catapult magazine

catapult magazine


a theology of art


Apr 07 2005
04:26 pm

[i’m putting this in “visual art” but there’s not really a clear spot in our categories for this discussion…]

i ran across “”“>the communion of the arts” the other day and wanted to get reactions to the “”">theology of art" that was posted.

here’s a grab from the beginning of it (click the link above for more):

I distilled all I had learned into a three point theology of art (sorry not a story). Here it goes:

1. Art is a glimpse of the ineffable beauty of God

2. Art is a glimpse of the true soul of humanity

3. The artist is a servant motivated by love for his audience, who through a difficult process of training and apprenticeship acquires the heart and skill to be able to produce either singular works of power or works of craft or multiple replicatable designs in order to give his audience number 1 and/or 2 above, and this is good.

One of my main goals is to understand why all art is suffering in our day. I believe that ?secular? artists are being debilitated by false views of art just as much as Christians are debilitated by false views of art.


Apr 22 2005
01:28 pm

Right. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t use language. I’m wondering if the language of science (which is based on an objective distancing god-substituting view) can get us there.

Ah, grasshopper, part of the problem here is that a reformational view of science and epistemology doesn’t include objective distancing and god-substituting. I don’t think Seerveld and Dooyeweerd hold this view and Polanyi certainly didn’t. He called objectivity the ‘evasion of commitment’ and said that all knowledge was personal, that is a communal commitment to shared values etc..

When I talk of teaching aesthetics, it was out of this spirit and not the cold objectivity of Modernism. Reformational thinkers and the likes of Polanyi have thawed the objective ice somewhat.

I can understand your yearning for a spiritual dimension to aesthetics, I too long for this, but I have to pinch myself all the time to remember that we are not disembodied spirits but we are creaturely, flesh and blood with a spiritual dimension. We can’t, even in our ‘scientific’ or epistemological pursuits “know all sides of a thing”, this is another Enlightenment fiction. We have to act with humility. We cannot offer a God’s eye-view, but a humble human view of what ever has captured our interest.

He said he was no theologian or academic person at all, but he wanted to give a sort of theology of music.

Why do we do this? Why the need to theologise? Sorry, this one always rattles my cage. Why didn’t he say, do you think, I’m offering a few thoughts on an aesthetic of music or a spiritual discernment of what lies behind it. Why do we as christians think that the correct way to think about things is through theology?

all for now, don’t get me wrong, but I’m going out again for a meal this time and this is the second one today!! You’ll think terrible things of me!

But I’d like to tackle Hegel another day!


Apr 23 2005
11:56 am

I don’t mean spiritual in a modernistic detached way either. I like art precisely because it speaks to our bodies, thus subverting the modernist idea that meaning and truth are only relegated to our intellect soul or spirit. And it is good to make the distinction between the way neo-Kuyperians (I don’t know Polanyi’s work) and modernism understands science. I tend to look at the origins of science as is evident in ancient Greek philosophy and then follow this method all the way to the present day. It seems like the actual methodology of science is still based on these false religious assumptions. And the way science is taught in schools is definitely still based in them.

The fact that art and science are treated so differently, as categories outside of eachother and that scientific principles are trusted much more than artistic ones shows that our society’s religious loyalty lies with science. Which is why I believe the realm of aesthetics might be the most promising means of reforming science. It can bring art and science together in a way that Seerveld and others call for. I think I’m just restating some of the things I was saying in the *cino topic on education, as Anton was saying. Perhaps one reason why many students feel like their learning is so irrelevant to “real life” is that they’ve been learning theories in a scientific methodology which excels at taking things out of their environment in order to study them. An artistic methodology is much more focused on how things work within their environment and could yield better results for learning because it is a different kind of discovery than science allows. I am interested in the ways some philosophers tried to expand science in this way—Freud’s “science of dreams”, Nietzsche’s “Gay Science” and, though I don’t know his work very well, I understand Kuhn tries to do similar things. Of course, none of these thinkers are signposts to the Kingdom of God but we can learn from their attempts.


