Musing on Art and Christianity

(I’m just going to ramble on here; my thoughts may or may not flow in the right order and I might jump about a bit. I beg pardon if I don’t make sense, but I think I just need to kinda think aloud at the moment. )

It’s tough being in the arts and being a Christian. And sometimes I honestly wonder how to reconcile the two. It’s almost as tough as being a scientist and a Christian. Only – it seems to me – with the Science/Christianity case, it’s the Concrete versus the (Apparently) Vague, whereas with Arts/Christianity, it’s the Vague versus the Concrete.

Science tries to prove (or disprove) that God exists. You have the whole Evolution vs Creation debate, which I won’t go into because it gives me a headache as well sometimes.
(But when I’m in a more exasperated mood, I wonder why can’t it just be said that besides creating Man in His own image, God also created animals with the capacity to evolve? It doesn’t say anywhere in the Bible that God created giraffes, elephants, pandas, dolphins, goldfish, lions, etc. at the very start. What Genesis says is that God “created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind.” Who’s to say that he didn’t create dinosaurs first? As for carbon dating, ever since I learnt that it’s unreliable for things older than a certain age… Let’s just say I don’t really care how many thousand years old a camarasaurus bone is if the only thing that can “prove” it is the half-life of C-14.)

Right. Sidetracked there. Sorry. 8D

So scientists wants proof that God exists, that He created the world in 7 days, so on and so forth. But do the artists care about that? Not really in general. The artists don’t want you to prove anything; they’d rather have the freedom to do anything. Scientists want to find out what’s right and wrong, but Artists would rather you didn’t tell them what was right and wrong and just leave everything is up in the air.

The major issue with the Arts and Christianity – as I see it – is when you move from technique to look at content and intent. Techniques are easy to judge. I may dislike dark, gruesome pictures, but I can still admit that the painter had a way with colour or an eye for composition. I may not be keen on aspects of the Harry Potter books, but I will say that Rowling is definitely very good at setting up the story and creating exciting climaxes. But content and intent? So much of the time it boils down to what you like and dislike and what you think the artist/author was trying to say. (I’ll talk about this mostly from the aspect of the graphic arts, since that’s the one I feel most qualified to give my opinion on.) From my perspective, people who create art do so to (a) express themselves and/or (b) put across a thought or emotion. Even when I’m just drawing “for fun”, I’m inadvertently expressing myself, or at least my aesthetic tendencies. And I find that a piece of art can be very telling of the personality behind the work – even the simplest random pieces.

For instance, I’ll compare Lydia (Lyd, are you reading this? :P ) and myself. There was once in MMU – I forgot what class it was now – I was sitting next to Lyd, and we were both idly doodling on paper and obviously not really paying attention. I was doing my usual curves and curls and the random blob, whereas Lydia was drawing geometric shapes, straight lines. This amused us since one so clearly liked the organic and the other obviously had a preference for the geometric. Now, I consider Lyd to be a really strong personality, the leader type and very capable. Myself, on the other hand? I’m probably far more “emo” and definitely more passive. In a way, I think our idle sketches of random flowy lines and geometric patterns mirrored ourselves.

This isn’t to say that an artist can’t go against his own inclinations. It’s just not that easy and you have to consciously break out of your preferred aesthetic. If let alone, all artists would stick to their own favoured styles. (This is proved by fashion design contestants on Project Runway. hahaha!)

So when I look at, say, Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory, I can say that yes, Dali had the technical mastery. But I distinctly dislike the picture. Like most surrealist artwork, it disconcerts me, it gives me an impression of darkness and dreariness. (Surrealism is supposed to be based off dreams, but I’d say it’s more like nightmares than dreams. I am, perhaps, misunderstanding surrealism, but it seems to me that its core is not a (morally) good one.) The distortion and sadness and sometimes the strange sensation of horror these artworks give me is utterly unpleasant. This may be largely due to my own preferences, sensitivities and beliefs, but I would still say that although such a picture is technically accomplished, it is not good.

This view of mine – that art should not just be technically good, but it should be good and noble, pure, praiseworthy, lovely – creates a lot of problems for me. Not that anyone has called me out on it so far, but it does make me rack my brains and furrow my brows when attempting to find something good about a particular film that, for all I can see, has nothing good about it except for maybe production value or “artistic merit”, which are just materialistic things. Prime examples would be some films I had to watch last semester, like Un Chien Andalou and Cremaster 3. (Both of which I hated intensely.)

And sometimes I worry: am I too sensitive to be studying the arts?

