Call of the Artist

April 20, 2008

Here is the conclusion to my final project for “Theology, Popular Culture, and the Emerging Church” concerning body theology and its implications for the “Call of the Artist” in the Church. Full bibliographical information available if anyone’s interested.

Art has a prophetic role in the Church today.[1] We must regain what we have lost—that understanding we used to have of the deep connection between artistic beauty and an experience of the holy.[2] What others can do with a paintbrush or a chisel, I can do with words. When I relate my own experiences, my own journey through uncovering lies to the healing truths that come with learning to relate to people in a way that does not exploit or ignore my “bodyself,”[3] I give voice to those around me who journeyProphet Isaiah by Raphael similarly—wading through lies, searching for truth. It feels very selfish to invite others to walk with me on a very personal journey that includes criticism of a tradition that I respect and love dearly, that has molded and shaped me into the kind of person I am, that has deeply embedded within me a profound sense of God’s goodness, grace, forgiveness, and mercy. But I believe that in my willingness to be thus publicly vulnerable, to open myself in that vulnerability to attack for my criticism, is a necessary part not only of the healing process but of the role of the artist—whether I am “really” an artist or not.

Art for art’s sake has its place. But there is need for artists to restore in the Church a sense of God’s holiness as expressed through beauty,[4] and beauty in the human form.[5] This is not to say that the artist has free reign to sensationalize, shock, or otherwise offend the Christian community “all willy, nilly,” as my grandmother would say, in the name of the prophetic voice.[6] But gently, with kindness and genuine understanding, the more subtle artist is uniquely positioned to affect real change in the orientation of the spiritual life to the body, welcoming that necessary and undeniable part of ourselves into the conversation, into the experience of relating to one another and relating to God[7], and God incarnate[8]—as images of the beauty of God’s holiness.

[1] Indeed, “works of art can awaken faith, or at least the longing for faith” (Harries 132).

[2] “If a religious perspective on life is to carry conviction it has to account of the powerful spiritual impact which the arts, in all forms, have on people. Christianity needs to have a proper place both for the arts and for beauty” (Harries 2).

[3] Nelson uses this term frequently.

[4] Martin explains that if God is primary beauty and the created order is secondary beauty, then according to Jonathan Edwards’s theology of the body, it is “the work of grace that facilitates perception of that primary beauty that places the secondary beauty of the world in authentic perspective” (31).

[5] “Beauty defined in imagination,” notes Barger, is “truly transcendent of shifting cultural trends” (42).

[6] “True beauty,” Harries writes, “is inseparable from the quest for truth and those moral qualities which make for a true quest. In the world of art this means integrity” (62).

[7] Harries asserts, “The yearning aroused by experiences of beauty is a longing for God himself, for communion with his beauty” (94). Again, “we are invited to take the divine beauty into our very being through Eucharist” (98). Barger also notes this correlation, advocating that “ritual connects the body with spirituality” (183).

[8] Nelson writes, “In a culture that does not really honor matter but cheapens it, in a culture that does not love the body but uses it, belief in God’s incarnation is countercultural stuff” (195).

3 Responses to “Call of the Artist”

  1. Ed P said

    Hi Laura,

    I think some artists have an ability to link into the spiritual side of life as they create. This link is maintained within the work and can be accessed by those who have an awareness of the spiritual side of life. Such an artist friend me told of someone viewing one of their pieces and was nearly locked into a gallery as she meditated on one of her pictures. She had been there for so long and was so quiet the staff didn’t realise she was still on the premises.

    If art can give an insight into the spiritual it performs a service way beyond providing pretty pictures to decorate walls.

    *Ed P

  2. […] Call of the Artist More Call of the Artist Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Week 9 WednesdayThoughts on Body TheologyClaiborne, Ch. 5 “Another Way of Doing Life”Missiology of the Emerging Church Pt. 4: Missiological trajectories of the … Posted by lauraknowles Filed in body theology, creative writing, theology pop culture and emerging church ·Tags: body theology, dating, i kissed dating goodbye, lady in waiting, marriage, silver ring thing Leave a Comment » […]

  3. William Brust said

    You might be interested in looking up Pope John Paul II’s writings on the theology of the body. It’s very interesting. Yes, it’s a Catholic thing, but it’s always fun to read the other denominations’ stuff.

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