Message Bearing Marching Bands

High school marching band shows reflect our priorities and our insanities. How can they help make us better?

Ours is a marching band family – three of our five children have been in marching bands at the high school and/our college level. Of the other two, one was in orchestra and one will be in marching band when she gets to high school. Our kids have been at Hayfield and Thomas Jefferson (TJ) High Schools in northern Virginia, Collierville High School in Tennessee, Shady Spring High School in West Virginia, and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. We have enjoyed parades, pep bands, and shows at football halftimes and band competitions. Dance teams, color guards, drum majors, and lines of marching and playing students entertain us every week in every autumn.   

High school marching band shows have themes, ranging from the musical (the Music of Queen), the cinematic (Illusion, including Pure Imagination from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), and the historical (the Transcontinental Railway). Bands compete before judges, who score them on such measures as musicality, marching/dance, visuals, guard, pit, and drumline. At the end of every competition, the band with the highest score in their division wins a trophy.

Since our family began watching marching bands in 2011, we have attended dozens of competitions and seen hundreds of shows. The band at Thomas Jefferson (TJ) numbered near 100, while the band at Hayfield had fewer than 50 students. Quality differed, as did venue. One band competition was in the stadium at the Naval Academy at Annapolis.

The theme of TJ’s Marching Colonials in the first year was Twisted, and its songs included Sweeney Todd and Danse Macabre. By design, the tone of Twisted was dark and bizarre. Sensitized by Twisted, I noticed many other band shows in northern Virginia (NOVA) that year with themes of death, the victory of evil over good, or mental illness. From 2012 to 2016 when we left NOVA, many high school marching bands varied these themes, and no matter their musical or technical excellence, I was left feeling low.

Yesterday we enjoyed the Black Walnut Festival in Spencer, WV, including a parade and another band competition. The Lincoln County High School marching band saluted The Greatest Generation, opening with Glenn Miller’s In the Mood and closing with God Bless America. Girls in 40s dresses danced and waved guard flags, while band members in uniform and boys in fatigues marched to honor their forebears. At a competition in Princeton a week before, one band presented a show highlighting the victory of good over evil, rather than the other way around. I left with a smile.

Shady’s show this year, named American Heroes, began with America the Beautiful. Dance team girls in red tops and blue skirts accompanied boys in World War II Army uniforms marching off towards a large American flag. Cantina from Star Wars symbolized the good times on the home front, and the Pacific symbolized the fighting. An air raid siren disrupted the music, and the dance team girls lined up to await the return of their beloved soldiers. The first three came home physically unscathed, the fourth in a sling, and each couple, boy and girl, walked away arm in arm. The last man was not there. Instead, another uniformed soldier carried his folded American flag. The girl ran around the field looking desperately for her beloved as the flag bearing soldier approached. Unable to escape the horrible truth, that her beloved was dead, the forlorn girl collapsed in tears. The marching band concluded their show with Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA. The boys who had played the soldiers ran across the field and set up a flag like that at Iwo Jima. Many spectators clapped and leapt to their feet. I smiled.

What accounts for the difference in show themes? Could it be that high school band leaders liked angsty and depressing shows in the early and middle 2010s but not later? Perhaps wealthy and urban northern Virginia is more focused on death and disorder than poor and rural southern West Virginia, although death rates from substance use would not support that conclusion. Perhaps depressing themes are chic among band competition judges, and directors play to judges, not to crowds. Perhaps those with the most advantages toy with the idea of disadvantage in their entertainment, while those stuck in real poverty, sickness, and pain need encouragement from their entertainment. Perhaps something else is at play. Perhaps a systematic review, rather than my convenience sample, would show no difference in the mood of the themes of high school marching bands.

Followers of Christ must be light in a dark world. We are to acknowledge the brokenness we see around us…indeed, it is so pervasive that we can’t avoid it. However, we are not to dwell on this brokenness. Channeling the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, beauty, and glory of God, we must reflect His light to those around us. Paul writes

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, let your mind dwell on these things.”

Do high school marching band directors and the judges let their minds dwell on what is true, noble, right, and pure? If not, how does that influence their students. If they did, would their influence on their students change? How would their influence on the future change? How would their own lives change?

Whatever Happened to Beauty?

A look at beauty denied, misunderstood, reviled, and ignored, in the modern world.

The other day I was driving to the Mine Academy in Beckley for a strategic planning session. Nancy called and bade me to look to the southeast, where I beheld a particularly stunning sunrise. On arriving a few minutes early at the meeting, I mentioned the sunrise to several people, but only a few bothered to look out of the window. On a hike last summer, Nancy found a tiny deep purple flower amidst dying grasses. On a different occasion, she spotted a set of intricate ice crystals astride a fallen log and a pile of snow. As with the Mine Academy example, others in the area didn’t notice, or didn’t care. Life is composed of little moments of beauty such as these – to miss the beauty is to miss life itself. Why do so few people seem to notice?

We find beauty in the natural world, in music, in literature, and in a whole host of other places. Surveying most of history, however, we find that the most compelling art, and often the most beautiful art, from Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to Michelangelo’s David, is of humans. It is not a stretch to say that from the Sumerians to the modern world, mankind has considered the human form to be the most beautiful object of all.

Art has changed. From Pablo Picasso to Arnold Schoenberg in the 20th century, classical conceptions of beauty gave way to modern and postmodern dissonance, unnatural perspectives, and angst. Beauty is denied, misinterpreted, or reviled, but even more it is ignored, in our 21st century world.  