I can’t handle horror films and I balk at surrealistic ones. Senseless violence, pointless sex scenes, I hate them all. As I’m supposed to be studying films, it’s almost unavoidable that I should run into these at some point or other. But when I look around at my apparently unaffected classmates, that’s when I really really doubt if I should be in the same course and the  question of “am I too sensitive” sneaks up on me. I have a feeling most of my classmates would laugh at me (behind my back) and scorn the fact that I’m afraid of horror films and detest the surreal ones. Yet… I think the fact that I am still so sensitive is something of a positive sign – that I am not yet inured, not yet immune to these things. It would be convenient if I could turn off my emotions when evaluating art, but then… can you enjoy art without emotion? Methinks not.

I was just watching a clip of Ravi Zacharias speaking at the Pennsylvania State University and an art student asked him what his take was on the open-ended nature of art – how, for example, a picture of a nude woman would be just art for some and for others it could be considered profane or obscene. (At least, that’s how I understood her question – she wasn’t very very fluent, that Chinese girl.) I thought that was a very valid question. Art often seems to have no clear right and wrong except according to whatever criteria the viewer has in mind. Like how I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that a crack in the floor can be lauded in an art gallery. (Anyone of us can create that lor. Just take a hammer and whack the wall as hard as you can. Behold, ART!)

His answer struck me. Ravi pointed out that “the eye is the lamp of the body, and if the light within you is dark, then how great is the darkness indeed” (I think this comes from the book of Matthew?) and added that the poet William Blake had a comment on this: “This life’s dim windows of the soul, distorts the heavens from pole to pole, and goads you to believe a lie, when you see with and not through the eye.” Blake’s meaning was that we are intended to see through the eye and with the conscience – but now, unfortunately, we tend to see with the eye and without a conscience. If he was an artist, Ravi says, he would have his own parameters, bound by a worldview. And the worldview is the main question.

What is the worldview behind that [artwork]? … You don’t debate at the point of expression, you debate at the point of understanding. And if the worldview is going for beauty, the worldview will go for the beauty of holiness, not the beauty of profanity.

I don’t know about the rest of you artistic types, but this rings true for me. The artist works on a combination of impulse, emotion and intellect. And it’s true – we artists can do anything we like as far as our capabilities go. If you’re skilled enough, there’s nothing you can’t draw. If you have the gift of writing, you can write anything. If you have the knowhow, there’s nothing you can’t create in 3D on a computer nowadays. Nothing. You are only limited by yourself – what you allow yourself to do. If I held the view that there is no good, no bad in this world, or that there is no god, nothing would be off-limits. Nothing I made could be considered obscene or cruel, sadistic or subversive because… well, there’s no morality.

The line that affected me the most in that clip was this:

I have a responsibility beyond mere artistic expression.

It just really reminded me that I, as an artist, have a responsibility. To myself, to my God, to all the people in relation to me. I think that the friends and family who care most about me would be far more disappointed in me if I was to lose my principles for art’s sake – or for the sake of mere academics – than if I was to fail the entire course. (Not that I want to fail! That would be tragic too. D: ) And certainly, I would fail God if I threw Him away just because I don’t “fit in.”

So… Let people laugh and scorn my overly-sensitive nature or conservative mindset. If it helps me retain my sanity and the very core of me, then I think I’d like to hold onto it.



(Almost forgot! I never quiiiite understood why it is that the more depressing or the darker or the more sombre the film, the more acclaimed it seems to be. It’s strange… Have we reached such a point where we want to see darkness? Or where only the dark and moody and hopeless are “artistic”? Just for example: People put down mainstream animation, especially Disney, for being too frothy and fairytale-like. But what’s wrong with a little hope and happiness and positive values? *shrugs* I can see why people may think the dour films are better because they seem more “realistic.” But still… Why assign higher value to that which does not really display positive character? Like, would you rather hang out with a happy person or a depressed person? ^_^ )


One thought to “Musing on Art and Christianity”

  1. “I wonder why can’t it just be said that besides creating Man in His own image, God also created animals with the capacity to evolve? It doesn’t say anywhere in the Bible that God created giraffes, elephants, pandas, dolphins, goldfish, lions, etc. at the very start.”

    Some Christians have a problem with this because they believe in a young earth (6000 yo) which doesn’t provide a long enough time for evolution to occur.

    As for carbon dating, the principle behind it is simple: there is a certain ratio of the carbon-14 isotope in the atmosphere and all living creatures. When creatures die, no more carbon is taken in and the existing c-14 starts decaying. Since the half-life of c-14 can be measured so too can the creature’s age. Except for certain sea creatures and things older than 40k years or so, but scientists use radiometric dating for those. would answer most questions about dating methods.

Got anything to add or say? :D