Article: ARTEXPRESSION OR COMMUNICATION?
By Colin Harbinson
Are the arts for expression or communication? Those who want to communicate
truth through the arts are considered by some to be 'using' art to produce
a religious tract. They are accused of prostituting art in order to moralize.
On the other hand, the Christian who does not use his artistic gift in
the cause of the Gospel is often perceived as having little commitment
to Christ and certainly no heart for the "lost." Creative expression
that does not contain crucifixions, overt references to the Trinity or
portray the whole Gospel is often seen as being of little value, and at
worst, close to serious backsliding.
God communicates by way of revelation. Christianity is a revealed faith. The scriptural understanding of revelation is "an uncovering" or "a showing." The content of revelation includes the uncovering or showing of "truth." For the artist this should come as both an encouragement and a challenge. Art works best when it shows rather than tells. Art is at its best when it uncovers what familiarity has concealed, and opens us up to a fresh perspective on truth - the truth about any subject. This would strongly suggest that artistic expression, at its best, is compatible with God's way of revealing truth to man. Both show, and both seek to show truth.
Nathan the prophet had a formidable challenge before him when he went
to confront David. He was facing a king who had taken every precaution
to cover up his sin, and for all intents and purposes, save God's, had
succeeded. How could Nathan persuade this man who had shown so little
compassion, of the gravity of his sin in the sight of God? He told David
a story and asked him to judge it!
Simply put, Nathan told of two men. One rich, the other poor. The rich
man had plenty of sheep, but the poor man had only one little lamb. When
a traveler came to the home of the rich man, no animal was taken from
among his flocks, rather he went down to the poor mans house and took
his one lamb, killed it, and served it up for the stranger to eat.
David was enraged at this story and immediately pronounced judgment.
He said, "That man had no compassion, he ought to die!" You
can almost feel the electricity of the dramatic moment, when Nathan looked
King David in the face and declared "you are that man!" It was
a moment of profound revelation that caused the deep repentance of David
found in the fifty-first Psalm. Nathan's communication was effective.
By isolating four of the elements in this incident, we will find principles
that are important to our present discussion.
Firstly, the communicator was not isolated. Nathan lived in the middle
of the action. He knew what was going on. As artists we must not retreat
to a cozy safe Christian subculture, and expect to create works that relate
to the culture at large. Jesus told stories in response to what people
were doing and saying. His parables were never in a vacuum. We are called
to walk in the middle of our culture, asking God for grace and cleansing.
Secondly, the communication was relevant. It was not a coincidence that
Nathan used a lamb in his story. David, the shepherd boy turned king,
found a deep resonating note within himself and became instantly involved.
Nathan, using the power of story, drew deep emotional responses from David.
Our art must explore universal truths that are commonly shared, in the
language of our cultural experience and expression.
Thirdly, the communication was not preachy. The story Nathan told uncovered
truth that David had concealed. David had no idea the story was about
himself. His barriers were down, and the Holy Spirit was able to show
him his sinful heart in a moment of revelation. The story did not preach
or moralize, but gave David an opportunity to "look in" and
make an objective judgment.
Lastly, the communication was creative. Nathan did not tell the same
story ..."Once upon a time a king walked on the roof of his palace
and saw a beautiful ...!! Art is not a photocopy of reality. Art by definition
is indirectional and allusive. Picasso observed that "Art is a lie
that tells the truth." It is a lens through which reality can be
perceived, and revelation received.
In conclusion, art is at its best when it uncovers what familiarity has
concealed. It is making the familiar seem unfamiliar, so that it can be
revisited with fresh eyes. It allows for objective judgment, as artist
and audience meet. It is a shared experience. No room here for preaching
or moralizing, but rather a powerful place of potential revelation as
truth is uncovered and shown.