Beauty Denied

Philosophers have been debating beauty since the beginning of recorded history. Classically, beauty was considered objective; beauty is what beauty is, regardless of what individuals or groups think about it. People and cultures might differ about whether a particular landscape, flower, animal, or person was beautiful, or its degree of beauty, but those opinions could be measured for their degree of accuracy. Such a standard was typically “the gods” of each culture. The corollary was the assumption that my culture was better than your culture, and that my gods were better than your gods.

In the modern world, there are a variety of spoken opinions on beauty. Many revolve around the mantra that parents and teachers have told their charges “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  Arachnologists like the beauty of spider webs while floriculturists prefer the beauty of roses. Urban dwellers may desire the beauty of city lights and country folk choose that of forests, streams, and mountains. In the past 50 years, phrases like “black is beautiful” and “full figured is beautiful” reflect views of human beauty, typically female, that users of those phrases felt fell outside the mainstream opinions of beauty.

The point is that in the classical world, beauty was largely considered objective, beauty is what beauty is, while in the modern world beauty is considered largely subjective, beauty is whatever you want it to be. Beauty could be defined as “whatever someone, or anyone, thinks is appealing.” A trouble with this more recent, even postmodern view, is that if there is no standard of beauty, in what sense does beauty exist? The same could be said for love, justice, or goodness – if there is no standard, no overriding definition, in what sense does it exist?

There is another problem with the idea that beauty is completely in the eye of the beholder – nobody actually believes it, as judged by how they live. Most people care little about whether they like a mountain scene and a friend likes a desert scene, but they care a lot more if they are wearing an outfit that they love and their friend doesn’t. How often have you heard salesmen and women confess to telling shoppers that they look great in something, even if in their opinion they don’t? The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue and Victoria’s Secret feature roughly the same female body type every year. Mainstream magazines in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East do the same. While paintings and photographs of nudes of yesteryear were often heavier than those today, the depiction of the ideal human body hasn’t changed much since the Greeks carved Apollo and Aphrodite and the Hindus carved the statues at Khajuraho. If beauty were completely in the eye of the beholder, and if beauty was completely relative between cultures and epochs, we would see many different measures of beauty, both natural and human. But we do not.

Beauty Misinterpreted 

Nancy and I were visiting the Eiffel Tower in the early spring of 1993 and encountered a Czech couple. The woman wore a long, burnt orange coat and an interesting pin. Nancy admired her pin, and the Czech woman promptly removed it and gave it to her.
It was a gracious gesture, conditioned by her culture. But Nancy did not actually want the pin. Conditioned by our American culture, she felt uncomfortable even receiving it. The lovely couple misinterpreted Nancy’s appreciation of the pin as a desire to possess the pin.

In America, it has become taboo for a man to complement a woman’s appearance in the workplace. I have heard several reasons for this:

  1. Some believe that the man is sending the message that appearance is all that matters.
  2. Some feel that the man is trying to possess the woman.
  3. Some assume that the man is lying.
  4. Some assume some ulterior, even sinister, motive.

It is possible, however, that none of the above are true, that those objecting are misinterpreting the man’s meaning and intent. Just as it is possible to admire a coat pin and not want to have it, it is possible to admire a beautiful person and not want to possess them. Not only is it possible, it is common. After all, Nancy and I have enjoyed the beauty of the Crown Jewels of England, possessed by only a few, and the beauty of a sunrise, possessed by everyone on earth. The sunrise was far more glorious. Owning something does not make it more beautiful; it might make it less.

Perhaps the man giving the complement simply wants to brighten the other person’s day with a word of encouragement. Perhaps he wants to recognize the work that she has done with her hair, clothing, and makeup. The most negative interpretation is not always, and often not at all, the right one. The comments above are equally true for men or women complementing other men or women as well.

Beauty Reviled

Truth and beauty are intimately and conceptually related. If beauty is transcendent, if something is beautiful simply because it is, regardless of what anyone says about it, then truth must be transcendent as well. Those who hate the idea of objective truth, especially moral truth, frequently hate the idea of objective beauty as well.

Beauty Ignored

Dr No, the 1962 James Bond movie, portrayed men and women, even extras at the airport, in dresses and suits. Casino Royale, a James Bond movie filmed in 2006, showed airport extras in jeans and casual shirts. Has the standard for appearance in public changed in the 44 years between the movies? Are people less interested in physical appearance now than then, are they more interested in physical appearance now but manifest it differently, or are people the same? If physical attractiveness can be ranked on a scale of 1 to 100, where 1 is rags and 100 is the most magnificent clothes in history, was the mean in America 50 in 1962 and 30 in 2006? Or is the standard 50 in 1962 and 50 in 2006, but jeans today are considered the same as dresses in yesteryear? Was 1962 a more conformist time, where everyone was expected to be around 50, and the deviation was small? Is our day less conformist, with a larger deviation?

I don’t know that anyone can answer these questions definitively, but they do raise interesting questions. Is beauty ignored in today’s world? If so, why?  

Conclusion

Whatever happened to beauty? There remains a widespread belief that beauty is subjective, and perhaps therefore unreal, at least theoretically. Beauty is often misinterpreted, or at least what people want from the beauty is misinterpreted. Sometimes beauty is reviled. And I would suggest that beauty is sometimes, if not often, ignored. From the Christian perspective, beauty is an inherent characteristic of God. Therefore, like truth, it is objective, regardless of what any person, or group of people, thinks about it. Followers of Christ cannot deny it, should not misinterpret it, must not revile it, and ought not ignore it. Rather, like every other good thing that our Father has given us, we must enjoy it, and glorify our Lord in it.

