Cover Story

STEALING BEAUTY

"STEALING BEAUTY" Continued...

Issue: "What is art?," March 20, 2004

The main reason for the change in art was a shift in worldview. The slide away from the Christian faith and biblical assumptions about life meant a draining of meaning and beauty from the world. Those who believe that there is no objective meaning in life and that there are no objective values can hardly be expected to create works that have objective meaning and objective value.

And as other ideologies have rushed into the cultural vacuum left by Christianity, those ideologies are expressed in the arts. For example, many of today's artists of the high culture have given up on the concept of "beauty," which, according to the current ideologies, is either an imposition of oppressive power or an arbitrary personal construction. Instead, they are concentrating on "transgressive" art, work purposefully designed to shock and outrage.

Some postmodern artists have embraced the pop culture, with its mass production, its purposeful shallowness, and its money-grubbing. With the loss of beauty, coarser pleasures, such as pornography and sensationalism, take its place. Others embrace the hope of radical politics, whether that of feminism or gay rights or environmentalism, turning their art into in-your-face propaganda.

We live in an age that claims "there are no absolutes." The classic absolutes, according to the old thinkers, are truth, goodness, and beauty. For people today, truth is relative; goodness is relative; and beauty is relative. They are all connected, and they have all been dragging each other down. The lack of belief fuels moral relativism, and beauty is distorted to serve what is false and what is bad.

In contrast to secular nihilists, Christians have a basis for art, beauty, and aesthetics, one which has inspired the arts for centuries. They also have a rich heritage of artistic expression, extending back from the modernist Rouault, a devout believer known for his brightly colored expressionistic religious works, through the innovative Van Gogh and Turner, through the Dutch Masters, and every major movement in the Reformation, Renaissance, and Middle Ages, on back through the Byzantines and the tiles on the catacombs.

But today's Christians often remain impoverished when it comes to the arts, buying into the same hedonism, commercialism, and subjectivism of their nonbelieving neighbors.

Christians are in a position, though, to recover the arts. This is important because the arts are valuable in themselves, as gifts of God, and because the arts are a powerful means of shaping the culture and influencing the human heart. At a time when current ideologies are undermining what is most valuable in the arts, the Bible can restore them.

What would Bezalel do?

The Bible has much to say about the arts. A good part of the Old Testament is taken up with God's detailed commands for human beings to make things, specifically, the designs for the Tabernacle, the Temple, and their furnishings and decorations.

The most direct and explicit biblical passage about the arts has to do with the calling and the equipping of Bezalel, the artist in charge of making the Tabernacle:

Then Moses said to the people of Israel, "See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and He has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft.

"And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver-by any sort of workman or skilled designer.

"Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whom the Lord has put skill and intelligence to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary shall work in accordance with all that the Lord has commanded." And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whose mind the Lord had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work (Exodus 35:30-36:2).

This is the first text of Scripture that directly teaches the doctrine of vocation: Bezalel has been "called by name." Bezalel, also the first to be described as having been filled with the Holy Spirit, is given a task by God, who has called him not into some prophetic office, but to work with his hands, to serve God and his neighbors by being an artist.

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