All “True” Art is Christian Art

“But even denying God, to serve music, or painting, or words is a religious activity, whether or not the conscious mind is willing to accept that fact. Basically there can be no categories such as ‘religious’ art and ‘secular’ art because all true art is incarnational, and therefore ‘religious.'”
                -Madeline L’Engle in Walking On Water

I am currently taking a course on Aesthetics.  For some reason, rather than jumping into Plato or Tolstoy, we have begun with a quasi-devotional style book about Madeline L’Engle’s thoughts on art and faith.  What I find interesting, and a bit frustrating, is that time and again when she makes reference to “true art” it is immediate followed by “(Christian art).”  The class itself is set up in seminar fashion, each night we read and each day we come together and discuss (for other reasons, I find this to be an infuriating use of class time).

A theme that has come up again and again, perhaps because of the words L’Engle uses, is that all art is Christian art.  By that, I believe, L’Engle, my fellow students and my professor are convinced that those who partake in the creative process are doing so to in some way emulate God.  Reference is made to atheists as Christians-in-denial.  I try in the course of discussion not to take this personally, but I cannot help but find this to be offensive.  It is representative of a strong sense of arrogance on the part of my Christian counterparts that I have heard again and again: “there is no such thing as an atheist, just someone who doesn’t want to admit God exists.”

There is much more to the human experience than can be summed up in an episode of the Veggie Tales.  This indication that every painting and piece of music is a plea from the artist to understand the transcendent father-figure of the universe demeans the value of creativity.  A painting is no longer just visually stunning, it is so because it is an emulation of God’s creative work.  A piece of music is no longer awe inspiring in itself, it is so because it is a desperate cry from the musician to understand God.  A movie no longer tells a narrative of human experience, it does so in light of the narrative of Scripture.

Bah humbug.  Maybe it is just me, but I have a hard time these days seeing any kind of beauty in the meta-narrative of Christianity or Islam or Hinduism.  And to reduce each and every piece of human experience to a representation of those meta-narratives reduces the excitement and power of the human experience.  A love story becomes a metaphor for God’s love of his people.  A movie about altruism becomes a story about how Jesus sacrificed himself.  No! These are things that are independently beautiful.  These are stories that display the progress of mankind. 

We left the cave and formed nomadic tribes.  We settled together in city-states.  We joined together to form nation-states.  Now we are transcending the nation-state on a path toward multinational organizations.  We live and love, we lie and steal, we forgive and are forgiven, we join together in community and we achieve great things.  These stories of humankind are beautiful to think about, and to reduce them to the vantage point of them being nothing more than silhouettes of a God-figure strips them of their meaning.

All art is not Christian art.  All art is humanistic art.  Is an action of celebrating, mourning, describing, influencing and remembering the human experience.  It is an expression of the desire to understand the cosmos in which we reside.  At times, yes, this is communicated through an articulation of what we have perceived to be the divine.  But this focus on divinity is but a piece of the puzzle that has been humanity, it is not the all-encompassing reality of humanity. 

What is so disappointing is how profound my classmates find this concept.  “Yeah!” they will exclaim, and I sit silently as I watch the gears turn in their heads.  The underpinning conclusion of it all is that they have found the Truth and that everyone else desperately wants that truth but just doesn’t know it.  From the cultural non-Christian, to the Muslim to the most certain of atheists, everyone wants to participate in their religious experience. What a frustratingly arrogant perspective.

 *steps off soap box*

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4 Responses to “All “True” Art is Christian Art”

  1. Ryan McGivern Says:

    I agree: it is so frustrating when people commit thought expansionism.
    Robert Mapplethorpe would probably be quite pissd if L’Engle came along and started imposing her lens on his work. Art, so personal, to be grabbed and subsumed under some other’s framework is highly obnoxious and completely the opposite of what good criticism and art appreciation should be: entering the artist’s mind and world. To be elevated and transcend yourself. Annexing what is most central to another as an affirmation of your own worldview happens a lot. This occurs in religion all the time.
    “Oh! Buddha is so much like Jesus!” Well, I understand the spirit of this. Maybe its a sentiment of: “Let’s all get along!” But maybe its “Your god is okay so far as its like mine.” Anywho, I appreciate your blog. May those who seek to tame art a la L’Engle come to the same end as all who have tried to homogenize life: supplying history with objects of scorn and pity.
    Ryan McGivern
    http://www.mindflowers.net

  2. audaciousman Says:

    “All art is humanistic art. Is an action of celebrating, mourning, describing, influencing and remembering the human experience.”

    Amen, bro. I’ve come to define spirituality as an exploration of the human experience. Christianity is but one paradigm used for this exploration, and it is a failed one at this point.

    Art is so much more rich, and nature so much more awe-inspiring, than the tiny world of the believer can allow them to be.

    Perhaps you could switch schools?

  3. “Art, so personal, to be grabbed and subsumed under some other’s framework is highly obnoxious and completely the opposite of what good criticism and art appreciation should be”

    Amen.

    “Art is so much more rich, and nature so much more awe-inspiring, than the tiny world of the believer can allow them to be.”

    Amen and amen.

    “Perhaps you could switch schools?”

    I graduate in 3 months and 6 days. At this point, its much more worth it to just stick it out than to transfer and have to take another semester or two somewhere else.

  4. […] [Carried the Cross] In response to Madeline L’Engle’s claim that all true art is Christian art, the anonymous writer of the excellent blog CTC writes, “It is representative of a strong sense of arrogance on the part of my Christian counterparts that I have heard again and again: ‘there is no such thing as an atheist, just someone who doesn’t want to admit God exists.’” This blog looks worth watching. […]

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