WHAT is art? For most of us, when we think of art we immediately think of sculptures, museums and art galleries.
To us, art is not an everyday thing – it is something abstract, remote and perhaps even elitist. In our minds, only the privileged can enjoy art – that is, one must either be very rich or move in high society to do so. For common folk like us, art is beyond reach and appears to be irrelevant to our lives.
But art is more than just sculptures and paintings. To think of art as merely comprising sculptures and paintings is to define art too narrowly. Art has to do with our human nature and its need to create and to create something beautiful. In this respect, all of us create art in one form or another: we cook meals; we dress up; we decorate our homes; we plant gardens; we make things with our hands, tools or machines; we tell stories, we sing songs; we dream up ideas and strategies; we think of solutions to solve problems; we organise the office; we write articles!
You and I might not be a Michaelangelo or a Rembrandt but we can all certainly contribute to the artistry of God’s created world. Indeed, we are all artists if we exercise our skills creatively to make something beautiful – whether it is a product or a service.
Just because we have the ability to create something beautiful does not mean that we will. There is good art and there is bad art. Good art is beautiful and has the quality of excellence. It is meaningful, and evokes responses of joy and satisfaction. As the poet Keats once said, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Bad art, on the other hand, is ugly, distasteful and inappropriate – the result of shoddy workmanship, poor design and commercialism, which encourages cheap and mass production.
I believe that as Christians we have an obligation and responsibility to be actively engaged in creating and promoting good art. This may be expressed in the sphere of fine arts (sculpture, painting, architecture), performing arts (theatre, dance, movie, music), decorative arts (pottery, stained glass, furniture, clothing, various handicraft), literature (story, poetry), or simply in the everyday things that we do.
One of the foremost reasons why we should be engaged in promoting good art is that of the pervasive influence of art in our lives. This is the visual age of TV, the Internet and television. So much of what happens in our world today is presented to us visually. If we shrink from producing good and alternative art forms – whether it is wholesome and meaningful movies or inspiring music or tasteful clothing or thought-provoking plays or insightful novels – then others will gladly dominate this important sphere of influence and determine the way we, and especially our young people, live. The current state of the arts is in need of redemption.
Good art enriches our lives. And by promoting good art, we help counter the ugly aspects of our culture. As Christians, we need to show the world that beauty and excellence are part of God’s plan. People around us need to see that there is a higher standard to adhere to and a better way to live. With our God-given creativity, we as Christians must lead the way in making the world a better place to live.
To promote good art is to encourage our natural gifting – although this too has been tainted by sin. When we create something beautiful, we subscribe to our natural and original human design. That may explain why we often experience joy and pleasure, and a sense of well-being when we come across something beautiful. To create something beautiful is to affirm our humanity. Created in the image of God, we were made to create in the likeness of our God in the realm of his created world.
The Bible tells us that when God surveyed His finished work of creation, He was pleased with it because “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Noteworthy also is the psalmist’s comment: “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalms 19:1). Clearly, God communicates truths through His creation – truths about His existence and His nature.
Like the rest of creation, we too are the “works of His hands”. I wonder what we communicate about God by our lives. Do we communicate truths about His existence and nature? Or have we obscured the image of God in us?
And what of the “works of our hands”? I wonder if they affirm our humanity. I wonder if somehow they declare who God is, and lead others to celebrate His glory.
Wong Siew Li is a research writer with Kairos Research Centre.