Apr 25 2005
10:51 am

What I’m trying to respond to, I think, is Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, which says that if you’re looking at something with Reason, that which is rational will reveal itself to you. I take that to be true and indeed very biblically oriented. When we look at the world through the eyes of Christ, however, through the Word of God, guided by the Holy Spirit, His Kingdom will be revealed to us. We will see things that we could not see through the spirit of rationalism. So, as Christians who think in the Spirit of Christ and not in the spirit of rationalism, we will find His Spirit and will be able to feel the emptiness of the other spirits in the world. That’s what a Christian aesthetics ought to do.

Hi Grant,

I said I?d get back to you about Hegel?s Phenomenology of Spirit, so here goes.

I see the philosophical synthesis here as a problem that inhibits the development of a thoroughly scriptural view of these things. The other thing of note in this first quote is what I perceive as, in Dooyeweerdian terms, as a reduction of the aesthetic aspect to the sensitive (psychic) aspect. The aesthetic aspect isn?t just about ?feeling? and the aesthetic itself isn?t ?qualified? by this aspect, but by what we Seerveld has called ?allusivity?. You can draw an analogy from the aesthetic to any other aspect, but the aspect itself cannot be reduced to them, be it economics, morality, the kinematic or pistic. We can talk of the aesthetic quality of social intercourse as harmonious, of the motion (kinematic) of society, we can describe the motion and space in a painting, but if we say that art is qualified by motion (like Maholy Nagy) or space, then we have a problem, I think. We understand more about an aspect, the more we can analogise it through other aspects. It adds nuance to the aesthetic, rather than closing it down (imprisoning it) by saying that what qualifies a work of art as a work of art is its morality, for example.

If your ?bunch of people in a room together? wish to talk about art, they need a language, otherwise there can?t be a discourse, there can be no descriptive analysis or critique. (And that won’t be first time in the life of the artifact, that linguistics has been utilised). There needs to be a meaningful, shared language, otherwise who knows what other people are talking about? We tend to shorthand this kind of analytical thinking by utilising a ?technical?, descriptive language which is peculiar to analysing art, we talk of facture, atmospheric or geometric perspective, a painterly technique, etc. Art may not be expressed in linguistic terms, but it is not beyond the grasp of the logical aspect, the lingual aspect nor indeed the social. But you cannot reduce art, the aesthetic realm to phenomenology. ‘Artists’ can also think beyond the mere phenomenological existence of a thing; thought processes need words, which are then transformed into paint and stone, metal and music.

A Christian science of art must be careful not to try to bring art under the lordship of science, but under the lordship of Christ, which allows art to be spoken about in a way that’s true, ie. consistent with the norms God has set for it (Dooeyweerd et al.), not science. My question, I guess, is how can we speak about art in an academic context using scientific methodology without imprisoning it in scientific language (language that is used to “know” all sides of a thing, that is a desire to gain human control of our environment, that reveals what is most universal and abstract, that tries to grasp its objects)? Such language is not the language of art (language that opens up possibilities of meaning beyond our control, that expresses human inability to know all sides of a thing, that seeks to express the “subjective” uniqueness of human experience, that resists being grasped)

I think there is a big difference between critiquing and discerning the ?spirit? (or iimplicit worldview?) in a work and bringing it under ?the lordship of science?. Dooyeweerd and the Neo-Cals talk of the aspects as theoretical, i.e. they are things which we isolate from its pre-theoretical or na?ve state, to understand more than the na?ve state gives you in its coherence. Dooyeweerd was of course against the ?science rules all? philosophy, he was talking about looking/analysing at the aesthetic quality of something, which is quite different from analysing something for its faith direction, be it a tribute to immanence or transcendence.

Science as a Sphere of course resists the Lordship of Christ, but it too will be brought under His Rule. That doesn?t mean it will be eradicated though, rendered redundant. However, you can?t say that because we seek to have a critical discourse about a painting, piece of music, or sculpture, we are imposing the ?rule of science? on art/aesthetics.

Now, I don?t know if I?ve got you right here, but are you suggesting that Hegel has elucidated a scriptural principle in his Phenomenology of Spirit/Mind? If so ?cino, we have a problem!?