Ballroom Dancing

A list to match the right song with the right type of ballroom dance.

My daughter Anna is getting married, and I have been taking dance lessons. The following list is an attempt to match the right dance with the right song, knowing that many dance styles can be used for many different songs. It is also a memory aid, as it can be hard to remember every dance move, especially when you don’t practice every day.

Principles of dancing

1.     Women dance because women like to dance. Men dance because women like to dance.

2.     The man’s purpose in dancing is to make the woman look good.

Foxtrot – 4-4 count that you feel like snapping your fingers to

Song Band
Can’t We Be Friends Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong
Beyond the Sea George Benson
Love Under the Stars Gunter Norris
Walkin My Baby Back Home Nat King Cole
I’ll Be Home for Christmas Gold Star Ballroom Orchestra
You’ve Got a Friend in Me Michael Buble
Miles Away Basia
I Got Rhythm Gold Star Ballroom Orchestra
Night and Day Gold Star Ballroom Orchestra
Have I Told You Lately That I Love You Michael Buble
Nice and Easy Michael Buble
Witchcraft Frank Sinatra
Pink Panther Theme Gold Star Ballroom Orchestra
Night and Day Ella Fitzgerald
Why Should I Cry Over You Frank Sinatra
Penthouse Serenade Claude Blouin
All of You Ella Fitzgerald
Fly Me To The Moon Frank Sinatra
Kissing the Girls Gunter Norris
Love Dreams Gunter Norris

Progression

  1. Standard step (L forward 1, R forward 2, side step L and R, 3-4)
  2. Promenade (turn body, L forward 1, R forward 2, turn back to face partner and side together 3-4)
  3. Front/back step (L forward 1), R back (2), side step (L and R, 3-4) x 2

Merengue

Song Band
Eres Asi Belven

Push-Pull (swing) – 4/4 count, very versatile, gunfighter hand position

Song Band
Centerfold J Geils Band
In the Mood Glenn Miller
Life in the Fast Lane Eagles
Midnight Train to Georgia Gladys Knight
Old Time Rock and Roll Bob Seger
Pretty Woman Roy Orbison
The Wanderer Dion and the Belmonts
Walkin After Midnight Patsy Cline

Progression

  1. Standard step (L-R-L back-R)
  2. Outside turn
  3. Cuddle turn
  4. Hammerlock turn (L)
  5. Turn out

Rumba – 4/4 count, Cuban, lots of hip action

Song Band
And I Love Her Beatles
Belle Chitara Andy Fortuna
Beautiful Maria Andy Fortuna
Besame Mucho Trini Lopez
Blessed Elton John
Blue Bayou Linda Ronstadt
Blue Light Yokohama Pink Martini
California Dreaming Mamas and Papas
Cuando Me Enamoro Andrea Bocelli
Dark Fire Strunz and Farah
Goldeneye 2003 Tina Turner
Here Comes the Sun Beatles
How Deep is Your Love Bee Gees
I Have Always Loved You Enrique Iglesias
I’m Not Giving You Up Gloria Estefan
It’s Now or Never Elvis Presley
It’s Too Late Gloria Estefan
Just the Way You Are Billy Joel
Kokomo Beach Boys
La Puerta Andy Fortuna
La Mentira Andy Fortuna
Love Story (Where Do I Begin?) Shirley Bassey
My All Andy Fortuna
Moscas en la Casa Shakira
Save the Last Dance for Me Michael Buble
Secundo Andy Fortuna
Sitting by the Dock of the Bay Otis Redding
Stand By Me Ben King
Traces of Love Gloria Estefan
Unbreak My Heart Toni Braxton
You are the Sunshine of My Life Stevie Wonder
Your Song Elton John

Parts

  1. Box step (1-2-3-4 – Quick-Quick-Slow or Slow-Quick-Quick)
  2. Crossover break
  3. 5th position break
  4. Outside break
  5. Outside turn

Waltz

Song Band
Are You Lonesome Tonight
At Last Etta James, 1961
Caribbean Blue Enya, 1991
Could I Have This Dance Ann Murray
Come Away with Me Nora Jones, 2002
Fascination Nat King Cole, 1957
I Wonder Why Curtis Steigers
If You Don’t Know Me By Now Simply Red
I’ll Be Edwin McCain, 1998
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry Elvis Presley
Love Ain’t Here Anymore Take That
Moon River
Never Loved a Man The Commitments
Only One Road Celine Dion
Open Arms Journey
See the Day Girls Aloud
So She Dances Josh Groban, 2006
Still Crazy After All These Years Paul Simon
Take it to the Limit Eagles
Tennessee Waltz
Three Times a Lady Commodores
True Love Elton John
Westlife Queen of My Heart
What the World Needs Now is Love
When I Say I Do Clint Black, 1999
You Light Up My Life Debby Boone

Parts

  1. Box step (1-2-3)
  2. Outside turn
  3. Promenade

 

 

Music and Emotion

We use music to influence ourselves, and ourselves, and create the emotions that we need to do what we want to do.

Our father could never understand our taste in music. It was the 1980s, and my younger brother and I were teens. Dad was a singer and loved music, but preferred the Bobby Vinton style to the Axl Rose style. More than once he asked, “why do you listen to that trash?”, a question that every generation asks their children and grandchildren.  We were both involved in the youth group at church, and my favorite artist at the time was Keith Green. He was a talented Christian singer who was sincere about his faith, but tragically died in 1982 from a plane crash, as so many other musicians have. My brother found Ozzy Osbourne more to his taste.

