Art—good art—innately harbors grace. Have you ever observed a painting that just speaks to you? Something about the composition, the colors, the subject matter is just working and you’re filled with a fleeting harmony. Or perhaps, like me, you get that feeling during its creation. Sometimes, when I’m lucky, I work on a piece that is simply effortless; it feels as though the painting is pouring from my fingertips. I’m a terrible singer (my five-year-old informed me I sound like Scuttle from The Little Mermaid) but I’d like to believe it is the same feeling a musician gets when perfectly landing that high note, and in fact, I do refer to these occasions as the “singing” moments of painting. Feelings like this are a gift from God; a touch of grace from His own hand.
I think we are given these gifts because our Lord loves art, too. For one, He is the ultimate artist, having created this beautiful universe. Even the trees He made sure were “pleasant to the sight” (Genesis 2:9)! For another, it is He who equipped artists with their talent and creativity, a gift that can only be meant to echo His superlative artistry. And it seems He wants us to appreciate these things we find beautiful and profound. As Paul says, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true…whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8). Let us remember, though, that “whatever you do, do it for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). It would be a waste, then, to create art in a random or purposeless way. Instead, art should be used as a tool to glorify God, whether in the creation of it, the reveling in it, or the endorsing of it.
What does this mean, exactly? Do we need to start adorning our homes with Da Vinci’s Last Supper and the like? No, not necessarily. You simply need to create or seek art that places the Lord in the forefront of your mind and heart, something that immediately starts you on a mental path to worship. I will refer to this as Glory Art. Art is, of course, hugely subjective, so Glory Art is going to be different for everyone. For example, a lovingly rendered nature scene may remind some of Genesis and His capabilities. For others, an abstract composition may inspire a harmony and peace that you know stemmed from Him. Or, to provide an incredibly specific example, I have a painting I created of the temporal bone of the skull (I specialize in anatomical art, which hopefully makes that seem a little less weird). It highlights a protuberance called the petrous portion of the temporal bone. This reminds me of St. Peter, since petrous means rock, and Peter, of course, is that rock upon which the church was built. Every single time I look at it I think of Peter and his follies and transformations, and I feel a kinship to both him and to Jesus. So you see, there are infinite ways artistry can instill Jesus in your heart, and really, it is not my purpose or desire to define it for you here.
I can, however, do a better job defining what Glory Art is NOT. It is not art whose sole purpose is to anger or disgust. For example, I went to a show once that had an exhibition entitled “The Nuclear Family”. It was comprised solely of mutilated and decapitated dolls. In case you are wondering, this did not make me feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is not art that is so absurd or grotesque that it becomes shocking and somehow newsworthy, like the banana duct taped to the wall that sold for $6 million, or the 2018 show in the Netherlands comprised of genitalia and excrement. And most of all, it is not sacrilege. It is altogether too easy to find paintings, sculptures and installations whose primary purpose is to defile and degrade everything that we as Christians find holy. I refuse to honor any by describing them here, but feel free to do a quick search on the subject and prepare to be disappointed, disgusted and shocked.
For too long artists have been using such reactions as a quick and easy way to get attention, a crutch to be called “cutting edge”. This idea that art is supposed to generate feeling and shock is a strong feeling, therefore anything shocking is good art, has been exploited to the point of ridiculousness. A label of “different” seems to be the only requirement of art today; no longer is it built upon a foundation of talent, education or profundity. Artistic culture has gotten so backwards that it seems the most radical artists right now are the ones who, gasp, actually know how to draw, as explained by April Hopkins in a 2019 article! Indeed, open any art magazine today and you’ll see skill-based rendering or, even more so, anyone using Christian principles as their focal point, is in a clear and drastic minority.
My desire, my dream, is that soon the pendulum swings the other way, since by eschewing subject matter that is in any way reverent, by disregarding the talent lovingly provided by God, we are turning our backs on a rich and powerful tool for glorifying the Lord. And you know what? The change starts with us. If you see a painting that sings to you, that brings Jesus to mind, consider purchasing a print or a piece. If you hear about an art exhibition that somehow encapsulates the Holy Spirit, even obliquely, consider showing up. A small bit of effort can make a world of difference to the artist, and, moreover, we can start to show the world we are ready for a new wave of art.