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The Visibility of the Invisible

With the March/April issueB&C has yet again fulfilled its mission well, providing an open and generous forum for debate and critique in the exchanges between Oden and Gundry. Yet elsewhere in the current issue is the start of a less explicit debate that I hope will have opportunity to surface in the future. Within the special section "The Visibility of the Invisible" (and Metaxas's article) lie murmurs of dissent on some very strong assumptions regarding the nature of the artist's work in the twenty-first century. As this section announces itself as an "occasional series," I hope to see the focus on art continue, but I would like to suggest some important places to start the next exchange. The subject offers another opportunity for B&C to take the lead in providing a forum for difficult conversations.

At issue in these articles is the relation of matter to spirit, of visible to invisible, or familiar to unfamiliar, for the artist working today. (Though contemporary art is not the stated scope of the discussion, Metaxas, Wuthnow, Morgan, and Siedell all deal with either living or dead twentieth-century artists.) Metaxas expresses disdain for art that fails to "transport" us out of the banal vernacular of the current sitcom joke; Wuthnow presents a picture of artists as lone wolves, hill-dwelllers, sociophobes who work out of mystery or blind instinct, absent of intention or will.

In each of these views we find an art straining to depart the present condition, resisting society and fashion in favor of "transcendence." Morgan and Siedell in their reviews hint at the precedence of such views in modern art, that "secularization" in art has not been as complete as was rumored; Morgan's review presents us with some who would argue that modern art at its best eschews this desire to transcend and accepts the present condition. I would like to call attention to what is at stake in the gap between these disparate interpretations of the artist's role ...

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