I enjoyed Keith Green because I wanted to live a life like his – to be a dedicated and influential follower of Christ with a happy marriage and a large family. My favorite song was Grace by Which I Stand, which I would play over and over again in my times of greatest failure, or deepest sadness. My brother’s favorite song was Crazy Train, which seemed to capture some of the anger, and angst, of many in the 1980s youth culture. Being a novice guitar player, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the riffs in heavy metal. The counter cultural themes in Crazy Train and Run to the Hills caught my notice as well. Though I wasn’t courageous enough to admit liking heavy metal, I didn’t mind when these songs popped up on the radio or cassettes.

My musical interest in Keith Green was physical (his singing and piano skills were appealing), intellectual (he challenged listeners to live up to their creed), spiritual (he seemed sincere in his faith), and emotional (his songs made me feel good). My interest in heavy metal was physical (especially the complicated guitar riffs, which I could only envy), and emotional (they provided emotional release after a guilty pleasure). Heavy metal never made me feel good, but it did make me feel tense, which enabled relaxation once the song was done.

Using Music to Influence the Emotions of Others

Everyone is a little different, but people have recognized the link between music and emotions since Neanderthals danced to beating drums around a fire. Retail stores play music to keep shoppers in the store longer, and use songs that correspond with the goods and services they are trying to sell. Wine sellers, for example, often use classical music. Clothing stores use music that was popular during the later teen and young adult years of their target audience. Contemporary Christian music radio stations like KLOVE brand themselves as “positive and encouraging.” Movie producers use music for a variety of purposes, largely emotional, with their viewers. Composer Aaron Copland outlined five major purposes in his essay Film Music in 1940:[1]

 

  • Creating a more convincing atmosphere of time and place
  • Underlining psychological refinements
  • Serving as a kind of neutral background filler.
  • Building a sense of continuity. 
  • Underpinning the theatrical build-up of a scene, and rounding it off with a sense of finality. 

 

Major keys seem upbeat and calming, while minor keys seem downcast and tense. The minor key of country western song Ghost Riders in the Sky complements its mournful words. Dissonant notes and chords make listeners feel unsettled or incomplete. Tempos of 120-130 beats per minute (BPM) increase heart rate and blood pressure, while tempos 50-60 BPM decrease both.

Using Music to Influence Your Own Emotions

The examples above describe how people use music to influence the emotions of others, but we also use music to influence our own emotions. Athletes have used the Rocky theme, Gonna Fly Now, and Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger to inspire themselves, just as Union soldiers used Battle Cry of Freedom and Confederate troops used Roll Alabama Roll and other state songs. Lovers use music like Andy Williams’ Moon River or Ravel’s Bolero to get in the mood for their amorous adventures. The downtrodden and discouraged might listen to James Brown’s I Feel Good, Jimmy Cliff’s Don’t Worry, Be Happy, or Bette Midler’s Wind Beneath My Wings. Many medical studies demonstrate better physical and psychological health in people who listen to classical or other genres of pleasing music.

Many people associate heavy metal music (i.e. Led Zeppelin), with its focus on dominance and speed, and grunge (i.e. Nirvana), with its emphasis on anxiety and distortion, with drugs and violence. Nonetheless, some people find “happiness” in these sounds. Writing in the Atlantic in 2013, Leah Sottile argued that listening to “angry music” cleanses people by engaging emotions they don’t usually let themselves feel.[2] She cited a study in which the authors suggested that listening to angry music helps people be more successful at tasks involving conflict, and even helped them feel better afterward.

If the results of this study turn out to be reproducible, and therefore more likely to be true, it will confirm worldwide historical practice. Soldiers and athletes have “psyched themselves up” with words, drugs, and music for combat or competition for millennia. Shakespeare’s Henry V inspired his troops before Agincourt just as Herb Brooks challenged the US men’s hockey team in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. Native American warriors used psychotropic medications in religious ceremonies prior to battle, as have combatants in many other cultures.

Music invigorates. Fast tempos and loud volumes stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, raising heart rate and blood pressure in a “fight or flight” response. Dissonance stimulates the reticular activating system, the part of the brain that manages wakefulness. Fast, loud, and dissonant “angry music” may be just right for rousing people to conflict. But these effects only last briefly. The heightened energy requirements for “fight or flight” are exhausting and humans cannot maintain such an intense state of arousal for long. Recurrent, long term exposure to “angry music” may cause chronic high blood pressure, and other health problems. If angry music calms us down, it does so because it gins us up beforehand. The let down is relaxing, just as is the let down after any activity, from exercise to sex.

Conclusion

Music is all about emotion. We influence others with it, and we influence ourselves. All types of music have their place in culture and have different effects on physiology. Depending upon what their goal is, such as love or war, people may need to hear more Bobby Vinton, or more Ozzy Osbourne. Music is considered “trash” when it doesn’t meet the felt need of the person listening to it, or the need of those seeking to influence others.

But caveat emptor. Human physiology responds better in the long term to uplifting, inspiring music. We are not created to handle dissonance and anxiety forever, or even for long. Small doses of heavy metal may be good for the soul, but large doses are poison. Iron Maiden may prepare us for battle, but Keith Green prepares us for life.

