When I was in college, I took an art appreciation course.
I cannot recall the name of the art professor. But one thing I can recall is that I did not have any more appreciation for art when I turned in the final exam than I did when I picked up the syllabus. It was a semester hypnotically flipping through the textbook’s page after page of sculptures and paintings that intrigued me not. With my B+, I still could not tell the difference between Byzantine and Baroque, Renaissance and Romantic. The paragraphs on the pages of that thick textbook were like sedatives no amount of caffeine could overcome.
I spent 14 weeks wondering if art was so important to Christians, why did we not have art in the church where I grew up. Come to think of it, we did have a copy of a Jesus painting hanging crookedly in the lobby looking like he was as bored as I was in that art class. It seems like maybe one of my pastors said something about having no images that would take our minds off Christ. Maybe that thought was in my mind during art appreciation.
ART IS ESSENTIAL FOR CONVEYING TIMELESS TRUTH
How ironic it is that last month, Paula and I were in Europe with 20 or so friends of Biola touring sites of sacred art. We visited churches and cathedrals, museums and palaces and public squares. One of the women on our trip told the story of how her background—like mine—saw art as an unnecessary luxury. She grew up in churches where spending money on missions and evangelism was obviously more important than spending money on art. It was a matter of stewardship, she remembered.
But over the course of years she changed her mind. I have too, though it doesn’t mean investing in church planting or Bible translation is unnecessary. It is essential. But so is conveying timeless messages through art. Art informs culture. It reflects ideas and what people are thinking. It captures what is important and conveys it through the creative. If Christians are to be people of ideas, creativity, cultural influence and conveying what we are thinking about, we had better be serious about art.
When I stood in Italy a few weeks ago inside a small church, a house of worship called the Scrovegni Chapel, I was awed by Giotto’s frescoes covering the walls and the ceilings. Each of 40 or so masterpieces told the story of Scripture in ways the 14th century culture could understand. Many read these frescos because they could not read words. The longer I looked at these paintings, the more I saw. They spoke to my soul, centuries after the paint dried and the artists’ bills were paid.
CALVARY CHAPEL WILL REMIND STUDENTS THE VALUE OF ART
This is my hope not just for you, students, but for future generations of students who come into Biola’s Calvary Chapel. As they worship, may they be reminded of the biblical truths captured in each of the 32 windows, and may they be reminded of the glory of Christ by lifting their eyes to see the empty cross above the entrance before walking in toward the wall-sized relief declaring that he is risen, he is risen indeed.
My appreciation of art has come a long way since that course my junior year of college.
The problem was not the course. It may not even have been the professor. The problem was that I had convinced myself that art did not matter, at least to me. Because I did not grasp art, art could not grasp me. I would even argue that every college student should take such a course. It has taken me years to understand, but art history and art expression must matter to Christians as much today when Maja Lisa Engelhardt and Peter Brandes revitalized Calvary Chapel as it did when Giotto painted the Scrovegni Chapel 700 years ago.