Since Christ is Lord of all, the Christian faith has something substantial to speak into every aspect of reality, life and culture. The world and life view revealed in Scripture provides a foundation for the possibility of flourishing in daily life and the advance of careful scholarship. Square Halo Books, with its emphasis on faith and the arts, has published two books in which the scholarship to which I refer is on thoughtful display.
Objects of Grace is by James Romaine, who teaches art history at Nyack College and is the cofounder of the Association of Scholars of Christianity in the History of Art. The book consists of thoughtful and probing conversations Romaine hosts with ten artists. Discussing their art and influences, art philosophy, the process of craftsmanship, and the pursuit of their vocations, Romaine allows us to listen in as contemporary Christian artists talk about not just what they make but what’s behind it.
Objects of Grace is lovingly produced, with numerous color reproductions of the artwork under discussion. The styles represented vary widely, including artists Dan Callis, Sandra Bowden, Edward Knippers, Erica Downer, and Makoto Fujimura. Romaine assumes the reader is conversant with art history, contemporary art, and aesthetics so some of us will need to do some research and thinking as we read—but the effort is worth it.
Romaine: [David] Goa [who spoke at a meeting of Christians in the Visual Arts] noted that Creation is neither a battleground nor something to overcome. But we too often miss the point of art, and life, is to dwell in the presence of God.
Sandra Bowden: Art serves as a point of departure, a kind of visual pilgrimage. Both formal and narrative elements can offer a place of meditation, a focus for contemplation where we are invited to dwell in God’s presence. If the artist is successful, and the viewer is willing, the work can be a place where the finite meets infinite, and where the intimate and ineffable intersect. [p. 27]
In C. S. Lewis and the Arts, edited by Hendrix College art historian Rod Miller, ten scholars write essays, the sort we would expect to find in academic journals, probing aspects of Lewis’ work and thinking on the arts. Miller’s contribution, “Mirrors, Shadows and the Muses:C. S. Lewis and the Value of Arts and Letters” includes this thoughtful insight:
Lewis wrestled with the value of arts and letters, and how to judge them, for at least two excellent reasons. The first, commented upon in many places by Lewis, is the pretension that often results when culture is elevated above its proper place. This situation typically arises, however, because of the second reason: the aestheticization of culture. When culture, and its concomitant products, are aestheticized, reduced to mere subjective emotional reactions and responses, several things occur. The first is that criteria for evaluating, for judging, any cultural product are also aestheticized. If the aesthetic is the goal, the only measure of value, of quality, is aesthetic stimulation…
What, then, is the alternative? How might one avoid the problems related to the aestheticization of culture, of arts and letters, and the resultant meaninglessness and violence? It is to consider beauty in the very old sense as being deeply informed, indeed a manifestation of, the Ideal, Truth. That is to say, far from being merely a reflection of our lowly physical, sensual responses, Beauty is a glimpse of the eternal as made manifest; it is, in short, the splendour of wisdom. [p. 72-73, 74]
Miller’s discussion and insights are far more expansive than this brief excerpt suggests, but no less rich. As are the rest of the essays in C. S. Lewis and the Arts.
SourceObjects of Grace: Conversations on Creativity and Faith by James Romaine (Baltimore, MD: Square Halo Books; 2002) 173 pages.
C. S. Lewis and the Arts: Creativity in the Shadowlands edited by Rod Miller (Baltimore, MD: Square Halo Books; 2013) 167 pages.