State of the Arts

State of the Arts

From Bezalel to Mapplethorpe

by Gene Veith
Publisher: Crossway Books
Trade Paperback, 252 pages
Price: $24.99

Gene Veith points out in State of the Arts that both iconophiles (lovers of religious art) and iconoclasts (haters of religious art) have one up on many contemporary Christians—at least they took art seriously. Christians have become like secular people, uncritically consuming art with no thought for its underlying philosophies or possible effects on individuals and societies.

This situation, Veith asserts, is unacceptable. When video of a man sleeping, pornography, and blasphemous renderings of Christian symbols are not only received as art, but are funded by the federal government, such passivity must cease. State of the Arts is a crash-course on art history and the philosophy behind its major movements, and a call to Christian engagement.

His model is the Old Testament artist Bezalel, called and equipped by God to create the art of the Tabernacle. We should make art, and we should analyze the art of others, using Scripture as our standard. Now a classic, Veith's book is just as pertinent today as when it was published over twenty years ago, perhaps more so since the erosion of artistry and taste has had time to spreadits corrupting influence.

The first part describes the arts, helps us understand and analyze artwork, offers a brief history of art, and explains how the concepts of beauty and aesthetic virtue were gradually but thoroughly lost. Part two deals with the biblical foundations for art, art as vocation, the nature of beauty, the act of creation, and the susceptibility of humans to worship what they've made. The final part looks at recent Christian artists, and provides a basis for Christian art-making and use in the Church and everyday life.

This book is not for children or for those with weak stomachs. There are plenty of black and white images of famous works of art, but these are all tasteful; what's often difficult to handle are Veith's descriptions of what passes for art in our postmodern and post-Christian age. And yet, State of the Arts is a necessary book for Christians in general, whether or not they're artists: as art affects all of us, we must understand it and have a Christian response, simply to remain faithful.

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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Exodus Rating:
FLAWS: Descriptions of pornographic art
Summary: Veith shows what art is, offers a brief history of it, and equips readers with a Christian response to both good and bad art.

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