Since the reformation, Christians in my tradition of Protestantism have struggled to find a balance between faith and art.  One writer has compared the relationships to an “on again-off again dating relationship”.  Christians “make out” with art, get disgusted and walk away.  And in all fairness, art has a tendency to push boundaries farther than people of faith would like.  But art at it’s best helps us experience beauty, paradox, mystery and transcendence.  These are all attributes of God.  These are all aspects of his being that we struggle to understand and experience.

Art also speaks a visual language that can speak to people who aren’t ready to hear the truth of the gospel.  I have a friend who is a believer artist and calls his art “a bridge to people”.  He has numerous examples of people asking questions about his art pieces that enables him to enter into dialogue about Jesus.

All that to say, I was struck by this article from a lapsed Christian museum curator…

It is probably not for me to comment on the possible reasons for the decline in church-going, except that I am myself a symptom of it, having been brought up to take it for granted that I would attend church and now being an almost entirely lapsed Christian. 

What should be obvious is that, as a culture, we have not lost a need for an understanding of, and interest in, the unknowable: the origins of man; our purpose in the world; the ethical requirements of our behaviour towards one another; the belief that there is more to life than the satisfaction of material wants; the importance of understanding other people’s culture as well as our own. These human needs used to be satisfied to some extent at least by church attendance. But no longer. We no longer, or at least the great majority of us, no longer look to the church for the understanding and satisfaction of these needs. But these needs for the immaterial, for the experience of transcendence, for the mysteries of life as well as its material wants, have not just gone away. They have to be satisfied in some way. That is why contemporary art has moved into the space of the unknown, the exploration of the ineffable, through the experience of transcendence. Contemporary art is not just secular, but sacred as well.

-CHARLES SAUMAREZ SMITH, “The Sacred And The Secular In Contemporary Art“, , Nov 28, 16.


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