{Fireside Fridays} The Book All Artists Must Read

It’s just one of those books, guys. One of those books that is an utter yes. Perhaps the title of this post is a misnomer, because this book is actually one everyone must read. For, as the author reminds us, we are all artists. Our lives are our stories, and we can make them trash or masterpieces.

artandbiblecover

Art and the Bible // Francis Schaeffer

{ an overview }

 

It’s a slim little paperback, only ninety-four pages long. But boy, does it pack a punch in that space. In the foreword, Michael Card, a popular Christian singer and songwriter, explains why this book is so important. Card describes an age a few decades ago, a time when Christians shunned art because it was too worldly. Card writes, “Into a world that had become suspicious of the beautiful Schaeffer reminded us that the Father of Jesus was also the God of beauty.” This bit of history was important for me, because I wasn’t alive during the era Card’s talking about. Although I criticize much of Christian art today for being shallow, weak, and poor-quality, at least I have grown up when Christians create art. A few decades ago, that wasn’t so normal. As Card explains, this little book by Francis Schaeffer was one of the forces that changed all that.

Okay, so the foreword’s great, but then you get to the actual book. It’s split into two parts: Art in the Bible and Some Perspectives on Art. In part one, Schaeffer takes us on a journey through the Bible, starting from the beginning, listing places where God specifically approves of and even commands people to create art. He emphasizes how workmanship on the Temple contained images of nature and imaginative things (like blue pomegranates—you don’t see those in “real life,” but God still called for them to be made). As he proved how art is, in fact, biblical, he also discussed how God loves all of art—not just painting, craftsmanship, and poetry, but “secular” areas like dancing, drama, and music.

Then comes part 2. Wow. This was the part where I was whispering, “yes, yes, yes” all over the place. You should see all the underlinings in it. Anyway, Schaeffer lists eleven different truths about art that everyone, especially Christians, should hold. Basically, he answers this question: “How should we as creators and enjoyers of beauty comprehend and evaluate [art]?” Some of the answers are more technical and some are more abstract. I was going to list them all, but hey, I can’t spoil everything for you. Plus, it might get a little tedious (not to mention long). Instead, I want to dive into what really stood out to me and excited me from this book. 99% of my points come from this part.

Here we go: all the yeses.

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{ 5 things I learned from Art and the Bible }

 

(Warning: lots of quotes coming up. Actually, I don’t know why I’m warning you, like it’s a bad thing. Redo: Get excited! Lots of quotes coming your way!)

1. You are more than just one painting (or poem or sculpture or opera … you get the idea). 

I often feel guilty when I write things because I can’t fit in all the truth that I feel like I should. However, Schaeffer pointed something out that really helped me with this: you can’t judge an artist by just one of their works. You can’t understand their worldview from just one of their works.

This so encouraged me:

If you are a Christian artist, therefore, you must not freeze up just because you can’t do everything at once. Don’t be afraid to write a love poem simply because you cannot put into it everything of the Christian message. Yet, if a man is to be an artist, his goal should be in a lifetime to produce a wide and deep body of work.

Yes.

That takes so much pressure off of me. Am I bad Christian because this poem leans toward the darker side (even though I also believe in hope)? because I didn’t add anything in about forgiveness (even though it has nothing to do with the story)? Scheffer’s answer: Of course you’re not. It’s impossible and downright bad quality to do so. But your whole body of work should encompass all the things you believe, each individual creation contributing its one truth to the whole.

 2. Art has value because it’s art. Like, it doesn’t even have to include a conversion scene (what?!).

Guys, Christians even today totally miss this. They seem to think art only has value because it can get across the gospel better. While that may be true—and it’s one reason to value art—that’s not really why art matters. Art matters because it’s beautiful. Because it’s art. 

After proving this from Scripture—God didn’t have to make the Temple beautiful but He did because He simply values beauty—Schaeffer applies it to modern Christians: “Too often we think that a work of art has value only if we reduce it to a tract.”

Then—and this is so important for us artists—he argues that instead of sitting down share a specific message (“I’m going to win people for Christ! How? Hey, I’ll write a book!), we should instead think, “I am going to make a work of art.” Your worldview will shine through whatever you create. But it is perfectly fine to just want to create beauty. Why? Because we are imitating God, the Creator of all and Author of beauty, and we are celebrating our humanity—we are created in God’s image and are thus able to create. Huzzah!

3. Christians should portray both major and minor themes. 

Okay, so you might remember seeing this in that list of eleven above. Here’s what Schaeffer means by major and minor: The minor theme of the Christian world view is basically that humanity is lost, the world is broken, and even Christians struggle with sin. The major theme is that God exists and provided a way to save us and that we as humans are created in His image and thus have intrinsic worth. Schaeffer’s argument is that Christian art—and good art—must include both of these themes.

I love this so much:

If our Christian art only emphasizes the major theme, then it is not fully Christian but simply romantic art. And let us say with sorrow that for years our Sunday school literature has been romantic in its art and has had very little to do with genuine Christian art. Older Christians may wonder what is wrong with this art and wonder why their kids are turned off by it, but the answer is simple. It’s romantic. It’s based on the notion that Christianity has only an optimistic note.

This is my response to those who ask why I include darkness and sorrow in my writing: because those things are part of the truth. To ignore and deny them makes your art less true and thus, less Christian and ultimately less beautiful.

