Is there any legitimate place for the arts within the biblical worldview, or is it simply a frivolous and "worldly" pursuit? How can we tell good and godly art from bad art? Our daughter is an art student at the university, and we're worried that she's just wasting her time and energy. More importantly, we have deep concerns about the moral aspects of what she's doing – her Life Drawing class regularly requires her to sketch the nude human figure from a live model! How do you feel about that?
This is a broad-ranging and complex subject. We could spend a lot of time talking about its academic aspects. But before doing that, we want to take a moment to address the personal side of your question. You and your daughter sit down and talk about your concerns openly and honestly. Does she know how you feel about the course of study she's chosen to pursue? Has she told you why she wants to be involved in the arts? What does she hope to do with her training once she graduates? These issues should be laid on the table and examined in the context of a calm, intelligent adult conversation. As a college student, your daughter is old enough to decide what she wants to do with her life. At the same time, if you're footing the tuition bill, there's a crucial sense in which you have a right to voice your opinion and engage her in a responsible discussion of her educational choices.
That said, we should hasten to point out that art occupies an important and thoroughly legitimate place in the Christian worldview. In the beginning God created. This in itself is the validation of and authorization for all human creativity. People are creators with a small "c." Author J.R.R. Tolkien called them "sub-creators." That's because God, in whose image men and women are made, is the Creator par excellence. This explains why art of all kinds – drawing, painting, photography, writing, music, song, poetry, and dance – can be viewed as a vital component of vibrant Christian praise and worship.
How can you tell the difference between "good" art and "bad" art? Discernment of this kind can be an art form in itself. Part of the answer lies in the relationship between philosophy, theology, worldview, and artistic expression. This is a topic that could easily fill many volumes. The late Dr. Francis Schaeffer wrote a number of books that touched upon these themes. Dr. Del Tackett deals with it in depth in Tour #11 of Focus on the Family's The Truth Project® ("Labor: Created to Create").
If we had to summarize this vast topic in a phrase or two, we would probably say that Christians need to be on the lookout for the difference between order and chaos in the creative arts. Generally speaking, order reflects a God-centered worldview. Chaos, on the other hand, is characteristic of atheistic thinking.
By way of example, consider the artwork of the 17th-century Dutch painter Jan Vermeer. It's not necessarily the realism of Vermeer's work that makes it "better" or more "Christian" than the abstract splatterings of 20th-century expressionist Jackson Pollock. It's the careful, intentional, and orderly way in which the painter has integrated the parts of each picture into an orderly whole. In other words, there's an element of design and intentionality in Vermeer's paintings. This is what makes his creativity a true reflection of the creativity of God. In this sense, his work presents a stark contrast to that of Pollock, whose "paintings" were produced purely by random chance. The same sort of contrast emerges when we compare the music of Mozart with the "compositions" of John Cage. The important point is that these artists and composers were working out of markedly different philosophical assumptions. As a result, their works embody different ideas about the existence of God and the nature of reality.
Where nude art is concerned, we take the view that this is an individual matter. Christians need to set their own personal standards of propriety in response to the dictates of conscience and their understanding of the Word of God. At the same time, we'd suggest that common sense is sufficient to tell the difference between nude artwork and mere pornography. Genuine art seeks to enhance our appreciation of the beauty, goodness, and truth of God's creation. Pornography is calculated only to titillate and incite lust. In certain cases there may be a fine line between the two. Sometimes it all comes down to a question of individual taste and sensibility. For this reason, we'd suggest that some people might be better off avoiding nude art, especially if they feel it stimulates impure thoughts. Your daughter may want to bear these thoughts and principles in mind as she thinks about her future as a Christian artist.
If you need additional help understanding these concepts, call us. Focus on the Family has a staff of counselors who would love to speak with you over the phone.
Christian Research Institute