Artistry: Idolatry or Praise?
ARTISTRY: IDOLATRY OR PRAISE?
The giving and receiving of art is as fallen as any other human enterprise. When we experience art, therefore, we must always ask the question: Whom does this glorify? Rather than dedicating their work to God, some artists produce it for their own glory. Unwittingly, their work may still bear their Maker's praise, but they have failed to achieve the highest purpose of their life and art. It is said that when Henri Matisse completed his masterly paintings in the Chapel of the Rosary at Venice, he stepped back and proclaimed, "I did it for myself." One of the Catholic sisters overheard him and immediately objected: "But you told me you were doing it for God." "Yes," Matisse replied, "but I am God."
Matisse is hardly the only artist ever to have had delusions of deity. Even Christian artists may succumb to pride for the recognition of their work. There is a reason for this: it is the best things in life that threaten to steal our worship, and art is such a wonderful gift that those who love it sometimes forget to praise its Giver. . . .
How can artists avoid making this mistake? By acknowledging their artistic ability as a gift from God. The composer Igor Stravinsky wisely said, "I take no pride in my artistic talents; they are God-given and I see absolutely no reason to become puffed up over something that one has received." Artists also avoid idolizing the arts by resisting any temptation to isolation and instead living in the Christian community, where worship is given to God alone, where a God-center orientation to life is the basis for daily discipleship, and where every earthly calling finds its true significance in relation to the higher calling of God. Artists also avoid idolatry by offering their art in praise to God. It is when we create things for God's sake that our work most clearly promotes his glory, rather than threatening to compete with it. Thus the true purpose of art is the same as the true purpose of anything; it is not for ourselves or for our own self-expression, but for the service of others and the glory of God. Or to put all of this another way, making art is an expression of our love—love for God and love for our neighbor.
—Philip Graham Ryken, ART FOR GOD'S SAKE: A CALL TO RECOVER THE ARTS. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R; Publishing, 2006, pp. 48-50. ISBN10: 1-59638-007-1.
[What do you think? Do these truths apply to other forms of art? What about architecture and sculpture? What about jazz and dance? Poetry? Blowing glass? Designing and making quilts? In each of these disciplines, the Christian artist struggles against idolatry and seeks to submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. S.D.G.]
MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Speaking of Stravinsky, on November 14, 2006, I will be conducting Stravinsky's SYMPHONY OF PSALMS here in Louisville with the Oratorio Chorus and Seminary Orchestra of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Tell your friends.
Blessings to all!
Have a great week.
Director, Institute for Christian Worship
School of Church Music and Worship
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
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