|Depravity, by Dan Guinn|
I think there is a tendency in Christian art to always create in the positive. We love those artist who do this, the most well known of which is "The painter of light," Thomas Kinkaid. I am not writing to pick in Kinkaid, I think there is a place for his work, and I have one of his paintings on my wall. However, his paintings are quite romantic and convey something our the general love for romantic and rosy portraits that convey flowery and lovely features. We seem to seek out art that is beautiful and may avoid art that is honest and perhaps even ugly, even when it is deeply meaningful. Is it possible that we have overlooked complete genres of art because we desire only the beautiful? Are we Utopian? Is this harmful? If art imitates life, then are we as Christians, being dishonest?
Romantic creativity has it's place in the area of hope, if conveyed honestly, but it should not be the absolute, or it can convey something destructive to the Christian worldview. It can ignore the struggle and the real pain in life. In fact, a full blown Utopian Romanticism is actually contrary to the Christian worldview. Listen to Schaeffer on this:
"...Christianity is not romantic; it is realistic. Christianity is realistic because it says that if there is no truth, there is also no hope; and there can be no truth if there is no adequate base. It is prepared to face the consequences of being proved false and say with Paul: If you find the body of Christ, the discussion is finished; let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. It leaves absolutely no room for a romantic answer." ~ Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There, Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, Volume 1, Page 46
So considering this, I wonder how many of us have thought about creating works of art that are honest to our suffering and depravity. What about art that is painful? What about paintings of things that hurt, or depict the real realities of the fallen world?
The painting above, on the left, is something I painted in 1995. It was one of the worst years of my life, but I love the painting, for what it means to me. I could care less if anyone really likes it or not. As to me it is something more than a painting, it is a representation of a realization. That realization was that I am depraved. I was a Christian at the time I painted it, but I was hurt by the death pains of a fallen world and I was carnal in my thinking. For although I had been raised in a Christian home and mostly did the right things, I had allowed for quiet, hidden sins in my life. I had become the worst type of hypocrite, one who thinks he is okay. So when my sin began to become visible and my life began to be faced with the realities of my actions, I began to wonder what the strength of the Christian position was. Why wasn't it working? Well, it was not working primarily because I was doing Christianity wrong! I realized that, not only in the deepest way I was a Christian sinner, but that I was dead in that sin and real change would mean that I would truly, not just in words, need to die to self and actually tell myself "no" to things detrimental to my spiritual growth. I am still learning to say no to things! I need Christ daily. So in the same way as Rembrant painted himself participating in the crucifixion of Christ, I realized I must try to portray something of the way I look without Him. It's no Rembrandt, but it's honest.
Perhaps our art is saying something about the condition of our worldview. Do we as Christians really take the fall seriously? I think some of us, live in a fallen state as Christians, with no power of victory over sin, content to have just believed in Christ, but showing little of His victory. We optimistically gravitate to images of victory without the context. We represent romantic ideas of victory, but we adorn a white washed tomb. We may be lying to ourselves, and living in a romantic dreamland. I was. The real awakening of our state might inspire much creativity, as it did for me.
We have to ask ourselves, would we ever go so far as to honestly express our depravity in our art? Where are our sorrows? Where are the hurts of our very real life-war? Scripture says:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8 ESV)
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. (1 Corinthians 10:13a ESV)
If we believe these scriptures to be true, why are we so consumed with representing perfect and romantic realities? Sure, our hope is for the future perfection, but life is not all about this. It seems to me a fundamental dishonesty to portray the Christian life always in a romantic way. We as Christians ought to be conveying an honest look at the pain of life and yet also the optimistic answer, but one should not come before the other, and maybe, just maybe, if we do so... we might show the world that we are not disconnected, brainwashed fanatics, as we are sometimes characterized, but true, life-war hardened, passionate, optimistic and compassionate believers. It does not have to be in every painting, but in the body of a Christian artist's work, there should be a conscious display of this balance. Dr. Schaeffer gave us a description of the balance that is needed in our art, and I will close with it for your consideration:
"Man is fallen and flawed, but he is redeemable on the basis of Christ’s work. This is beautiful. This is optimism. And this optimism has a sufficient base.
Notice that the Christian and his art have a place for the minor theme because man is lost and abnormal and the Christian has his own defeatedness. There is not only victory and song in my life. But the Christian and his art don’t end there. He goes on to the major theme because there is an optimistic answer. This is important for the kind of art Christians are to produce. First of all, Christian art needs to recognize the minor theme, the defeated aspect to even the Christian life. If our Christian art only emphasizes the major theme, then it is not fully Christian but simply romantic art. And let us say with sorrow that for years our Sunday school literature has been romantic in its art and has had very little to do with genuine Christian art. Older Christians may wonder what is wrong with this art and wonder why their kids are turned off by it, but the answer is simple. It’s romantic. It’s based on the notion that Christianity has only an optimistic note.
On the other hand, it is possible for a Christian to so major on the minor theme, emphasizing the lostness of man and the abnormality of the universe, that he is equally unbiblical. There may be exceptions where a Christian artist feels it his calling only to picture the negative, but in general for the Christian the major theme is to be dominant—though it must exist in relationship to the minor. ~ Francis Schaeffer, Art in the Bible, The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, Volume 2, Page 410