Art & Faith
For most of history, art and faith were happily wedded, seeking to honor the same values and sharing the same ideals. Sadly, art and faith have undergone a divorce in recent centuries. They are estranged partners today in the mainstream culture. This begs the question: What does your art have to do with your faith? It pushes us to consider what’s at stake and how our art and our faith should be connected to each other.
Creating Today, in a World of “Art vs. Faith”
Just this week, a woman from Australia emailed me a note that expressed the same problem we have seen for decades. On the one hand she was frustrated churches don’t care about art (in the sanctuary nor in the culture). On the other hand, she was frustrated that the art world wants nothing to do with her faith. The church doesn’t understand her passion as an artist, and the mainstream art world and entertainment industries don’t understand her faith.
Never accept the request to separate your art from your faith.
Why? Because no honest person does.
The atheist never separates his faith (non-faith) from his work.
The pagan never separates his faith from his art.
The modernist and the post-modernist never separate their beliefs about meaning from their art.
Why Art and Faith are Truly Inseparable
Art and religious faith have always been at the center of culture. Yes, Always! Consider the book of Exodus, when the Tabernacle of God was at the heart of Israelite culture, while they walked through the desert. Forget the lies your sociology professors told you when they bought into Maslow’s hierarchy, and Marvin Harris’ complete rejection of religion, spiritual life, God and anything else that wasn’t material. They kicked God to the curb, and called it academic rigor. Then they created text books that tell us people really just need food, water, and shelter. Well, they do, but they don’t wait to get food, water, and shelter before asking the deeper questions about God, justice, and the afterlife. The desire to worship and to create are ever-present. We were created with a homing device for God within our very souls. Deny it at your own risk. Consider the timeless words of Augustine:
“Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in thee.”
– St. Augustine.
Those who are honest with themselves, know we all have an innate desire to worship, and we have a powerful sense that we will live on after our bodies die. As Ecclesiastes put it,
“He [God] put eternity in the hearts of men.” (Eccl. 3:11)
There is no civilization without creativity and no civilization without religious beliefs. Our hearts yearn to make meaning of our lives, to connect with God, and to communicate in creative ways with our community. It is as essential as breathing, and part of the way we think. Our religious drive and creative drive both come from God, and both are always present. When thinking of creative ability, I often recall the words of Picasso:
“All Children are artists- the problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
We all have a drive to create, and we were all made to worship. To create art without acknowledging the role of faith, mystery, AND God in this universe is to fail to omit something profound about human life. Such art ignores our most basic human desire to know our father in heaven and to connect the beauty of the physical world with our desire to understand transcendent reality.
The Nature of Faith
True faith is fueled by a vibrant imagination tied to truth, and creativity tied to both the physical and the spiritual components of life. This is because we are spiritual beings by nature, with desire to put our faith in something. We have a basic desire to place our faith in God. Some people will misdirect this desire by putting their faith in money, power, approval of others, or many other substitutes. Even men and women who call themselves Christians will find their heart wandering from God and placing their faith in these substitutes at times. But regardless of our reaction, the core design and desire is only fulfilled by placing our faith in God.
What is faith? The Christian faith possesses three components: It includes knowledge about God, a conviction that this knowledge is true, and an act of our will, placing our trust in God. It is never in opposition to truth and knowledge, but rather builds on such knowledge to give us a reason to trust, love and follow God and his word. Such a faith is at the very core of our relationship with God, connecting our heart and soul to God.
Faith enables us to trust in God’s goodness when times are hard, and gives us the strength to hold onto hope even when the days and nights seem dark. This faith is the key to a deeper relationship with God, and joy that rests in his love, and a hope that sustains us. It gives us hope, inspiration, and fuels our imagination.
The Nature of Art
Art is built on faith because art provides us with the most mysterious and poignant mode for communicating what is in our hearts, and what we long to share with others. It may be simple, born of a desire to celebrate colors and shapes. It may be born of a heart of hospitality that wants to invite and share life with others. It may be complex, profound and deep. But art was not given to us as a way to vomit up our feelings, to offend those we despise, or to break boundaries to prove we are free (that is not a path to freedom but paralysis – a topic for another time).
Art is about searching and experiencing the deeply profound mysteries of life, love, death, and our future in Heaven. It is about community and about eternity. To miss this is to miss the entire point of communication, fellowship and the gift of creativity which God gave us. It is at the very heart of the greatest commandments – to love God, and to love our neighbors.
The Dangerous Disconnect with Art
For decades the art world elites and the entertainment industry moguls have expressed a disdain for art and media that are birthed out of a genuine faith in God. As Tyler Perry pointed out, network television won’t even allow you to say the word “Jesus”, for fear that it will offend people. Art Museums have become bastions of modernism that eschews anything religious.
