By Haley Hasch
When I look for a book to read, a movie to watch, or music to listen to, I never search in the “Christian” genre. In fact, I usually avoid that category altogether. I have realized that I don’t prefer art in this genre because it is usually shallow and of lower quality. Even as a young teen, I knew that most modern Christian art was not deep or soul-filling like The Lord of the Rings or Chronicles of Narnia series. I find I would much rather consume secular art, which to me is deeper, more meaningful, and enjoyable. This has been confusing to me: Why don’t I like the art my brothers and sisters have created? Sadly, I know that I’m not alone. In talking with other believers, I have discovered that this dislike for Christian art is very common. If the majority of Christians do not like it, why doesn’t it get any better? Why does Christian art tend to be so bad?
Before we delve into answering all of those questions in a series of articles, I’d like to make a case for the need for transcendence in art.
ABOVE IT ALL
It is said that great art is “moving” or “speaks” to people. It influences, challenges, and changes. It draws you out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary. Reading an artfully-written poem, watching a movie with stunning visuals, or listening to an expertly-composed song can cause an emotional or visceral response like nothing else.
Experiencing great art can change perspectives and outlooks. Leland Ryken, professor at Wheaton College and author of over 14 books, writes in his essay focused on literature: “Literature takes reality and human experience as its starting point, transforms it by means of the imagination, and sends readers back to life with a renewed understanding of it and zest for it because of their excursions into a purely imaginary realm.” Great art is not just a luxury—it is something essential to the soul.
All people have a built-in longing for transcendence and beauty. Good art can satisfy this innate desire. It is clear from the Bible and creation itself that God values beauty. The first thing God revealed about Himself in Scripture is the fact that He is the Creator, and that what He created is good. God could have created a purely functional universe, but He did not. He chose to create a universe that not only runs like clockwork, but also takes your breath away. Man craves beauty because he was made to crave it, and God wants man to experience it. When you read a novel or watch a movie, you are, for a time, transported outside of yourself. You are experiencing someone else’s life. This is a great way to develop a form of empathy. For a time, you are walking with a character through his pain and his joy. It lets the audience know that they are not alone. Even if someone is not struggling at the moment, art helps her know how to deal with problems when they come, and how to help friends or family who may be struggling. Through art, we can deal with our problems in a manageable way.
ANSWERING LIFE’S QUESTIONS
“Is this life all there is?” “Is there such a thing as truth?” “What’s wrong with the world?”
“Why can’t we all just get along?” These are questions that humanity has asked throughout history. These questions are hard to grapple with. Deep and meaningful art provides a way to start these conversations in a non-threatening way. In his article, “I Was an Atheist Until I Read The Lord of the Rings,” attorney Frederic Heidemann writes about how reading Tolkien’s great works made him question his lifelong atheism:
“How could a made-up fantasy world reveal anything about the ‘truth’? But I knew it did, and this changed my way of thinking. . . Why was I so captivated by this story that made fighting evil against all odds so profound? Why did it instill in me a longing for an adventure of the arduous good? . . . The beautiful struggle and self-sacrificial glory permeating The Lord of the Rings struck a chord in my soul and filled me with longing that I couldn’t easily dismiss.”
Christian artists are uniquely qualified to create this type of art because, like Tolkien, their faith gives them a full picture of reality. It’s not that they are better artists than those who are unbelievers, but in being a Christian, they have a grasp of the fullness of life: its tragedy and its beauty. As English professor Leland Ryken writes: “The Christian vision of the world is comprehensive. It includes the bad news as well as the good news. Christian art does justice to both halves.”
So, having the understanding that we worship a transcendent God and therefore that Christian art should reflect Him, we’ll explore art history in my next article and discover how, until recently, Christian artists have been the forerunners of the arts and art culture.
Haley Hasch is a 2020 homeschool graduate. She is attending Baylor University in the fall as a Great Texts major in the honors college. She attends Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in San Antonio, TX.