But there’s also this:

Finally, the Christian artist should constantly keep in mind the law of love in a world that is bent upon destruction. … But our world at the end of the twentieth century has so much destruction without Christian artists emphasizing the minor theme in the total body of their work that they add to the poorness and destruction of our generation. … [The] Christian artist who only concentrates on the abnormality of the world is not living by the law of love. 

We must not add to the world’s darkness by focusing exclusively on it. We of all people have hope and light—we must share that, too, through our art. We must testify to the fact that this broken world is ultimately ruled by Love Himself.

Ready for a big yes? (Told you there’d be lots of quotes). Here you go:

We must present both the law and the gospel; we ought not end with only the judgment of the law. Even though we may spend most of our time on the judgment of the law, love dictates that at some point we get to the gospel.

Yesyesyes.

4. Old doesn’t mean better (and guess what? Christians can use contemporary styles!

Schaeffer sings it out, loud as freedom’s bell: Styles of art form change and there is nothing wrong with this. Guys, sometimes I feel guilty for writing in free verse. Hymns aren’t written that way. Ancient Christian poets didn’t write that way. Is it, well, sinful? What about Picasso’s stuff—is that secular because it isn’t like traditional paintings?

Schaeffer’s answer is a breath of fresh air:

As a matter of fact, change is one difference between life and death. There is no living language which does not undergo change. The languages which do not change, Latin, for example, are dead. As long as one has a living art, its forms change. The past art forms, therefore, are not necessarily the right ones for today or tomorrow. 

In fact, Schaeffer goes so far as to say that Christians should use more modern art forms. Here’s why:

And if a Christian’s art is not twentieth-century [or twenty-first for us] art, it is an obstacle to his being heard. It makes him different in a way in which there is no necessity for difference. A Christian should not, therefore, strive to copy Rembrandt or Browning.

What else do I need to say? He’s so right, and he says it so well.

(Just to clarify, while we can use “secular” styles, we must make sure secular beliefs do not infiltrate our art. Schaeffer warns, “Therefore, while we must use twentieth-century styles, we must not use them in such a way as to be dominated by the world views out of which they have arisen.”)

One last thing: Art does not have to be western. We tend to think that, say, African art is inferior or—how ridiculous is this?—less godly, but God made that kind of art too. What arrogance we westerners have. Schaeffer states, “If a Christian artist is Japanese, his paintings should be Japanese, if Indian, Indian.”

Just so much yes.

5. We are free. 

For some artists there is a place for religious themes, but an artist does not need to be conscience stricken if he does not paint in this area. Some Christian artists will never use religious themes. This is a freedom the artist has in Christ under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.


The Christian is the really free man—he is free to have imagination. This too is our heritage. The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.


We are free to create, as long as we never forgot that we are slaves to Jesus.


Those three quotes, the top two by Schaeffer and the last by Card, stood out to me above all else. “You will know the truth,” Jesus said,” and it will set you free” (John 8:32). And it’s so true. When you have Jesus, there is freedom in all aspects of your life, art included.

I am free to create. I am free to revel in and make beauty. I am free to use modern styles to enhance my art. I am free to make art just to make art. I am free to imagine, to explore.

Yes.

{ conclusion }

Read the book.

The end.

But really, you should read it. There’s so much more in there than what I went into, and maybe I skipped right over stuff that you personally need to hear. Plus, it’s short and Schaeffer writes really simply so you can’t make the too-busy/too-daunted/too-dumb excuses.

Until you can get your hands on the book, one more quote:

Is the creative part of our life committed to Christ? Christ is the Lord of our whole life and the Christian life should produce not only truth—flaming truth—but also beauty.

Have you read this book? What was your favorite quote? Did you learn anything? I want to hear what made you say yes!

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21 thoughts on “{Fireside Fridays} The Book All Artists Must Read

  1. Yes, yes, so much yes! I haven’t read the book yet, but I’ll put it on my list. It hurts me how Christians often sideline the different arts or even consider them to be downright ungodly or worthless at times (for instance, I’ve heard that literature has worth only has “entertainment”), and so I love it when we use art (like, in my church, we’ve started getting a bit more liturgical *grins*)…but even more than that, when we can embrace the fact that we can be the BEST artists we can be in the freedom of mind that God has graciously given us. He has set free not only our hearts, souls, and minds, but also rules over all our abilities–including our artistic abilities. He doesn’t want us to set them aside–He wants us to use them. 🙂

    On a related note (both Shaeffer-related and art-related), I would highly recommend Nancy Pearcey’s book, Saving Leonardo. I haven’t finished it yet (*gulps guiltily*), but I had so many “yes!” moments as well when reading it, or at least the first part (haven’t gotten to the second part yet, so I can’t vouch for that part). She doesn’t focus as much on the case for art (too much to put in the book), but she does make an excellent analysis of how secularism influences the arts (and her first part on secularism was very enlightening).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes yes to everything you said. I hate when the arts get sidelined, too. I think, especially in terms of worship services in churches, we Protestants have gone too far in trying to get rid of anything that looks like Catholicism or ritual. I’m totally not saying I agree with Catholic doctrine, and there are definite dangers in too much ritual, but we’ve lost the use of beauty and art in worship, which isn’t good. It’s okay—even good—for things to aesthetically pleasing when we worship God.

      Wow, I want to read that. That sounds really interesting, like it would be a good complement to this book. There’s so much to discuss on this issue. One book certainly can’t cover it all. Thank you for recommending it!

      Liked by 1 person

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