Theological Confusions: Art

I have a couple of issues.  Well, more than a couple.  Somewhere in that mystical confluence we call "person" where the brain and the heart meet, I am aware there are deep seated confusions I harbor about the Kingdom of God.  I get the easy things in life twisted.  So here they are, offered as discussion material.

What is a real Christian rationale for art?  I will sometimes teach about the value of art in its sheer excess - art is a sign of excess, an overflowing of beauty that testifies to a superabundance of goodness in God.  I can accept that -in part.  It is a very romantic notion.  But there is a part of me that is too much like Judas - I am always left wondering about the wasted resources (including time), wondering if there is something more healing or fruitful that could have been approached instead.  It seems awfully wasteful to create paintings or buy instruments when that money very well could be used to feed someone hungry, contribute to their education, buy them a Bible, etc.

Permit me to be honest for a moment.  I love cars and woodworking.  I love the beautiful things people make from common materials, some of it practical, some of it simply breathtaking.  But these things require tools and materials, and expensive tools and materials at that (even the reclaimed stuff).  Especially cars - I am transfixed by the stuff people can do with an English Wheel.  I would call my self a hot-rodder but I've never built anything.  Who can afford it?  How can anyone rationally justify a $50,000 car as banks foreclose on responsible people who have lost their jobs due to health problems...

So these are examples of how I experience the tension.  I hear similar things about other media; music, pottery, etc.  Again, I don't teach this to people - I feel equally guilty squashing people's enthusiasm.  When I preach, I preach about the significance of Art.  I encourage people to it, valuing the creativity and expression.  But personally it is difficult for me to justify and I use the same line of logic Judas does when the woman anoints Jesus.  I rationalize my own teaching by focusing on the therapeutic aspects.

At bottom, I suppose my question is "when is it ok to not be explicitly actively loving people with your time and stuff?"  or, what "counts" as a spiritual pursuit of art," or maybe "how do we justify the resources art requires?  Even, what is a Christological justification for art?  When is there too much invested in it?  This is a deep theo-motional* confusion for me.  What say you?

(eat your heart out, Pat Riley)


  1. Great post, Erin! Definitely a tension that I have never thought deeply upon because that would require reasoning. However, I would say that the tension can be applied to many things - not just art.

    For example, food. Buying organic and healthful foods often costs many more times the money that could be spent on say, Taco Bell. Or any leisure activity. Or just living life as an American and purchasing goods - that in itself contributes to many an injustice. But if we didn't consume these things, would the jobs be eliminated and therefore cause harm? Most of life is held in that tension between a good and a greater good - or even a good and a lesser good.

    Anyhow, I know this comment has just muddied the issue, but I do think ultimately, it's a good thing to wrestle with these questions and it is far from easy or simple.

    Thanks for writing!

  2. Virg! How great to hear from you! Thanks for saying "Hi" - the family looks beautiful. To your point, I imagine that a number of my confusions stem from something structural in my misunderstanding about what life should consist in, as you mention!


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