 

[1] https://www.premiumbeat.com/blog/the-undeniable-emotional-impact-of-music-in-film/, accessed 25 Feb 2018

[2] https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/09/finding-happiness-in-angry-music/279341/, accessed 25 Feb 2018

Does Character Matter in an Artist, or any Profession?

Contrary to what much of the modern world will claim, character is the fundamental requirement for excellence in every field. 

In the late 1990s, President William Jefferson Clinton had an affair with one of his interns. He then lied to a grand jury about the case. During the controversy leading up to his impeachment for perjury, his defenders argued that his lack of character, in this and many other circumstances, did not matter. The economy was booming and the world was at relative peace. They said that Clinton was a good president, and that his character did not matter.

We can ask the same question about artists, “does the artist’s character or lack thereof impact their art?” The answer must begin with defining character. A Christian would say that a person of good character would display the following attributes – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Most non-Christians would generate similar lists. The US Army defines character in terms of the Army values, which include loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. Barack Obama spoke of “initiative and enterprise… hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character.”[1] The sentiments if not the words of the Ten Commandments occur in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and the other major religions of the world.  Press and politicians from London to Lagos agree. We can conclude that there is widespread agreement throughout the world, across cultures, and through time, on what good character actually is.

But does bad character affect the performance of ones’ duties, accomplishment in his or her profession? Many people would contend that it depends on the profession. Few people, even those who don’t go to church, would accept an adulterous pastor in a church. Jimmy Swaggart was kicked out of his ministry for his dalliances. Conversely, few would reject an adulterous doctor in a hospital, unless he was sleeping with his patient or his employee. Those who contend that a person’s character only matters in some professions are forced to delineate professions in which character matters, professions in which it doesn’t, and why.

We need to define “artist” before proceeding. For our purposes, an artist is someone who produces original (but not necessarily unique) work in some material (paint, wood, stone, fabric, word, sound, movement, etc.) for pay and/or for personal satisfaction. By this definition, Rembrandt and a painter who copies his work, would both be artists, but a school child hesitantly completing an art assignment would not. Similarly Handel would be an artist, but a singer in a church choir performing the “Messiah” at Christmas or Easter may not be.

Let us return to our definition of character and see how each attribute might affect one’s skill in a profession or other task, especially as an artist.

Love – a decision to care for, serve, and highly regard others.

Can a doctor be a fine clinician without choosing to care for and serve others? Can a general inspire his men without doing the same? More to the point, can an artist create his best possible work without considering who will be “consuming” it? No painter can succeed without pleasing his patron, the one paying for his time and his paint. No song writer can eat without writing a song that someone else wants to sing or play and an audience wants to hear. Without some degree of love, no artist can succeed.

Joy – a positive sense of fulfillment in one’s activities and situation

Seeing a man or woman who enjoys his or her work is a delight. Since they like it, they tend to do it more and be better at it. Conversely, seeing someone who is miserable in their chosen field is a drudgery. All else being equal, an artist who experiences joy from his or her art will produce better art.

Peace – a sense of calmness and security

Anxiety makes the heart pound and the hand tremble – both problematic for the painter and the sculptor. Worry confuses, distracts, and impairs the memory – equally a concern for the writer of books or songs. Fear discourages innovation, and even action, a poison pill for any artist.

Patience – the ability to handle the ups, downs, and delays, of life with grace

Sometimes artists will feel loving, joyful, and peaceful, and other times they will not. A patient artist, like a patient teacher or a patient pastor, will be able to produce high quality work consistently, regardless of his feelings. He will not lose his temper with sponsors, agents, or the general public.

Kindness – the practice of doing the little things and going farther than you think needful to benefit others

A fine artist will know that the difference between a good piece of work and a great piece of work is found in the little things. In addition to inherent talent, picking the perfect move and expression, not just an adequate move and expression, distinguished Fred Astaire from his high school dance teacher.  These little things require more work, and more time, but are the price of excellence.

Goodness – a personal commitment to do what is good, regardless of circumstances

Should a businessman trust a financial advisor who told him to cheat a competitor? Should a patron trust an artist who signed his name to someone else’ work? People may argue about what is good in a given situation, although there is less argument than some moral relativists would have us believe, but each artist must have some understanding and commitment to do what they feel to be good.

Faithfulness – loyalty to self, others, and God

A few artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo can be excellent in many realms of art, but most cannot. A few extremely gifted people can take up art late, or quit early in life, and produce masterpieces, but most cannot. Good artists commit to their field, and stay there. The same is true for their relationships to others and to God. This is no different in other fields – the best doctors are committed to medicine, the best teachers to education, and the best athletes to their sport. Larry Bird, one of the best NBA players of all time, practiced basketball for hours, even on his off-days, throughout his career.

Gentleness – the ability to tailor one’s understanding, emotions, and actions to the needs around them

George S. Patton was a hard charging American general in World War 2. He led his Third Army to major victories, and was a favorite on the home front. While touring a field hospital, Patton encountered a soldier with no apparent physical injury. The doctor explained that the man had battle fatigue, now known as post-traumatic stress. Seeing the other men in the hospital, some with gaping wounds or missing arms or legs, Patton slapped the man with battle fatigue, ordered him back to the front, and stormed away. Hospital staff were outraged, and word got back to Eisenhower and the American public. Patton almost lost his command.

Artists can be hard charging and brash, but they must know when to be gentle. They must have the sensitivity to match their attitudes and their work to those they are serving. Picasso’s Guernica abstractly illustrates the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, but Guernica only works by contrasting the bizarre and threatening shapes with the viewers’ knowledge of and feelings for the misery and agony of the conflict. The context is all-important – someone without prior understanding and emotion will not get much out of this famous painting.

