I ended my last article with the question: Can we as Christians create without reasserting the artistically kitsch? What, should the purpose of art be for Christians? To reflect something of value? – To reflect virtues rather than the virtuous according to what is in vogue.
Does this mean that Christian artists are confined to works on the things directly about God? And does that mean that Christian artists should create only devotional pieces as was the case in the Middle Ages, as worship to God? I don’t believe so. We are called to be in the world, to be part of culture, but also to be a Christian witness to it. We are a witness in our worship, which is, a lifestyle of adoration to God.
I personally think a lot of religious art is kitsch – artistically kitsch. For it tells the same stories, with the same models of composition, the same expressions on the characters featured, and wearing the same costumes. It hardly makes contemporary Christians interested in our heritage of western religious art does it? A modern church, for example, isn’t often adorned with religious images (maybe that’s just the impact of the Reformation). Despite my faith and the ideals it depicts defining my life, religious art has always been a subject of indifference for me.
Here’s the point: If personal relationship with God is what our faith really is, then surely art created in response to that ought to be as varied as the image of the artist him/herself according to God’s diversity of creation. In this way, art created by Christians, or on the theme of being Christian, has no need to be conceptually kitsch at all.
Here’s a few good examples – the transcending, omnipresent light inside the glistening Saint Chapelle, Paris, is a glorious temple to God’s creation, and Jesus’ character – the light of the world.
Friedrich’s ‘A Winter Landscape’ (below) speaks less of the awe and more of the intimacy. A faithful boy has ditched his crutches, and sits before a wooden cross that has been erected in front of three fur trees. His worship to God is in the everyday: in the bitter cold and in the pains of his physical body, he chooses to bow before God in nature. By implication this is worship of God’s creation – the allusion of the fur trees’ structure to the Gothic cathedral just seen through the mist, reminds us of God being as much in the landscape as he is dwelling in the church.
So, we are reminded that we are to be in the world (but not of it). So if our spirituality can influence our physicality, a social and human construct such as culture, can be infiltrated by unkitsch, eye-catching design that speaks of the eternal – the spiritual. What could be a better song of praise to God, but using creation to worship the creator God?