Above the Clouds

What is a Christian-worldview and what difference does it make in the teaching of art?

 

A worldview is the framework or lens through which a person views life and the world around them.  A Christian-worldview can be summarised along these lines:

That a holy, triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) spoke a perfect universe into existence as a tangible display of His glory. The jewel of that universe was Earth. Upon that life-brimming planet, God created a garden - Eden - and in that garden He sculpted the first man 'Adam' and his wife 'Eve'. They were made to reflect God's holiness, goodness, love and wisdom and to govern the earth with creativity, skill and kindness. These first parents of humanity were not programmed to love each other or God but were created with the ability to choose to love - separating them from other created beings. 

Deception came to the garden and Adam and Eve listened to the voice of evil rather than the voice of God and, in so doing, they forfeited the glory that was bestowed upon them by the perfect, holy God. Sin marred their hearts and minds and separated them from the One Who loved them as His own children. Creation itself became marred as a continual reminder and warning of the devastating power and consequences of sin. Yet, God promised this man and woman that one of their Descendants would come and destroy the work of evil and restore humanity, and subsequently all of creation, to that blessed state that they had first enjoyed (and yet, even better).

Many generations later, amidst the pitiful backdrop of rebellion, violence, hatred, pain, suffering and brokenness came the cry of a baby in the insignificant town of Bethlehem. To a virgin, Mary, was born the 'Second Man' - the Son of God - Jesus the Christ. God - the Son - had laid aside His glory to take on human form - becoming the second man in all of human history to bear the perfect likeness or image of God. Every breath, every thought, every word and every deed was done in complete dependence on His Heavenly Father - in perfect relationship with Him and in perfect obedience to Him. Jesus showed a watching world what mankind should have been and what they could yet become - if they would follow Him. Out of the darkness of men's hearts and the unseen spiritual realm, the Light of World was raised up in torturous humiliation on a Roman cross, as they sought to extinguish the Light that had exposed the corruption upon the earth. Unknowing to them, however, God had a much higher purpose in mind for the cross. The Spotless Lamb of God would exchange His righteousness for our corruption and exchange His life for the ultimate death that should have been ours. Upon that cross, the perfect union was broken between the Father and the Son as Christ took on the sins of the world. The Father looked away and the Son was laid in a sinner's tomb.

But the darkness could not overcome the light and after three days the tomb was empty. The Son of God had risen - triumphant over sin and death. The price had been paid and the sacrifice accepted. As His followers felt the nail scars in His hands, feet and side, Jesus, risen from the dead, began His mighty work of restoration. Through faith in Him, darkened souls were now filled with light and what had been dead was made alive again. The glory that had once been Adam and Eve's to enjoy was born anew within the spirits of men, women and children. The Son, after appearing to hundreds, rose into Heaven to enjoy the embrace of His Father once again and began the work of preparing an eternal dwelling place - a Holy City - for His Bride, the Church. The Lord Jesus sent His Holy Spirit to dwell within the spirits of all who turned from their own way to follow Him and they became spiritually alive - new creations. Lamp-stands aflame with the very Light of God. This flame spread and has continued to burn from generation to generation to this present day. The Word of God has proven powerful and His promises true in all the tumult of history and God's blessed family has increased exponentially.

The Bride of Christ - all who follow Jesus - now await the return of the Bridegroom to take Her home to His Father's House where a place has been prepared for Her with no expense spared. The One who was rejected by men at His first coming will return to reign upon the earth triumphant over His enemies and He will be the One to restore all things. The lion will eat straw like an ox and the wolf and lamb will lie down together. The wilderness will again become garden under His glorious rule and there shall at last be peace upon the earth. All who have chosen to go their own way will face the eternal consequences of their choice and be cast away from the Light forever but all who have bowed their knee to the One Who truly loves them will reign with Him in all His dazzling brilliance in new heavens and a new earth that are almost indescribable in their magnificence, beauty and wonders. All who acknowledged that they were made for God, to be like God and to enjoy God and who called upon Him to rescue them from their path of destruction will be made gloriously fit to serve, be served by and enjoy God forevermore. The book of their lives which began with blackened pages will carry on forever with pages of gold - a love story that improves with every turn of every page - and of which there is no conclusion and no back cover. Life - beautiful life - one glorious Family - always and forever!

