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A Conversation on Art

Recently, I met Jake Dockter. He’s an artist, and he’s researching for a book project on art and faith. Recently, we had a conversation where he asked a number of thought provoking questions. I thought it would be interesting to let you in on the conversation.

How do you see art pointing to the divine?

Well, for me, I like to think of it as art reflecting the divine even more than pointing to it. Pointing (and art certainly does this) can give the image of God’s work being off in the distance and art just trying to snag our attention and make us look that way, off in the distance. However, art does more than that. Art itself is an expression of the God-reality.

For me, art is not just a given medium, but art is a way of describing the whole of humanity’s creative nature, part of what it means to be human. We build stuff. We arrange stuff. We bake stuff. We figure out mathematic equations. My boys draw giraffes and tigers. My wife makes jewelry. I write. My dad crafts sermons. My mom teaches kids to play piano. I have friends who do landscaping and friends who build bridges and friends who work corporate deals and friends who truly are a maestro with an espresso machine. Each one of these is creating, doing their own kind of art, joining all the painters and the novelists and the musicians in their craft.

And here’s the kicker: we are artists because we bear the image of God. God the creator.

I don’t see much of a need to build an apologetic to defend the legitimacy of art. Art, as I see it, is an apologetic unto itself. Art (the power and the constant impulse of human creativity) is one of those mysterious realities that tell me there is a God. A personal God who has done the laughable: created others (us, humans) to in some way be like him.

If I can say it another way: for me, the first question is not, how can art help us make sense of God? but rather, what kind of sense does art make if there is no God?

Does art/creation intrinsically do this? or does it need an artist to focus it/point it/ direct it?

Well, if art is an apologetic all its own, then I say it’s intrinsic. What I’m resisting is the notion that art primarily serves as an illustrator of truth. What I’m suggesting rather is that art is incarnational. Like Jesus come in the flesh, truth and the mysterious nature of God embody themselves in the acts of human creativity.

How does abstract art / conceptual art/ weird art or “secular” art point to divinity?

I don’t really know, same as any other art (or human creative act), I suppose. At a bare minimum, it involves us in doing God-kinds of things: creating, bringing beauty or truth into our world.

Does it need to be pretty?

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No. Rats aren’t pretty, and God was okay creating them.

Further, the world isn’t always pretty – have we looked around lately? The Bible isn’t always pretty either.

Does it need to understood? Do many people write off art because “i dont get it.” so its bad. But does it need to be understood and decoded to be good. How is this like faith?

No, of course not. I don’t understand the Trinity, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth appreciating. Besides, who becomes the arbiter of what is “understood”? If my boys were the judges and we wrote off any art they “didn’t get,” we’d be left with nothing that wasn’t done in Crayola.

Having said all this, I’m certainly not promoting artistic anarchy. This doesn’t mean that all art is equally good. Or that art with redemption all through its colors or tones or textures is always the aesthetic equivalent of art that has no intention of reflecting God’s goodness. I’m just saying it isn’t all or nothing.

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