What is art? Well, according to the dictionary, there are several definitions, including, but not limited to: painting, sculpting, literature, dance, singing, or anything created to elicit a feeling of beauty or other emotional response. These definitions are a helpful start to understanding what art is, but it leaves much to be desired. What is beautiful? Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? If something elicits any emotion at all, does that make it art? Is there a standard for art, or is anything a person can produce considered art?
In a postmodern age, we tend to dissolve standards and push pre-existing boundaries to the point where there is no evaluative standard for beauty. Of course, it is not entirely detrimental, as standards for art in the past were so strict that only the likes of Michelangelo could produce art, so to the benefit of society, anyone can show their God-given creativity. As believers, our standards should continually align with God’s standards, however different from culture there may be. In Scripture, when we see God as Creator of everything He called “good,” everything He created was intricate, purposeful, and ultimately, declared His glory. So the question remains, can anything be considered art? For example, in New York, a portrait of the Virgin Mary was displayed in a museum. The problem? It was covered with elephant dung. Is that still beautiful? Is that still art?
Well, to answer this question, we have to remember that we are free, free to create whatever we want. But what we do with that freedom is critical. In his “Letter to a Christian Artist” H.R. Rookmaaker says of creative freedom “Freedom is positive, it means being free from tradition, free from the feeling that everything has to be original from certain fixed rules said to be necessary in art-- but also from the thought that to be creative you must break all kinds of rules and standards.” We are all given creativity by our Maker, and we have a responsibility to use it to bring glory to God, and we only have to look at His creation to determine what God’s standards regarding beauty are. So let us not get overwhelmed with the thought that we must break all the rules to be creative. As the famous essayist T.S. Elliot says “When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost and will produce the richest ideas. When given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl.”