker

Rookmaaker’s book is hugely influential without being well known. Written a few years before Schaeffer’s “How Should We Then Live,” it is acknowledged there as an influence, and one can see how their friendship and his ideas helped shape Schaeffer’s work. However, whereas Schaeffer took a more philosophical and historical tack to illuminate the direction in which culture was headed Rookmaaker is more concerned with the responsibility of the believer towards art, both in response and involvement.

Rookmaaker does start out tracing the development and changes in art from the Enlightenment forward. This section of the of the book (the first 7 chapters) may be harder for the average person to follow because he does not deal as much with general history, but instead discuses artists and works in detail. Here, the modern reader has an advantage. Thanks to the internet, one can seek out and view all of the pictures he discusses. In the book, not all of the examples are illustrated and even then, not in color. This is a very helpful read, especially for people less familiar with finer points of art history.

One might think, based on the title, that this book is a typical complaint along the lines of “abstract art has ruined the culture.” It is not. Abstract art is correctly presented as one of many forms of art in the modern age, and Rookmaaker is quick to recognize great works and talent in all the forms. His critiques are reserved for the flawed thinking and worldviews that produce and pervade certain movements.

The final two chapters of the book: “Protest, revolution and the Christian response” and “Faith and art” appear to contain the driving thought and inspiration of the book. In them Rookmaaker accurately describes the trends and direction of culture in the late sixties (as evidenced by how things have developed since then.) Rather than a doom-and-gloom, everything-is-bad approach, he addresses both positive and negative aspects of what he sees and correctly prescribes a Christian response and involvement. He does a tremendous job of calling for believers to become artistic again and outlining how that endeavor should look. These last pages merit regular, careful rereading.


  1. I first read this book in the early 70's (?) It was a long time ago. I can't tell you how much it moved me, excited me and taught me. That early copy is still one of the most prized books in my library and i have read it more than once. I learned so much about art and how it was affected by culture and how it drove culture. As with Schaeffer's books, it was refreshing to see that Christian's could think and that there were real answers to some very deep and serious questions. The quote by Bacon that goes along with his painting of the screaming Pope is soul stirringly sad. I am very grateful to people like Rookmaaker who help me reach out to my culture with the credible answer of Jesus the Messiah.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Jeff. A friend just gave me a couple more of his books and I am excited to check them out.


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