Self-Control – the ability to control ones’ thoughts, words, and actions to do what needs to be done regardless of the circumstances.

Some writers and sculptors wait for inspiration to grab them before they begin work. They want the feeling before the labor. Other writers and sculptors begin work and find that inspiration comes while they labor. They discipline their thoughts and words to be honest, if not necessarily pleasant, and show gratitude in all things. Those that wait for feelings to come before action might produce some fabulous work, but those that act first, knowing that feelings will follow, as will inspiration, produce excellence over a lifetime.

Objections

“Wait!” a reader might protest, “if what you say is true, then only angels and saints can be artists. Many artists have shown terrible character and still been great. What about Wagner (composer), Picasso (painter), and Hemingway (novelist)? What about Rousseau (political philosopher)? These men produced amazing art, and political philosophy, and yet had unseemly personal lives.

This objection is sound to a point. These examples were geniuses in their fields, which allowed them to produce work that most of us can only dream of. However, to do what they did, they still had to have character, at least some aspects as noted above. If Wagner had not had self-control, at least some, he never would have finished the Der Ring des Nibelungen. If Picasso had not been faithful to his work, he would not have been able to start up again after all his earliest paintings were destroyed. If Hemingway had not shown kindness, manifested as sensitivity and understanding, to men at war, he could not have written For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms. No one is utterly bereft of good character, and the wider world does not hear much of people with uniformly poor character – they usually live and die in obscurity.

Geniuses can sometimes do a one-off masterwork, but to produce marvelous work for a lifetime, like J.S. Bach, requires character. In summary, then, for the artist, the general, the physician, and the President, character counts. In fact, it is the most important thing.

But what about our evaluation of art? The conclusion is the same. God uses geniuses with poor character to produce phenomenal work, but not consistently and not for long.  He also uses people of less genius but good character to produce amazing work, such as Franz Gruber and Josef Mohr, who wrote Silent Night.

Conclusion

From the perspective of the artist producing the work, and the perspective of the art lover enjoying it, we are entranced with talent. Everyone wants talent, everyone talks about, and everyone envies it in others. We talk less about industry, which seems so pedantic. We talk least of all about character, although it is the most important of all. Perhaps that is because each person knows that he or she has as much industry and character as he or she wants to. Developing talent requires hard work, but building character requires us to deny ourselves and bend our wills away from our own desires and towards others. Character is foundational to everything we are and everything we do. Whether artist, priest, physician, or president, character counts.

[1] https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2013/01/21/inaugural-address-president-barack-obama

Does One Art Form Bring More Glory to God than Another?

A discussion of professions, the arts, art media, and the glory of God

It is Christmastime, and Christians around the world are singing “Glory to God in the highest.” We rarely consider what they mean. In church, we may parrot the Westminster Shorter Confession, which states that the purpose of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Again, the words ring true, but what do they really say, and how can we really do them?

Informed Christians understand that God’s people glorify Him in every obedient thought, word, and act. Doctors give honor to the Great Physician by ably treating patients, wives and mothers glorify their Lord by caring for their husbands and children, businessmen give honor to the Great Provider by selling good products and services at fair prices, laborers exalt the Lord of the Harvest with industry and loyalty to their employer, and princes exalt their King by ruling justly. In the right context, eating, sleeping, and recreation glorify God.

Both in my medical and in my pastoral responsibilities, people often ask me, “Do some jobs glorify God more than others? Is a preacher better than a taxi driver? Do some fields within professions that produce greater praise to the Lord?” Specifically, in the context of the arts, is one art form better at glorifying God than another? If so, which art form has brought the most glory to God? This article will discuss that question.

Background

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” So reads the Bible in Genesis and the Gospel of John. He created everything in the universe, and He did so from nothing. Therefore, no created thing that exists in the material realm, or in the spiritual realm, such as angels, exists independent of Him. This truth must inform our exploration into which art form has brought God the most glory.

Our next task is to define, or rather describe, glory. We in the West often think of brightness and beauty when we imagine glory, such as the image of Jesus descending on a cloud, His radiance brighter than the sun. This is true, but there is another aspect to glory. The Hebrews thought in terms of כָּבֹוד “kabowd”, or “heaviness”, and dignity when they wrote of glory. For example, David might be “heavy” with power, Solomon might be “heavy” with wisdom, and Ezekiel might be “heavy” with courage. God’s glory was so heavy and so forceful that He could make mountains flee away and set the boundaries of the sea. “Bringing God glory” might be adding brightness and beauty, or adding heaviness and power, to Him.

We need to lay some other groundwork. God is infinite in each of His attributes, including His glory. As even junior high mathematicians know, infinity cannot be added to, subtracted from, multiplied, or divided. God’s glory is what it is because of who He is. All of creation, whether men or angels, can no more affect the glory of God than we can brighten or darken the sun. The idea of giving God glory is, in the absolute sense, ludicrous. We have none to give, and no one can add to Him anyway.

Why then does the Bible clearly command us to glorify God? The answer is shrouded in mystery, but part of the answer is that while God’s glory is unchanging, our perception of His glory does change. A man cannot dim the sun, but he can sit under a sun shade, go indoors, or even go underground. Doing so, for that person at that time, diminishes the perceived glory of God. We hide often from God’s glory, lest it expose our sins, our weaknesses, and our wicked hearts. Most men actually want God far less than they think they do. He is, after all, much more than any of us bargain for.

