I will rebuild your foundations with precious stones… your towers with rubies, your gates with stones that glow like fire, and the wall around you with jewels. (Isaiah 54:11,12)
I recall when we moved into a new apartment some years ago. Spacious rooms, fine floor. We had the walls scrubbed till they shone. My sparsely furnished bedroom took on an airy beautiful look with the lights on at night. Such great thrills from just walking in and looking around! Yet the floor wasn’t laid with gold, nor the walls with jewels. The ceiling had no covering of stones that glow like fire – just plain white Asbestos boards. And it all looked so very beautiful! It left me wondering how I shall feel walking around the streets of Heaven. What is it in humans being that makes us appreciate beauty so? What makes us purr with admiration and passion at a glimpse of anything that bears loveliness, elegance or splendor? What makes even little children show preference for beautiful toys and playgrounds? What ever it is, I believe it must be beyond man. Perhaps we need to look to the hands of the creator to find the answers. In the first place our world is dressed up in beauty. Obviously, the great scientist who engineered the universe is also a master artist. And He did not simply set down an ordered functional universe, but he also chose to tap into his artistic genius, splashing beauty all over his creation. He even scattered shining jewels and precious glowing stones in the bowels of the earth. Fortunately, he put in man also the ability to appreciate beauty when he encounters it, to look around ‘at all He had made and see that they are beautiful.’ (Gen. 1:31)
And beauty, or rather human appreciation of it, is perhaps the only reason why we have artists.. Where would be all our poets and writers and musicians and singers and fashion designers and decorators and painters if no one cared about beauty, if no one cared about how anything looked or sounded or felt? What would our lives be like then? So we can say that beauty begot art, and that the power of beauty lends art the potency by which it sways and ‘enslaves’ human hearts.
And the truth is that we are more devoted slaves than we realize. Or than we usually chose to admit. The arts exert a strong hold upon our minds, influencing our lives in such unobtrusive ways that this takes some reflecting to realize. By ‘the arts’ of course I mean that vast field of creative activity every one knows so well (literature, fine art, music and dance, theatre and films), especially those works that serve for mere entertainment. How much of our thinking, attitudes and belief is actually due to the influence of the music we listen to, the books and magazines we read, the plays and films we watch? In other words, how ‘enslaved’ are we to the arts and to beauty?
God gave us beauty, and the ability to appreciate it, and thanks are due Him. For art that results from this gift, that shows in a sense that we were made in His image, thanks also are due Him. But there is a sense in which we must view art as we view food. God gave us food — created us to depend on regular intake of matter for survival; granted us not just the quality of feeling hungry but also of enjoying eating. You should thank God for your taste buds. What an ordeal eating would be if there ever was no basis for such a word as delicious and the only thing appetizing about any dish was the hunger in your tummy! Thank God for the great gift of food and for the pleasures of eating. And because food is so very important to us, there are things we do with or about food. For instance, we watch what we eat. Bad food could kill you. Feeding consistently on some particular good foods could make you so fat (or thin!) that living becomes a misery. Yes, we watch what we eat. It makes much sense to ensure not just that our food is colorful and delicious but also that it contains the basic nutrients required for healthy growth and living. Like food, art satisfies our hunger, a different kind of God-given hunger that must be gratified for our souls and minds to thrive and for our humanity to be truly nurtured. As it is for food also, our consumption of art needs to be regulated. Our enslavement must be checked and controlled. Good must be done us, not ill.
And here, as I’m very much aware, we begin to step into deep waters. What is healthy art and what isn’t? Who decides what? What criteria should we use to define and to judge works of art? You probably have many more questions. Or answers. Feel free to share!
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