So, why bother teaching art from a Christian-worldview and how do the two go together?

Given that the God of the Bible, Whom Christians worship, is first revealed as 'Creator', I can think of no better way to teach art than through a Biblical lens. God is the ultimate Designer and Artist. We see His handiwork in the tail feathers of a peacock, in the seemingly never-ending spirals of a seashell and in the lavish colours He spreads across the morning and evening skies. We often pause and marvel over exquisite, contrasting patterns as we stroll through a garden or gaze through the glass of an aquarium. We feel textures that soothe and comfort - like the fur of a kitten or a river-polished stone. Light mesmerises as it scatters through the facets of diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds. Senses come alive as one walks through a rainforest - as if transported to a sacred place. All creation, though marred, points to the Creator.

As 'image-bearers', humans are creators too. We have been blessed with imagination and the ability to take raw materials and arrange them in new ways - making things that enrich our time upon this earth. When we learn from the Master-Craftsman and employ His methods in our own creations, we glorify Him and in the process, create what might be called 'good art' or 'sound design'. When we deviate from His ways in our designs and creations, something is lost along the way; things become out of balance, they cease to bless the eye and enrich the soul and what could have been a thing of beauty becomes crude and at times offensive.

 

The Elements and Principles of Art and Design are like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that combine to make an artwork or creative design. They also help us to hone in on specific parts and to describe the way an artwork or design has been put together. Colour, line, texture, contrast, balance, repetition, etc. combine to make for a good and even pleasing artwork or design. These things are like the laws of the scientist, the formulae of the mathematician or the theories of the composer. We observe that when the Elements and Principles of Art are employed well that the result is sound and aesthetically pleasing - things look 'right'. And while we might not be able to explain why at times, we have this sense that things do not look quite right when the Elements and Principles have not been properly used and adhered to. Every facet of life and reality has been designed to flourish and go well when it follows preordained rules, principles and pathways and art is no exception. And chaos ensues when these rules, principles and pathways are not followed. Life and art flourish when God and His ways are embraced - and they deteriorate and come apart when God and his ways are forgotten or rejected. 

Art is not created in a moral vacuum. People create art and they bring to their art certain views about what is right and wrong - and even whether there is such a thing to begin with as 'right and wrong'. The Bible teaches that all of us have been corrupted by sin and our outlook on life and the things that we pursue and value are tainted and distorted. So, it is helpful to examine all forms of creative expression through the Biblical lens to see whether they are a reflection of heaven or hell and whether they convey truth or lies. We can wonder what messages artists are seeking to convey through their work and consider if the messages lead us to God or away from God. Not all creative expressions give a strong message one way or another - a painting of a vase of flowers, for example, is different to a scene depicting a group of people engaged in certain activities. And yet even the objects we might choose to paint, draw or photograph can lead us, even if very subtly, towards God or away from Him. That's not to say that a painting of a skull and rotting fruit is necessarily drawing us to the dark side - perhaps it is, as was the case in art of previous centuries, reminding people that death comes to all and that we must become right with God before we fall under its shadow. A drawing of happy faces might at first glance seem like a good thing - until we discover that the happiness is based on a lie and that the subjects are taking pleasure in things that will destroy them rather than bless them. There are many layers to things in art and the Scriptures can help us to peel back those layers to more clearly perceive what is good, what is beautiful, what is helpful and what is deceptive and false in what we see.

In exploring these things from a Biblical perspective, we are then in a better place from which to make choices about our art-making. Our creations become stronger, more beautiful, point to the goodness and glory of God and/or shine light on the futility and destructive nature of sin and the consequences of lives lived apart from God. Our artistic expressions may be a blessing, a help and at times a warning to others as God's truths and His ways gently or overtly shine through. We can consider how our creations could show love for our neighbour and how they might minister healing to a broken world. We can be like the priest who blesses and the prophet who warns. And we can bring people a step closer to Heaven and a step further away from Hell - a step closer to the Great Artist and a step further away from the Deceiver and Destroyer of Souls. Through true friendship with Christ, we can make art that flows from God - for His glory and pleasure - and for the benefit of our souls and the souls of those around us and those who follow after us.