Thanks to the Roving Medievalist for a link to an interesting article from Touchstone Magazine asking why Evangelicals don’t produce good literature. The author, who is an Evangelical, asks good questions and appreciates Flannery O’Connor’s insights on faith and art. He also laments the lack of good art or even a theological theory of art amongst Evangelicals.
I am sure there are Evangelical exceptions my theory, and I am open to being convinced otherwise, but I don’t know any great Evangelical artists, writers or composers do you? There are some historic Protestants to be sure, but where are the contemporary artists from the Evangelical world?
I have written elsewhere about this. G.K.Chesterton said “All arguments are theological arguments’. It is the same here. I believe Evangelicals find it difficult to produce great art because they do not have a sacramental theology, and without a sacramental theology they cannot have a sacramental worldview, and without a belief that grace is coming to us through the physical world, how can you possibly produce great art?
Without a sacramental view of the world (indeed with a theology that is downright anti-sacramental) you have to ask yourself what art is for. If grace cannot be communicated through the physical world (and by extension through art) then art can only be didactic or illustrative. Thus the Evangelical will typically only be able to produce illustrations, allegory or heavily didactic work.
My brother in law’s mother is a case in point. Ma Craft was a brilliant artist. Stirred by a wonderful vision, she produced hundreds of great charcoal drawings, paintings and prints. However, being a good fundamentalist lady she found it difficult to leave the art to speak for itself. Many of the pictures were given Scripture verse captions. There is nothing wrong with this necessarily, except that the pictures were actually good enough to stand on their own, and they communicate the beauty and truth of great art without words. Her captions turned the pictures into illustrations of Bible verses. Again, I’m not knocking it. They are fine paintings. She was a fine lady, and the Bible verses are great nuggets of truth.
It’s just that this isn’t really the highest use of art, and I argue that it was her Evangelical theology (and other folk like her) that inhibits the development of great Evangelical art.