Is “Good Art” the apex of Art’s use?
Art is the arrangement of material, concepts, or ideas with the intention of objectifying beauty. Even when we see something artistic as ugly, the one who created the art saw significance in that thing which they have arranged. Art is the projection of beauty from inside the mind of the artist and is never neutral. Art can be found in every culture on earth, which means that every culture has a category for beauty and loveliness because it is coded into our very nature. It might be said that humanity loves art because humanity is made in the image of the God who Himself loves art.
God is the original artist. He made all of creation in varied colors, flavors, shapes, materials, odors, sizes, and textures. He could have made one type of apple, rather than the 7,500 various types of apples grown around the world today. He could have made 3 types of fish, but instead we know of 32,000 species of fish in the world, and the number is growing. That’s beauty! That’s art!
Image of God
Humanity is made in God’s likeness (דמות) and image (צלם). Likeness carries the force of relation or resemblance to something else. Likeness can refer to a model, like the model of the alter that King Ahaz sent Uriah the priest in 2 Kings 16:10. It can also express similarity to something such as in Isaiah 13:4. The word translated “as” is actually “likeness”, the same word used in Genesis 1:26.
Image can refer to a physical thing (an etching, a monument, etc.) that stands to represent something else. An “image” would be erected in a region to signify that the area was governed by the ruler who’s image the physical object would bear (see Daniel 3:1). The image served the citizens in that it reminded them of the rule and reign of the ruler of the land.
Likeness and image ultimately describe the vertical and horizontal poles by which we relate to God and the world around us. In the fall of man, we didn’t lose our image bearing nature, rather the image bearing nature was distorted. This means that fallen man no longer properly relates to God and therefore no longer properly exercises the rule of God on earth. The NT connects the dots for us as we look at Ephesians 4:23, 24. The restoration of relationship back to God through the Gospel ultimately changes the way that we engage with God’s world.
and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
The Gospel brings a vertical and horizontal restoration of likeness and image. Ephesians 5 continues to show us what a restoration of the likeness of God in us through the Gospel does for our relationships at work, in marriage, and in parenting, etc. The Gospel is God’s means to restoring relational harmony between man and God, man and man, as well as man and creation (see Romans 8:2223). The restoration of the meaning and usage of the arts is included in this.
The Purpose of Art
All of humanity is made in the image of God and so all of humanity creates art, but what makes the Christian’s art different? Is it only that we honor God in our heart as we create art that’s virtually indistinguishable from fallen humanity? Is it only that we make art that explicitly preaches the Gospel? Is it only that we create art that is excellent? What is the meaning of art for a Christian? How we answer these questions flow from two opposite ways of looking at redemptive history:
1) The view that creation serves redemption
2) The view that redemption serves creation
In the first view, God creates so that there will be a redemption. Prefall is good but not ideal from the vantage point of a story that would have a greater redemptive end. That means creation has an ulterior motive the glory of grace.
In the second view, God redeems so that there can be the proper enjoyment of all things as unto Him. Prefall is good and ideal, but the fall introduces a break in an otherwise ideal scenario to which redemption restores us to that previous state.
Both views hold that creation is good (Genesis 1) and affirm it, with the Apostle Paul as good (1 Timothy 4:15). I believe the Scripture most consistently shows us the first view. There is a sense in which redemption serves creation in that redeemed people can now properly enjoy creation for what it was meant for without idolizing it. In that sense, redemption does in one way serve creation. But in the ultimate sense, creation exists for redemption and all God’s good world is to be leveraged in such as way as to point to redemption.
1 Corinthians 10:31, 41
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
Whether food, beverage or art imitate Christ and do it in such a way as to show the superior worth of God (not of art) for the purpose of redemption. This is the purpose of our art not just to enjoy it or do good art, but to use it for redemptive purposes Gospel purposes.