Just as Christ's incarnation provides the earthly basis for artistic pursuit, says Leland Ryken in the introduction to The Liberated Imagination, so too Christ's ascension is the basis for the transcendent element in art. Christians are people who live simultaneously in two worlds—the physical and the spiritual—and as such our response to art, as well as our own artistic endeavours, should be characterized by both realities.
A professor of English at Wheaton College for nearly a half century (and the literary stylist for the ESV Bible), Ryken is particularly suited to discuss both the nature and uses of art, and the proper Christian engagement of literature, painting, sculpture, etc. The Liberated Imagination begins with a fairly in-depth examination of artistic forms and content, the Biblical attitude toward art, creativity and beauty, and the imagination.
Chapter five begins to deal more directly with questions a lot of Christians tend to ask: Isn't art appreciation all just subjective and relative? Is a work of art really saying anything? How do we interpret art objectively? What is Christian art? Ryken's answers are well-measured and thorough, as he argues that art appreciation and interpretation are, in fact, objective (or can be), and that art indeed is saying something.
Most of the answers to these questions are presented clearly, but they aren't "easy." Engaging and making art requires discipline, effort, focus, and caution. The final chapter deals with this last aspect directly through its discussion of "Recent Trends in the Arts," in which Ryken talks about the modern isolation of the artist, the untruth of nihilism, and other pertinent concerns. The conclusion is basically a plea to Christians to engage the arts solemnly, carefully, and joyfully.
Perhaps the most "shocking" thing Ryken asserts anywhere in the book is his statement that Christians need art. He explains: the arts engage our intellect, describe the meaning humans have found in life, interpret the world around us from new or different perspectives, and help us understand our own feelings and attitudes better. But the arts also exist to refresh us, and The Liberated Imagination is an excellent guide for Christians who want to enjoy, to shape, and to be shaped by them.
Table of Contents:
- The Nature and Purpose of the Arts
- What the Bible Says about the Arts
- Creativity, Beauty, and Recreation
- The world of the Imagination
- Art and Truth
- Perspective and Interpretation in the Arts
- What Is Christian Art?
- Recent Trends in the Arts
Conclusion: Christian Readers, Viewers, and Listeners
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and 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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