But the Creator of the Universe loves each and every person that He has created. He treasures all of His work, from stones and blades of grass to angels. The Lord wants us to glorify Him is so that we all will better experience His glory – so that we might be saved. Man may not want the glory of God, but we desperately need it. That is why our Lord calls us to glorify Him. But which profession, and in this case which art medium, exalts Him the best.

How can we decide which art form has brought the most glory to God?

One approach to deciding which art form has brought the most glory to God is to evaluate the medium used. The chemicals that produce paint and film, the stones that make buildings and statues, the sounds that produce music, the words that weave into literature, the movements that inform dance, and the combinations thereof, belong equally to Him. God made all of these things, and pronounced them all equally “good.” If stones, words, music, and chemicals are equally valuable to God, they cannot, in themselves, contribute in different amounts to His glory. As a result, it is impossible on the basis of the medium itself to definitively state which art form has brought the most glory to God.

Another approach to deciding which art form has brought the most glory to God would be to compare practitioners and works throughout history. We could list some famous artists in each field, or some of the greatest works, and estimate how many people they influenced. For example,

  1. Music – JS Bach, Georg Handel, Fanny Crosby, Charles Wesley
  2. Literature – C.S. Lewis, John Bunyan
  3. Visual Arts – Leonardo Da Vinci (Last Supper), Michelangelo (Sistine Chapel), Rembrandt (Prodigal Son)
  4. Architecture – Hagia Sophia, St Paul’s, St. Peter’s
  5. Dance – Baryshnikov
  6. Theater – The Jesus Film, King of Kings, Ben Hur

One can easily see the failings of this method. I can only list what I know, and every other commentator can only do the same. Thus, there is an insurmountable selection bias in choosing which artists and work to include when evaluating which art form has brought the most glory to God.  I don’t know many Christian dancers or architects, so few are listed here. Someone else will not know many musicians or writers. How famous would an artist have to be to make the list? Millions of painters, singers, and writers have produced fine works for the Lord over the ages, but how does one know who to include, or even who they are?

Other troubles loom large. Once someone makes the list, how do you evaluate their impact? A few possibilities come to mind:

  1. Authors – number of books sold, number of articles clicked on (using the Internet)
  2. Music – number of records/CDs/MP3 files sold, number of tickets sold at concerts, number of songs clicked on (Internet)
  3. Visual arts – number of works sold, number of views of work (online, gallery or museum visitors)
  4. Theater or dance – number of attendees at performances, number of works sold, number of internet visits

These measures of impact miss a lot. Much information is not available (how many people viewed Da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper in March of 1719?), they don’t account for technology (how many internet clicks did Franz Liszt get on his music in his lifetime?), and they are largely financial. However, money is not well correlated with historical impact. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is the second most popular Christian book in history, after the Bible, but it did not make a lot of money during his lifetime, and does not today. Lastly, none of these measures account for secondary circulation of any of these works – books sold second hand by private parties, paintings seen on someone else’ photographs, or music enjoyed at a friend’s house. Who knows – perhaps an obscure, 18th century watercolor is the most glory-giving work of all?

Our task of determining which art form has brought the most glory to God seems hopeless. Nevertheless, there is one last item to consider. God chose to reveal Himself to man through stories, through a book, and ultimately through a Man, Jesus Christ. Using human authors, God Himself wrote the Bible. The greatest artists in history have returned to the Holy Scriptures for subject matter, for inspiration, and for comfort. From Shakespeare to Thomas Kincaid, artists have turned to the Bible for what they needed in life and in work. Insofar as the Bible is literature, literature has given the most glory to God over history.

“Wait a minute!” some may object. “It is not fair to compare the Bible, a work of God, to other art works made by man.” This is true. None of us can approach the “Holy Other.” Considering these factors, and excluding the text of the Bible, it is impossible to definitely state which art form has brought more glory to God over history. Actually, I am sure that each art form, and each artist, are equal in giving Him exactly the amount of glory that He intended to receive from that medium, and from that person.

Conclusion

Man’s chief aim is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We do it in every act, every word, and every thought that is informed by His Spirit and is obedient to His word. The music superstar has no advantage over the trash collector in giving glory – beauty, brightness, weight, dignity, and power – or at least the perception of glory in the minds and hearts of men, to the Lord. The Bible, God-breathed and God-directed, is the written word or God even as Jesus Christ is the incarnate Word of God. Nothing has a greater impact than these.

Comparing the art forms of mortal man, however, there is no art form that is better than the others. The painter has no greater claim to glory than the songsmith, nor the architect to the dancer. The piano impresario who brings money and fame to himself is a beggar compared to the minister who has been leading 50 parishioners in congregational singing for 50 years, but doing it with all his might for the glory of Christ.

God knows, and will someday reveal, those who have served Him well. For now, we press on as members of the Body of Christ, doing our work as He gives it to us.

 

Look What You Made Me Do

158px-Taylor_Swift_-_Look_What_You_Made_Me_Do_(music_video_screenshot) - small
By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55092301

A Christian Perspective on Taylor Swift’s song.

I rarely comment on trends and events in the entertainment world, mostly because I don’t follow it.  I do follow my daughter’s life, however, and she asked me to comment on Taylor Swift’s latest music video, Look What You Made Me Do. So here I write, as a fool rushing in where wise men never go.

