Why Does the Devil Get the Art?
Posted on: Tuesday, February 21, 2017
This is an archived Sky Blue post originally published in 2013.
For a long time, I’ve had a lot of unanswered questions about art–such as, why is it that Christians, who understand beauty and are intimate with its Source, are typically unable to manufacture it well? Very few Christian artists today are creating work that will stand the test of time.
Americans are a pragmatic people, and as a result we are uncomfortable with the subject of art. When school budgets are tight, we cut music and theater programs long before we touch athletics. We don’t see art as serving a practical purpose, and as a practical people, we don’t really know what to do with it. Believers who are Americans seem even more confused. We tend to think that unless the film or painting or book or song or dance or play is meeting some express objective such as evangelizing someone, it is a waste of time.
“Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time.”
Albert Camus was born over one hundred years ago in 1913, but his philosophies continue to shape our culture. In order to communicate his ideas, Mr. Camus wrote novels that are still widely read. “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth,” he explained.
To the believer, beauty–true beauty, that indefinable but universally recognized entity–is the promise of a better reality. As a follower of Christ, I believe that beauty will stretch out for eternity. Beauty is not a tease, but a promise.
But Mr. Camus felt that beauty was nothing more than a taste of something he could never really consume. Like a shipwrecked man on the sea dying of thirst and surrounded by sparkling, unpalatable saltwater, to him beauty was only cruel.
“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
Albert Camus created enduring art. He was able to communicate his ideas elegantly through the vehicle of fiction, but his philosophy was broken. Christians should be able to create the most beautiful art of all. Yet too often our work is off-putting and heavy-handed.
“A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself.”
Does our art reflect the beauty we know in Christ? Does it generate a longing in people for the place where the truth and beauty came from? I don’t think lazy films that preach, or kitschy pictures of cute cottages with Bible verses slapped on the matting, accomplish this goal. This is lazy art…actually, it is just bad art. We tend to sterilize our art because we wish to avoid mention of sin, or we take the other extreme and make our art a filthy bloodbath in order to prove our grit. The Bible is realistic and raw, yet redemptive. It is not gratuitous. It is full of grace.
I do not have the answers, but I think this is something we should be talking about more. Art and beauty matter–they enrich our lives and feed our souls. If everything can be done to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) we should be individually diligent in praying about how our unique gifts and interests can be used. Americans love Christian athletes because they have a “platform” for their faith. But truly, artists have even more of an opportunity to honor the Lord with their abilities. Filmmakers, painters, singers, writers, dancers, poets: we should be thinking about these things, talking about these things, praying about these things, remembering always that it is not about our work itself, but it is about whether or not the truth and beauty we know in Christ is coming through it.
C.S. Lewis, John Milton, and Flannery O’Connor are three examples of writers of faith I admire. Who are some believers in the arts you look up to?