As Alistair Sooke wrote for the BBC, “ in the wake of modernism, it sometimes feels as though art and religion are now strangers to one another, or even downright hostile.” I had the privilege of studying under Jennifer Sliwka, curator of the National Gallery in London, who notes the transition from the days where Museums celebrated religious art in the article. You can read it HERE.
From award shows that mock Christian beliefs to video games that celebrate hedonism, we see disconnect everywhere. The European tradition of art and faith walking hand and hand are but faint memories. Today, there are many elites and leaders in every arena of music, theater, gaming, opera, fashion, and dance, who avoid or disdain religious content. Fueled by decades of Nietzschean influence in the design and art schools, these leaders seek to prove they are above and beyond religion. Therefore, they cannot wait for our culture to be rid of religion and have no patience for it.
The Gap Widens
This disconnect between faith and art continues to widen. It encourages Christians who want acceptance in the mainstream to abandon religious topics, and quarantines them to Christian artistic ghettos. Sadly, Christians embrace the ghetto, not realizing how the mainstream is belittling both your art and your faith. Even Faith-based movies are accepted by mainstream studios only because of the opportunity to make money off of the Christian audience, not because they like or accept any of the content. They are opportunists, not converts.
Recently, a dear friend who is an agent at a top agency in Beverly Hills told me this story over lunch: He told his boss he was a Christian and he wanted to work promoting Christian content. His boss told him that is fine, as long as he is talking about the hip, laid back Jesus, and not the Jesus who cares about what people do, don’t do, or what they believe. This is a requirement that Jesus stay in a nice, neat box – impotent and inconsequential. In essence, they require Jesus to shrivel down into the size and shape of a wooden idol, like an old Philistine god.
The Dangerous Disconnect with Faith
The Christian community has not done itself any favors. We have embraced ideas and theological positions that have contributed to our absence in the mainstream. Some are born of fear, while others are born of bad theology. Here are a few of those ideas.
Our personal holiness and spiritual quiet time are important. But when we elevate our personal spiritual life above being salt and light in the world, we have abandoned the gospel. If we assume that all of the Christian life was meant to fit inside our emotional, psychological and spiritual journey, we have missed a major component of our faith. This pietistic approach to our faith, encourages Christians to avoid politics, education, journalism, media and the arts. It is not helped our country to embrace biblical principles, but has instead run away from the discussions and dialogues necessary to be salt and light. To be clear, I am not saying our private spiritual life isn’t important. I am saying that there is much more to a vibrant, mature Christian life.
This type of faith begins with a sincere desire to understand the word of God clearly, and to honor God, but fails to recognize the unbiblical influences of modernistic thinking. For a culture that has been birthed out of modernism and the enlightenment, it is no wonder that we have churches that focus almost exclusively on the life of the mind. They focus on worldviews, which are important. However, they fail to engage the imagination and thus fail to engage our culture through art, media or entertainment. They are weary of art in the church because they are weary or even fearful of what art can do. Therefore, they have no foundation for discussing art in the broader culture, nor engaging the artists or creatives.
You and I live in a world, and a culture which constantly encourages us to separate our faith from the art we create, contemplate and consume. The pressure can be relentless, and hard to resist. Yet, resist we must. Humanity was created with both a desire to communicate with each other and to create unique ways to communicate (which is what art is). Humanity was also created with a desire to worship God. These two core desires were meant to find synergy together, not to live in exile apart from each other.
At the heart of the issue is this: We must regain a healthy understanding of what art is really about, and what our faith is really about. We cannot let the broader culture define our terms or tell us to keep our faith “private”. We cannot let them convince us that art is about self-actualization, or a Nietzschean vehicle for destroying all boundaries and restraints. We must define our terms based upon God’s word. This is a test of our faith because it all begins with knowledge of His Word, and our convictions about whether it is solid ground or not. If God’s word is solid ground, then God’s perspective and approach is never nullified by popular cultural ideas. They will pass. God’s word will stand.
(This advice is especially for creatives who have creative control. i.e. – directors and producers, not assistants, actors with small parts, etc.)
Next time someone asks you to separate your faith from your art, or gives you the impression that is what they are asking, take time to ask them about how their beliefs influence their art, their creative choices and their ambitions. See how they value a holistic approach to their life and art. Then, acknowledge the beauty in such an approach to life, and share how you are the same – you simply want to be consistent, and holistic about how you integrate your faith and your art. Remind them we live in a culture longing for diverse viewpoints and perspectives, and your perspective is under-represented.
Ask them if they are open-minded, and if they value unique perspectives. Use their own terms to get to the heart of the issue. Do it with sincerity, not as a series of gotcha questions. An honest and open person will pause to consider your words. They are the people who are open to hearing more, and the people who will see the beauty of a life where your art and your faith are integrated – as God intended. Be gracious and loving, and see where God may open doors to express your creativity as he designed to share the gospel with those who have never heard it.
Copyright © 2021 Joel & Michelle Pelsue. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
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