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Some Perspectives on Art, Essay Two from Art and the Bible, by Francis Schaeffer
In the second part of the book Art and the Bible, or essay two, Some Perspectives on Art, Schaeffer looks at a Christian perspective concerning art in general. He begins by making the point that “All of us are engaged daily with works of art, even if we are neither professional or amateur artists.” Schaeffer says that we are confronted with all kinds of art and that our lives are works of art as well. He says we should be examining this artwork. He does this through looking at eleven distinct perspectives from which we can contemplate and appraise the arts, while recognizing the arts are so vast that these perspectives are nowhere near comprehensive in considering them.
These eleven perspectives that make up Schaeffer’s Some Perspectives on Art, include: one, The Art Work as an Art Work; two, Art Forms Add Strength to the World View; three, Normal Definitions, Normal Syntax; four, Art and the Sacred; five, Four Standards of Judgment; six, Art Can be Used for Any Type of Message; seven, Changing Styles; eight, Modern Art Forms and the Christian Message; nine, The Christian World View; ten, The Subject Matter of Christian Art; eleven, and lastly, An Individual Art Work and the Body of an Artist’s Work.
In the first perspective, The Art Work as an Art Work, which Schaeffer says is the most important perspective, we learn “A work of art has value in itself.” Here Schaeffer focuses on the important reality that art is to be enjoyed for its own sake. It is beautiful and should be admired. Creativity has value simply because it is creative and we were created in the Creator God’s own image. Artwork also has value, because humankind creates art and humans are also created in the image of God, the Creator. As image bearers of God, we are creative, and we are called to be creative.
Schaeffer, in the second perspective, Art Forms Add Strength to the World View, makes the point that art forms add strength to the worldview, which shows through, no matter what the worldview is or whether the worldview is true or false. In this assertion of the second perspective we begin to think about the reality that art communicates viewpoints and belief.
In perspective three, Normal Definitions, Normal Syntax, Schaeffer makes the point, “In all forms of writing, both poetry and prose, it makes a tremendous difference whether there is a continuity or a discontinuity with the normal definitions of words in normal syntax.” Language is universal and is necessary for communication in literature and in the arts. Variations in syntax in art and literature keep the arts interesting, but continuity is needed, as well as common definitions of terms.
Schaeffer, in principle four, Art and the Sacred, states, “The fact that something is a work of art does not make it sacred.” Art is communicating a worldview. We should not take the worldviews presented in the arts at face value. Just because the artwork is good and is communicating a worldview, does not make that worldview acceptable, right, or Christian. In the same way, just because the artwork is religious in nature does not make that artwork orthodox or Christian in the worldview it is communicating. Schaeffer says, “The truth of a worldview presented by an artist must be judged on separate grounds than artistic greatness.”
In Schaeffer’s fifth perspective, Four Standards of Judgment, he states that there are four basic standards one uses to judge art. The first is technical excellence, the second is validity, the third is intellectual content and the worldview, which comes through the art, and the fourth is the integration of content and vehicle.
In perspective five, Schaeffer also stresses the importance of recognizing the excellence of an artwork in the face of disagreeing with the artist’s worldview or belief system. In other words, a Christian can enjoy art, which may not communicate a Christian belief system. However, “The artist’s world view is not to be free from the judgment of the Word of God.”
In perspective six, Art Can Be Used for Any Type of Message, Schaeffer asserts, “Art forms can be used for any type of message from pure fantasy to detailed history.” He argues that all art is communicating propositional truth, regardless of its form. Schaeffer asserts, “Just because something takes the form of a work of art does not mean that it cannot be factual.”
Perspective seven, Changing Styles, states that styles of art form change and this is a natural, expected, and acceptable reality. Schaeffer says, “Styles of art form change and there is nothing wrong with this.” He goes on to say, “As long as one has a living art, its forms will change.” The reality being stated is that change and shifts are a natural part of life and art, which is to be expected and embraced. Living things change. These changes occur in the contexts of time and in cultural and geographical contexts as well.
In Modern Art Forms and the Christian Message, perspective eight, Schaeffer states that the Christian should be modern in his or her art. In making this point, he firmly asserts, “There is no such thing as a godly style or an ungodly style.” Schaeffer does assert, however, that “an art form or style that is no longer able to carry content cannot be used to give the Christian message.” Christianity deals in truth and reality and the art form must be able to accommodate truth and reality.
In perspective nine, The Christian World View, Schaeffer divides the Christian worldview into a major theme and a minor theme. In the minor theme, Schaeffer says that “[people] who have revolted from God and do not come back to Christ are eternally lost.” He also states that the Christian has a sinful side to his or her life and there is “no such thing as totally victorious living.” The minor theme is negative and hopeless. In the major theme life has meaning and purpose, and “God is there, God exists. Therefore, all is not absurd. Man is made in God’s image and so man has significance.” The major theme is optimistic, while the minor theme is pessimistic.
In The Subject Matter of Christian Art, perspective ten, Schaeffer says, “Christian art is by no means always religious art, that is, art which deals with religious themes.” In other words, art does not have to depict strictly Biblical stories and themes to be “Christian.” Schaeffer states that “God the Creator” does not strictly focus on religious themes and subjects in His own creation. Schaeffer stresses the need for Christianity to deal with all the stuff of God’s creation, and all of humanity. He references many Biblical examples of art that does just this throughout the scriptures.
In concluding this perspective, Schaeffer asserts, “Christian art is the expression of the whole life of the whole person who is a Christian. What a Christian portrays in [his or her] art is the totality of life.” Schaeffer also states that the Christian should be aware of and unafraid of his or her imagination and creativity. He states that we have lost a Biblical understanding of the arts and must regain that understanding. This is the point of the essay where Schaeffer famously says, “The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.”
In perspective eleven, An Individual Art Work and the Body of an Artist’s Work, Schaeffer says, “Every artist has the problem of making an individual work of art and, as well, building up a total body of work.” He says that no one piece of art can encapsulate the artist or sum up his or her entire worldview. The artist should not be judge by a single piece of artwork, but should be judged by one looking at the sum of the total body of his or her artwork, or by as much of the total body of work as one can possibly examine.
Schaeffer applies this concept to preaching and to the scriptures. He says that a preacher’s whole theology should not be determined by a single sermon, and that the scriptures should not be looked at or judged by a single book, as if any single book contained the whole. Schaeffer says, like an artist’s body of work, “ Even the Bible is an extended body of books, and it cannot be read as if any one book or any one chapter included the whole; it must be read from beginning to end. And if that is true for the Word of God, how much more is it true of an artist’s work!”
Schaeffer affirms, “No work of art is more important than the Christian’s own life, and every Christian is cared upon to be an artist in this sense.” He goes on to say that while we all may not have “artistic” talents, “Each [person] has the gift of creativity in terms of the way [they live his or her] life. In this sense, the Christian’s life is to be an art work. The Christian’s life is to be a thing of truth and beauty in the midst of a lost and despairing world.”