Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Role of Art in Worship

Here is my final essay from Lee's class.. it's a little long and more of a rant than a paper.. but i hope you will enjoy!

Luther once hailed that the ear was the divine receptacle. He stated, “The ear, not the eye, is the organ God has chosen for the reception of revelation.” We must remember that Luther loved words and spent his life making a vast library of hymns, commentaries and translating the Bible. But what Luther failed to realize is that art is already in the worship. Fashion, architecture, even the printed word and the book that binds it are works of art. It is to what extent that the pastor allows and utilizes art that is the debate here. With this in mind I would reject Luther’s bold statement in favor of all five (or possibly six or more) senses.

Visual, written and verbal communication have always existed side by side (Witvliet vii). When used correctly, all three work in harmony to deliver a powerful message. Taking a look at the Bible, many of the most popular stories powerfully use all three methods. As Luther pointed out, “God… sets before us no word or commandment without including with it something material and outward, and proffering it to us. To Abraham he gave the word including with it his son Isaac. To Saul he gave the word including with it the slaying of the Amalekites. To Noah he gave the word including with it the rainbow. And so on” (Stone 10). Luther also communicated something to the Catholic Church when he nailed a copy of the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg. That was a dramatic act ment to attract public attention showing that even Luther used the arts. If Luther mailed his 95 Theses we may have never heard of him! It was his performance art that touched off the Protestant Reformation.

Art is everywhere and in everything. People have figured out how to make art out of every conceivable substance known to man. Art cannot be stopped and will continue to move and evolve. Protestants seem hesitant to use art. There seems to be a question of what is appropriate? Or how do we harness the visual arts and use them to communicate effectively?

All these questions must be considered before choosing art to be used in worship. If the art selector makes a poor choice, the congregation may be turned off. Maybe this is the true reason why people are hesitant to use art. Choosing just the right art piece is hard work and has no definite and concrete outcome. This ambiguity is what Luther had a problem with. One can control his or her words to get a measured message and outcome. But the combined impact of hearing and seeing is much higher than just hearing.

Based on the paper “Learning and Teaching Styles” written by Richard M. Felder and Linda K. Silverman in the Journal of Engineering Education, a study carried out by the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company found “that students retain 10 percent of what they read, 26 percent of what they hear, 30 percent of what they see, 50 percent of what they see and hear, 70 percent of what they say, and 90 percent of what they say as they do something” (para. 7). So the impact is much higher when the purpose of both auditory and visual media match up. For this reason alone, art is needed in the worship.

In my perfect imaginary world in which I reside, there is no such thing as secular. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated, “The church, like Christ, has to become world. It is a denial of the real humanity of Jesus and also heretical to take the concrete church as only a phantom or an illusion. It is entirely world” (Floyd 12). Secular is a constructed idea we must break down and stop using. I do not understand the idea of Christian music, movies, etc. I can find a Christian message in the movies Pulp Fiction or Fight Club. I do not see the difference between musicians like the Newsboys who praise God and Marilyn Manson who questions God. Do not we need both? One can be just as appropriate as the other, depending on what you are trying to communicate. The "secular" movie and music makers do not hide their struggles with faith. They do not try to separate their faith and their life. It seems as though many Christians just visit their faith on Sunday and leave it in the hands of their pastor, and then they get on the road and act like a jerk for the rest of the week. I don't understand this separation. People of faith are never separated from it, albiet they sometimes let their emotions get the better of them.

With an open stance, I would expect art to pour into worship. If people took down the separation of church and secular, art would be much more welcome in worship. Bono, frontman for the band U2, said, “The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away from God. Both recognize the pivot, that God is at the center of the jaunt” (http://www.artquotes.net/). Van Gogh to Van Morrison, it is all fair game, all aesthetics and all styles. I agree with Jensen when she talks about the transcendent ideal of beauty (8). True beauty most often does lead to truth (Jensen 10).

However, this vast spectrum may leave many overwhelmed. Just as Jensen points out, the world thinks that the “real artists” are as intimidating as they are impressive (11). What most people need to get over are their feelings of “this isn’t good enough” or “this is too simple.” Everyone has their own style, and by learning the elements and principles of design, people can start to piece together what they want to communicate. Learning these steps are very important in the early stages but once learned these elements can be broken or bent to create a certain effect.

