What I Wish an Artist Would Say

An Artist Who Refuses To Create An Image

I wish I could find somebody who knows something about art, who would also argue against images of Christ. Without fail, all of my visual-art-enabled friends, are pro-images, and find anti-image argumentation silly and ignorant of what pictures really mean: how they are intended by artists, how they are received by connoisseurs. And I have not found any of the anti-image advocates (image anti-vocates?) to make any claims (or show any evidence) of competence or training about any area within the visual arts.

There are (at least) two possible explanations for this phenomenon. On the one hand, it could be that the iconoclasts are letting their iconoclasm determine their exegesis (which would make it eisegesis), and making ill-advised pronouncements about what they simply don’t understand. On the other hand, it may be that iconophiles simply are too attached to their idolatry to see it clearly as idolatry.

It would be helpful, therefore, to hear a case against images of Christ, from an otherwise-iconophile, someone with some kind of chops in art or photography or graphic design or something that would give them credentials as a hostile witness. Or an iconoclast of some form who would argue that the Bible mandates liberty, against their own personal preference.

I believe I myself can be of a little service in that latter role. I guess I’m not an iconoclast exactly, but I don’t particularly care about images one way or the other, which makes me close to a neutral witness.

One of the questions in the Q&A that I got pounded on was, “what’s the benefit of images of Christ?” intensified by DVD’s “what’s the motivation?” I reiterated my “liberty doesn’t require need” argument, and that’s fine as far as it goes, but I’m sure it sounded like a dodge (and surely it was).

Frankly, the reason I came back so weak on that question is that I just don’t care enough about images to have thought much about benefits. The right answer to the question is simple enough though, and I should have been able to come up with it. The benefit is that good things are good; beauty is beautiful. Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things.

DVD’s heroin analogy went unanswered as well. It went something like, “If somebody were to argue for liberty to consume heroin, you would naturally want to know why they would want to, what’s the reason?” The right answer is along the same lines. Apart from pointing out how a mention of heroin poisons the well, it is not necessarily the case that an argument for liberty implies that somebody just really wants to do something. For instance, I have no interest in either dancing or smoking (rather intense disinterest, actually), but I would argue for liberty. I can believe that somebody else can glorify God with their dance, and that a good cigar is a good thing.


12 Responses

  1. Similarly, I’d like to hear an argument for Exclusive Psalmody from a real musician, and an argument for Young Earth Creation from a real scientist.

  2. The lack of arguments may be a similar problem. Perhaps those gifted in the specific areas don’t commonly have an interest in the meta about their particular gift?

    I don’t always find in-depth discussion of art or poetry to be particularly rewarding. I can, if I put my mind to it, come up with a couple of good reasons (I think) for use of images, but the disinterest borders on distaste for discussion.

    I’ll have to consider more and maybe I can produce something about the H&S debacle.

  3. …or an argument for healthy eating from a real fat guy?

  4. Why would liberty need to be pragmatically justified, is what I want to know. If it’s liberty then isn’t that the end of it?

    The heroin example just doesn’t work though; the point of consuming any amount of heroin is the same point in consuming excessive quantities of booze: intoxication, which is categorically verboten. Which is to say, there is no argument for liberty to consume heroin, anymore than consuming excessive amounts of booze.

    And, Al, since there is no law to eat healthy, only one to refrain from gluttony, there is no argument to eat healthy. It’s in the realm of common sense and judgment where there is wide latitude on just what “eat healthy” means, not law where there is narrowness about not over-indulging.

    • Why would liberty need to be pragmatically justified

      And that was my argument, really, so maybe my response was not so bad, but I think I wasn’t quick or sure enough to make that point solidly yet again.

      intoxication, which is categorically verboten

      I’m not so sure about that. What exactly does it mean for wine to make the heart glad?

  5. Isn’t it more a discussion of what the images mean or imply? Shouldn’t there be a qualified opinion afforded from the perspective of an artist?

    I’m still mulling on this, maybe getting closer to something worth bringing to the table, but I think I get the importance. There’s so little to draw from in Scripture concerning this particular instance of images. Sure, idolatry is covered, but is aesthetic representation, creative portrayal idolatry?

    Now, I’m not good with the insight side of discussion. I can regurgitate somebody else’s intelligence fairly easily, but soon as there’s a point to be caught, comprehended and then critically dealt with, I’m slow on even blinking at it. But there’s obviously, to me, a real significance -meaning value- in some of the art that has been put up for Christianity over the ages.

    Personal taste is usually a major contributor to the problem. Some dudes, like me, don’t go for, say the old iconographic stuff from Europe, with the exaggerated features, childish construction and what appears to be plain crappy content. But that’s just me, and there are bazillions of critics out there (including the artists themselves) who say I’m DOA at the gallery. There’s probably an equal number on my team, though, so it’s an impasse.

    Art moves people. It always has. And I dare say, overall, not to worship of that which is integral to the art. It leads to a message though, which in Christian context should be discernable.

    The picture Rube held up with the manger sans babe inspired a touch of offense. I would’ve been pretty ticked to see that in my kids’ SS class if it was explained that “images were bad.” I could almost say that therefore the “correctly” displayed babe-in-manger scene makes me think of the collective Christmas Story imagery and its incredible significance. Born to serve, satisfy and die, to live again and bring us home to glory. That sort of thing.

    I ain’t worshippin’ the picture, by any means. And those who do are either sorely mislead or need to be brought out of their ancient mystical backwater.


  6. Art moves people. It always has

    That’s an important point. The same could be said of music. And I have heard it said (and I even agree) that therefore, some music is too moving, too emotionally manipulative, to be safe for worship. People get distracted from the words, and end up worshipping the music, or at least their internal emotional experience of the music. So we have a certain restricted set of music which is suitable for worship, and other music is allowable outside of worship.

    Similarly for images, all images are unsuitable for worship. But is that because all images necessarily move people to worship? (Did I just argue the other side?)

    I would’ve been pretty ticked to see that in my kids’ SS class if it was explained that “images were bad.”

    Yeah, for a denomination with standards that prohibit images, including material like that in the if-not-official-then-as-close-as-you-can-get sunday school curriculum is just asking for trouble. Stick that in front of a bunch of 2-4-year olds, what do they expect will happen?

    • I bet if you gave the 2-4 year old class that same picture, those who could manipulate a crayon would have Baby installed in seconds. Without expositional preps.

      Agreed, unsuitable for worship. The Word and Sacraments are what’s what for worship.

      Creativity may be the “Word and Sacrament” of the outside. We capture minds, hearts, movements, stories with images and song. Not souls, mind you, but there’s definitely a mass reaching for the fantastic. And maybe that’s what we need to look at. When the critic or common viewer/listener asks “What inspired you?” or “What does this mean?” We point them to the Word. Draw them into church.

      Where the idea goes horribly wrong is when it is purposed advertisement. If you figure you’re going to win them with creative expression, then you’ve WTTWYWTW (Won Them To What You Won Them With).Failure. But this doesn’t expressly mean we can’t be inspired by the grace of God to express ourselves in light of His Story.

      In fact, in the New Heavens and Earth, will there be creativity? If so, what’s the inspiration to be had?

  7. Fitting, look what just came out at WSCAL’s Valiant for Truth Blog

    • See what it is? They’re LOOKING for something. That isn’t it. I heard on the radio today some guy swearing up and down that Jesus was standing at the foot of the bed. The man was supposed to be dying, but he didn’t, of course. And that led to all sorts of awesome inspired activities.

      We are waiting for Jesus, not chasing Him like some elusive shadow.

      Our art should capture that. Expectant, not searching under the floorboards or mattress. And we should teach that.

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