“The Route to a Renaissance of the American Fine Arts Lies Through Religion.”

Those are not the words of a theologian or pastor, but of Camille Paglia. Who’s she? She is, according to Wikipedia, an “American social critic, author and teacher. She is a professor of humanities and media studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.”

She’s no fan of Christianity, by her own admission. But, boy does she have some helpful insights about the need for Christians to get their artistic act together!

In a rather lengthy, but extremely interesting article (which gives a helpful overview of art, iconoclasm, and church history from the Reformation to today’s modern art – I learned several things!), she writes,

“…would anyone seriously argue that the fine arts or even popular culture is enjoying a period of high originality and creativity? American genius currently resides in technology and design. The younger generation, with its mastery of video games and its facility for ever-evolving gadgetry like video cell phones and iPods, has massively shifted to the Web for information and entertainment.

I would argue that the route to a renaissance of the American fine arts lies through religion.”

Why does she think this?

“I view each world religion, including Judeo-Christianity and Islam, as a complex symbol system, a metaphysical lens through which we can see the vastness and sublimity of the universe.”

She decries the fact that knowledge of the Bible is “dangerously waning” not only in the West generally, but particularly among aspiring young artists and writers. She is actually a proponent of putting “the study of comparative religion at the center of the university curriculum.”

“Great art can be made out of love for religion as well as rebellion against it. But a totally secularized society with contempt for religion sinks into materialism and self-absorption and gradually goes slack, without leaving an artistic legacy.”

Talk about being more discerning than Christians! She makes so many good points, it’s embarrasing. Go ahead, read all of these, you can do it! There are gems in this list. [Comments in brackets]

  • “This is a practical, commercial nation where the arts have often been seen as wasteful, frivolous, or unmanly.”
  • “The Puritans’ [who I constantly read and adore theologically and devotionally as a Christian pastor] attitude toward art was conditioned by utilitarian principles of frugality and propriety: art had no inherent purpose except as entertainment, a distraction from duty and ethical action.” [this attitude is still with us, unhelpfully] Although, “The Puritans did appreciate beauty in nature, which was “read” like a book for signs of God’s providence”
  • “Though American drama and the visual arts may have languished in the wake of Puritanism, music was tremendously energized…This emphasis on congregational singing is one of Protestantism’s defining features.”
  • “Hymnody should be viewed as a genre of the fine arts and be added to the basic college curriculum.”
  • “There was a second great confluence of religion with the arts in nineteenth-century America. The Bible, in its poetic and indeed Shakespearean King James translation rather than in today’s flat, pedestrian versions, had a huge formative influence on the language, imagery, symbolism, and allegory of such major writers as James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Herman Melville.”
  • “Because of the divergence between religion and the prestige fine arts in the twentieth century, overtly religious art became weaker and weaker”
  • “If there were few open conflicts in America between religion and the fine arts through most of the twentieth century, it was simply because the two realms rarely overlapped.”
  • “Though work offensive to organized religion constituted only a fraction of the projects annually supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, conservative demands for the total abolition of that agency escalated.” [Ah, might this explain, at least partly why Christians are so antithetical to art?…because of the controversies of Serrano and Mapplethorpe? Have Christians thrown the baby out with the bathwater?]
  • “The stereotyping of artists as parasitic nihilists that was beginning to take hold in the popular mind in America.”
  • “Though controversy has subsided, the NEA disturbingly remains at the top of every list of government agencies that many citizens across the nation want abolished. “
  • “For the fine arts to revive, they must recover their spiritual center.”
  • “Art lovers, even when as citizens they stoutly defend democratic institutions against religious intrusion, should always speak with respect of religion.”
  • “Conservatives, on the other hand, need to expand their parched and narrow view of culture. Every vibrant civilization welcomes and nurtures the arts.”
  • “Progressives must start recognizing the spiritual poverty of contemporary secular humanism and reexamine the way that liberalism too often now automatically defines human aspiration and human happiness in reductively economic terms.”
  • “If conservatives are serious about educational standards, they must support the teaching of art history in primary school”
  • “Without compromise, we are heading for a soulless future. But when set against the vast historical panorama, religion and art—whether in marriage or divorce—can reinvigorate American culture.”

Thank you Camille Paglia. You have given Christians much to consider and act on.

ADDENDUM:

This is from Gene Edward Veith’s blog today:

The Art & Music Candidate. . .
. . .is Mike Huckabee, the Baptist minister who was governor of Arkansas and a favorite of Christian conservatives. A personal cause for him is encouraging art and music education.

“I call it a weapon of mass instruction. It’s a critical part of education,” Huckabee said during a visit to Northern Virginia last weekend. “This whole idea that music and art are great programs if you can afford them and have room for them — that’s utter nonsense. It’s the stupidest thing we’ve done to education in the last two generations.”

I love it when Christians defy the stereotypes. Christians SHOULD be cultivating the arts, as they have for centuries. It’s the non-Christians who are assaulting the very concept of beauty. Many Christians today are all for truth and goodness as absolutes, but when it comes to the other and related absolute, beauty, they are just as relativist as the postmodernists they decry.

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