The Purpose of Art, From a Biblical Perspective

Excerpted from an article in the May 2013, Table Talk magazine by Geoff Stevens titled “Should We Care About Art?

Certainly God ordained art because He created people with this talent.  But in His creation what purpose does it serve?

From A Christian Perspective: The Purpose of Art

What then, is the use of Art?  What purpose does it serve?  There are many, of course, but one that often goes overlooked in Christian circles is truth-telling.  For example, in the Scriptures we find art used frequently in the form of poetry.  Poetry is the creative use of language that attempts to express a reality or truth about the world and the way things are.  It employs pictures, metaphors, and symbols.  Consider Psalm 11:1-3

In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to my soul, “Flee like a bird to your mountain, for behold the wicked bend the bow; they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright heart; if the foundations are destroyed what can the righteous do?”

We need communication that employs propositions and arguments while relying on reason and logic, such as we find in the epistles of the Apostle Paul.  But the realities about God and His truth are so grand, majestic, and transcendent that we also need communication that relies on metaphor, images, and symbols.  In other words we need art.

Artists are trying to communicate truths about reality as they see it. They are saying, “This is true, or this is beautiful, or this is good.”  The great conversation of human history is a debate over the definition of these terms.  Some Christians today disagree with people who are trying to answer these questions with art, but instead of joining the discussion, they decide to throw art itself out the window, or the define art so narrowly as to truncate its value.  But if we limit our minds, hearts, and voices to propositional argumentation only, we risk creating a deafening silence where there ought to be loud praise to God.

J.R.R. Tolkien referred to artists as “sub creators” who bring new worlds to life, worlds quite unlike our own.  He used art to display truth through a “strange and arresting lens.”  Tolkien’s art is masterful because it transports his readers to a platform from which they can see eternal truths in new ways.

What about artists who are not believers?  Can we learn from them in the same way we learn from Ben Franklin, Immanuel Kant, or Mark Twain”

A wise man one said that if you want to understand philosophers and the bizarre things they say sometimes, you need to understand the questions they are trying to answer.  In the same way, we may encounter art that prompts us to ask, “What was the artist thinking?”  That is exactly the right question to ask if we are to thoughtfully interact with our culture as it gropes in the dark for answers.



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