John Keats wrote that “truth is beauty, beauty truth” and was apparently inspired by a Grecian urn. I have to confess that I have yet to find myself so inspired, so awestruck, by pottery as he seems to have been. That’s probably because I’m not an artist. Unfortunately, that also means that I have not always taken art all that seriously.
I enjoy a good book, movie, or song as much as the next person. But I’ve never really taken the beauty of art seriously and I’ve never really needed to do so. I’m the product of a consumer society where art is for consumption and so is beauty. As a Christian the pursuit of beauty has never seemed remotely central to my relationship with God. Art and beauty are sort of casual extras in life that are nice but not really all that necessary.
Now, maybe, you’re reading this and you’re an artist. Your whole heart may be crying out how wrong I am and how central art and beauty are to being fully human. And maybe as a Christian who is also an artist you can’t imagine being faithful without your art.
I suspect you are correct. I think you’re correct though, not because the artistic endeavor is somehow more creative than other endeavors. There is incredible creativity in the ingenuity of engineers, philosophers, and countless others who wouldn’t identify as artists. So it’s not so much the creativity of artists but the goal of the creativity.
I still remember the first time I saw a painting by Leonardo da Vinci in person. I was able to get close to his painting of John the Baptist, because everyone else was staring at the Mona Lisa. I’m sure the technique was incredible. I’m sure the creativity of the painter was stunning. What I remember, what I can still feel, is the beauty. The perfect, heart breaking beauty.
Recalling that moment still opens my heart. And my opened heart is suddenly a little closer to the deep, vulnerable place of love that Christ exemplifies on the cross.
Beauty points to truth. Truth points to beauty.
And suddenly I can see how art is necessary for faith and life. Suddenly the art in our churches is about so much more than clever design. Suddenly, it seems like making something beautiful is a very Christian thing to do.