A simple first step when trying to use art and/or music is to figure out what one is trying to communicate. We must take things situation by situation. One would not choose the same art for an Easter service as you would a Christmas service. Both are triumphant celebrations but of two difference natures. Christmas is the celebration of what is to happen, and Easter is the celebration of what has happened—two very different things. Communication is key in this example. This is the main problem of using art in worship—too many people are unclear of how to use art. Some would find art distracting, like Luther argues. I think the improper use of art would be distracting. People can be distracted by anything if the sermon is bad enough, however. I was fascinated many times growing up by the design of my shoelaces whenever my Catholic priest forgot he was talking to grade schoolers. With this in mind, I do not think that Luther’s argument against art holds any water. In today’s world, people seem to want definite answers but art is counter to that. Artworks that are spiritual are not concerned with answers (Stone 11).

Art and music are the first programs to get cut generally when schools face budget decisions. But the arts have an intrinsic value that ties in with other subjects children learn. Here is a brief list of the benefits of art education from the National Art Education Association:

The arts teach children to make good judgments about qualitative relationships.
· The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution.
· The arts celebrate multiple perspectives.
· The arts teach children complex forms of problem solving.
· The arts make vivid the fact that neither words in their literal form nor numbers exhaust what we can know.
· The arts teach students that small differences can have large effects.
· The arts teach students to think through and within a material.
· The arts help children learn to say what cannot be said (Eisner).

Art therapy is utilized for patients across the board with varying ailments, from mental health to physical rehabilitation. Studies have shown direct correlations between higher math scores and music education. In short, art is the great humanizing force of the world—a universal language that communicates without words, revealing basic truths about human beings throughout the ages. Art has benefit to all, both the artist and art viewer.

I believe in the Andy Warhol school of thought of “Art is anything you can get away with” (Stone 33). The same goes for “Christian Art.” The key to “Christian Art” is the purpose. When one puts an adjective in front of art, one is immediately ascribing a purpose to that art. For example, Modern Art ascribes to modernist lines of thought, and Impressionist Art focuses on use of color in a scene over use of literal depiction of a scene. The same follows with the term “Christian”—we are ascribing a purpose and function to the art.

Art is needed in Christianity now more than ever. Art is already used in worship, but needs to be brought to the forefront. Art’s intrinsic value benefits both the artist and the viewer. Once the purpose of the art and the idea that needs communicated are found, the presentation will be more powerful and etched into the minds of the audience. Art invites the audience to be engaged. An engaged congregation is more likely to return than an ignored audience.

Works Cited
Bono, http://www.artquotes.net/. February 8, 2008.

Eisner, E. (2002). The Arts and the Creation of Mind. pp. 70-92. http://www.naea-reston.org/tenlessons.html. February 8, 2008.

Floyd, Wayne W. The Wisdom and Witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Fortress Press, 2004.

Jensen, Robin M. The Substance of Things Seen, Art, Faith, and the Christian Community. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, Grand Rapids Michigan, 2004.

Madden, Christopher. “Discussion Paper: The ‘economic’ benefits of art.” 1998. http://www.creativenz.govt.nz/files/resources/madden.rtf. February 8, 2008.

Stone, Karen. Image and Spirit, Finding Meaning in Visual Art. Augsburg Books, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2003.

Wagner, Imal. The Storyteller: From Epic Tale to Business Advice. 50 Lessons, Inc. http://springboard.cwerty.com/press.asp?r=27. February 8, 2008.

Witvliet, John D. Series Preface to The Substance of Things Seen by Robin Jensen. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, Grand Rapids Michigan, 2004.


Sam (Opossum's Creed) said...

Great essay. Blogging is a cool way to use secular art theologically - I love finding the right image to go with a post. And though most of my posts are theological (to varying degrees), most of the images I use would be considered secular. Finding "religious" art is usually a cop-out for me. And it's the same thing with music. I have to choose hymns from the tradition for congregational singing (a tradition I take very, very seriously). But when making a point in my sermon, I seldom use religious lyrics as an illustration. Once again, when I do, I consider it a cop-out. True successes (as they exist in my own mind) are always making the connection between the everyday and the divine.

So I wish you success in making your point beyond your current audience, Luke. It's a point that needs to be made.

SocietyVs said...

Luke, just letting you know I read it and it I think it's very well done!

Luke said...

sam, thanks! i agree that the "secular" does a better job at times making points.. 1. because people know it and never thought about it (like most U2 songs) and 2. there is a true struggle to understand.

society, thanks for the comments! much apprieciated!

grandmafreckles said...

Luke -
My favorite quote was: Bono, frontman for the band U2, said, “The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away from God. Both recognize the pivot, that God is at the center of the jaunt” (http://www.artquotes.net/).
I thoroughly enjoyed reading your essay. Great job. It will be interesting to hear & see your sermons!