What is "Art"?

Michael Metzger

Do you remember the flap in 1989 when Andres Serrano unveiled his highly offensive Piss Christ?  The problem was that those in the arts community weren’t offended!  “Art is expression.”  “He has a right to paint what he wants to.”  Christians were rightly offended; but pretty much mute as to why Serrano’s art could not be considered as art.  What would you say?

A few months back, in cosmopolitan Shanghai, a large Art Exhibit (that draws thousands from around the world) included one piece that was nothing more than a blank canvas.  But it elicited the usual oohs and ahs from the nearly twenty art critics in Shanghai.  But not from one young artist.  I’ll leave her name out of this letter, but she is a believer who, because of her work with TCI, now thinks of the gospel as a four-chapter story, the chapters being Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.  Asked by an art critic what she thought of this piece, our friend responded that she didn’t think the blank canvas represented what art ought to be.  A recent email fills in “the rest of the story:”

The critic was astounded by [name withheld] thoughtful response and — essentially — agreed.  He went on to ask if he might learn more about this view of art; and has since become a believer.

“Going public” with faith.
I was never particularly clear what my dad did at work.  So I can understand when people tell me they are never clear as to what The Clapham Institute does.  Think of it this way: we help people (like this woman in Shanghai) “go public” with their faith.  She has now been asked to head up a group committed to bringing meaning back into art.

For most of us, evangelism is something done by the few — the gifted or the “called” — in a certain stylized way. In fact, evangelism is something we all do when we “live out” our faith.  Unfortunately, survey after survey indicates believers rarely envision how to share their faith in natural settings all around them — such as in business, education, medicine, or, at an art exhibit.  This division between the public life (business, education, medicine, the arts, media, and government) and the private life (faith) means that Christianity is confined to a self-imposed “cultural captivity” (in the words of Nancy Pearcey in her new book, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity From It’s Cultural Captivity).  Religion is increasingly like second-hand smoke — its fine to smoke in private, but not in public.  This is why Theodore Roszak described Christian faith in America as “privately engaging but publicly irrelevant.”  But The Clapham Institute counters this trend.  We help people and organizations “go public.”

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