I often wonder if certain disgruntled residents of the Caves of Lascaux were overheard saying, " A horse? Really? That's not art. Do something better!" Fast forward to Duchamp's toilet and further still to Julian Schnabel's broken plates, and you'll quickly realize that here are probably as many art critics in the world as art pieces... and probably always have been. So why do I bother to ask the question, "What is art?" Well, aside from the fact that I live in a family of debaters, and it's just fun; I spend much of my time making art, or what I perceive to be art. As a Christian, I want to be a good steward of my time and resources. I also want to serve God in what I do. So for me, it's nice to have a check.
Does this mean I should only paint lovely flowers and sunsets? Does this mean that if my art doesn't mirror Philippians 4:8 (Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable...) it can't be used by God? I tend to think not.
While I certainly enjoy painting flowers and attempting to capture God's plein air sunsets, if these were all that graced the walls of our galleries and museums, it wouldn't be enough. Think about a great book or play. If the whole thing was daisy and unicorn happiness and there was no conflict, there could be no happily-ever-after point to reach. It would be flat, and it most probably would not ring true. So too in the visual arts. When we juxtapose lights and darks, good and evil, God can shine so much more. When our viewers come face to face with the very real dark side, there is more of a yearning for what is right and true. God can use it.
I heard once that there are two things to ensure making God honoring art: the first being that it should be exquisitely crafted- your very best; and the second that the image comes from God. I can really wrap myself around this. As I will be painting my 540th consecutive painting in as many days tonight, I know that they have not always been my best. So many times it is more about meeting my challenge, posting to Facebook and not breaking the streak. It's about me. When I allow myself the quiet time to connect with my creator God, my Abba Father, before I paint, I can always see the difference in the work. When I totally give it to Him, He takes it to new heights. Will he use it even if it isn't my best? Perhaps. He is God. But think how much more satisfying when it is His image and message you are delivering. He knows your audience. He is God.
So, I ask again, what is art? Join the conversation. I'd love to hear what you think.