Hilary Brand and Adrienne Chaplin
Other than a belief that Christ is King over oils on canvas and kiln-fired sculptures, I’m not sure why the relationship of the church to the art world keeps getting stuck in my craw – I am not an artist nor do I have grandiose plans to become one – but there it is and so I keep reading. Thus the reason for my purchase and reading of Art & Soul – money and time well spent.
The authors are both Christians deeply involved in the art world, committed to doing and teaching art from a Christian worldview; Brand is a photographer and laborer in supporting Christian artists, Chaplin teaches philosophical aesthetics at the Institute for Christian Studies in
Art & Soul’s layout is very satisfying with glossy pages, frequent interruptions for artwork and comments, and wide margins giving great quotes from other authors and space for my notes (those quotes, by the way, are so good that I hope to do another post quoting the quotes). The book’s inception was as a study guide for artists and has evolved gracefully into a well-planned book. Part 1 speaks about different tugs at the Christian artist: postmodernism, the general quest for spirituality, and a suspicious church. Part 2 discusses how the Bible and Biblical themes (God, sin, redemption) should impact art. Part 3 discusses and defends some questions Christians often have about art – is art a valid vocation? What is the right place for art? Part 4 speaks to the difficult question of how we assess art, and part 5 points to specific applications and callings for Christians in the arts.
The first highlight was the discussion of the church’s suspicion towards and misuse of the arts. Is it perhaps because the Protestant church (and particularly the evangelical wing), having abandoned the arts some centuries before, no longer has any understanding? Between that quote and some heart-rending quotes from artists hung out to dry by their churches, I’m convinced this is an important issue. In reviewing the church’s history in the arts, I was glad to be reminded both of the excesses of hyper-Puritanism and the balance of Calvin himself, who said that art is a faculty worthy of commendation. I’m also convinced that, in the area of the arts, playing it safe – as the conservative evangelical church has done for a century – simply won’t cut it and doesn’t honor Christ as King.
Next, their thoughts on Scripture and art were well-done, despite than their mistaken dismissal of the 2nd commandment. Here I was convinced that art doesn’t have to be beautiful, in the classic sense of beauty, because we live in a world that longs for beauty while being mired in ugliness. This versus the tendency in Christians to try and make things neater and tidier than they really are. Good art can reflect bleakness and alienation, which in the end make redemption all the more sweet; this thought was well-balanced by stating that bleak art should contain some idea of the possibility of redemption or it becomes a Biblical untruth.
There’s some good philosophy here and there (how Romanticism created the cult of the Artist, why dualism must be defeated by the doctrine of Christ’s kingship, what integrity really means), some really cool artwork, helpful hints for dolts like me when looking at art (we need to develop a Christian way of seeing. For each of us, growing up into spiritual and aesthetic maturity will mean developing disciplined habits, an alert mind and a playful spirit), a thoughtful discussion on art’s rightful place (helpful and reflective, but can’t save anybody), and a few chapters of rather heady art philosophy and interpretation.
This book has been great discussion fodder for our weekly discipleship group dinners. It provides some ideas to sink your teeth into and to chew, and also prods you to figure some more things out. All in all, a successful and helpful book. Should you buy this book? If you’re interested or involved in the arts, or a pastor/elder/parent to artists, absolutely. Be aware that you won’t (shouldn’t) agree with every theological and Biblical point made and that the writer’s standards may be different than yours. Beyond those caveats, I recommend this book with a good amount of glee.