Art History & Appreciation

There are works of art so inherently beautiful or stunning that anyone looking at them ends up choking back tears, or standing transfixed, or simply unable to breathe for several seconds. What you won't often hear is that those are the exceptions, that most paintings, buildings and sculptures require anterior knowledge to be fully appreciated.

Once you know what to look for, the once-abstruse and confusing world of chiaroscuro, Pre-Raphaelite, and oxidation fire becomes navigable and even a welcome place from the ho-hum mundanities of the everyday world. Though, of course, we'd be the last to encourage art appreciation for mere escapism—if a work can't reveal some element of human nature or help us understand things a little better, it isn't worth much.

This is one reason a lot of modern art can't really be considered art at all. It isn't intended to reveal anything, but simply to be "living commentary," a mere reflection, not of reality, but of the artist's inner conflict or angst. Sometimes it's not even that deep, and simply reflects the belief that there is no meaning in the world, that everything is empty, that nihilism is the only truth.

We reject those claims entirely. Everything is meaningful because Christ has made it so. Taken too far that idea is sometimes used to defend all kinds of non-art and just plain bad art, but all it really means is that everything is either consistent with or in rebellion against God's truth, and that artistic endeavours reveal which side the artist is on.

For Christians, understanding art from this perspective should be the primary motive in studying anything from the Sistine Chapel to Rembrandt's portraits to the illustrations of N.C. Wyeth. Art has the potential to entertain and delight, but it also affects the attitudes and thoughts of those who come in contact with it. Understanding a work's context and significance will immensely help us determine whether it's beneficial or pernicious.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.

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