Until now, my only exposure to Taylor Swift’s music occurred when our youth choir director included her song Shake it Off (2014) in the choir’s repertoire for our missions trip to Montreal (2015). He wanted to use the familiar music to gather crowds for our Christian concerts. Taylor Swift (1989-) was born in Pennsylvania and moved to Nashville in 2004 for a career in country music. She was successful, transitioned to pop music, and now is one of the best-selling musical artists of all time.

Taylor’s first big hit, Our Song (2007), was about her and a boyfriend. It seems fairly traditional for country music, including a guitar, a fiddle, a porch, a mention of God, and a little naughtiness that “mom don’t know.” You Belong With Me (2009) is about a high school girl who wants a certain boy to realize that she is the right girl for him. Its genre is pop, but it still has a positive tone and a happy ending. Unfortunately, rapper Kanye West interrupted her acceptance speech for the MTV music video award that she won for that song, thus beginning a feud that continues today.

As fame grows, so does trouble. Bad Blood (2014) has none of the sweetness of her earlier songs, focusing on destruction, and revenge. Taylor Swift typically writes songs from her personal life, and some say that Bad Blood was inspired when she was betrayed by a friend. Swift has been criticized for her personal relationships, has been the victim of sexual assault, and has been attacked for her earlier clean image.

Her latest hit, Look What You Made Me Do, from the album Reputation, is dark. It is not clear from the video who made her do what, but one wonders if the title could be Look What You Made Me Become. The theme is the death of her reputation, with her post-mortem self rising as a zombie from the grave, and her current self cutting the wings off an airplane called “Reputation”.

The phrase “Look What You Made Me Do” is passive, with the speaker trying to give up responsibility for what he or she has done. This hope is vain, because in the final reckoning, everyone pays for his or her own sins (Deuteronomy 24:16, Jeremiah 31:30), or lets Jesus take them instead (Isaiah 53:4-6). The album focuses on reputation, how Taylor Swift perceives that she appears in the eyes of people, but says nothing about character, how she perceives that she looks in the eyes of God. The fear of man is a snare (Proverbs 29:25), and she, like most of us, seems to be trapped in it.

Gone is her image of sweetness and innocence, a fact that she recognizes when she sings “But I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time” and “I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me.” Swift summarizes her change with “I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now”, “Why?”, “Oh, ’cause she’s dead!” The song ends with Taylor Swift standing with her alter egos accusing each other of “being a fake”, “playing the victim”, and asking to be “excluded from this narrative.”

Forbes estimated Swift’s net worth at $280 million in 2017, and she has 86 million followers on Twitter. If ever a woman had everything that this world can offer – money, beauty, power, and fame – she has it. Billions of people around the world would probably say that they would love to trade places with her.

But would they? More importantly, would Taylor Swift now trade places with her younger self? She has gained much since her move to Nashville 13 years ago, but she seems to have also lost much. Does getting “harder” make you “smarter?” Is it good to “trust no one” and have “no one trust you?” Taylor’s face is colder in her more recent photographs, and her vocal tone has more edge. Swift once said that her relationship with her fans is the “longest and best relationship she ever had.” If that is true, is that what she wants, or what is best for her? After all, it is not good for man (or woman) to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Has her success been a Faustian bargain? Like Linda Mason in Holiday Inn, has she given up what she really loved for what is phony? If she has, does she realize it?

I do not know her personally, so the only window that I have into her life is through the media; a cloudy glass at best. I am not trying to criticize or demean her at all, for she has faced struggles and temptations that I will never know. Faced with the same, I probably would not have done as well. I have only taken a small sample of her songs – perhaps she has new ones that with the same freshness and playfulness of her earlier work. Perhaps not. We must appreciate her talents, her philanthropy, and acknowledge that her music has influenced millions. We must also understand that everything she has, from her talents to her success, is a gift from God. The same is true for everyone.

Look What You Made Me Do is a sad and angry rap-style song that seems to come from a betrayed and bitter heart. Did the pressures of fame and fortune make her that way? Was it inevitable? Does she want out, as she implies when she asks to be “excluded from this narrative?” Is there a way out? Is she trapped by her prior life, as in Hotel California’s “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave?” Or is this just dark satire, making her happy as more and more millions of dollars roll in?

The Bible tells us that we are all fake – the only completely real person is Jesus Christ. We are all betrayed and betrayers. We are all sad and angry. And yet those who truly follow Jesus have His Spirit living in them. We grow in the fruits of His Spirit every day. Those who truly know Christ continually increase in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  This is a guarantee from the Almighty. Is God’s promise worth $270 million, and 86 million Twitter followers? That is a question for each of us, including Taylor Swift, to decide.

 

 

The Misty Mountain String Band

For Bluegrass and Americana, you can’t do better than the Misty Mountain String Band (MMSB). I saw them for the first time on 12 May 2017 at an open-air concert in Louisville KY. Formed in Louisville in August of 2012, the MMSB has toured throughout the southcentral United States and released three CDs – Red Horizon, Brownsboro, and Went to the Well.

Paul Martin plays the mandolin and banjo for the band, although he is also an accomplished guitarist. He and his wife Moonbeam have three girls. Paul is the son of George Martin, a professor of World Religions Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). Derek Harris is the upright bass player for the MMSB and handles much of the business.  Brian Vickers, the guitarist, is a professor of New Testament at SBTS. Finally, Neal Green, a minister of worship at the Ballardsville Baptist Church in Louisville, plays fiddle.

Derek graciously gave me permission to add the MMSB’s music to the MD Harris Institute. Enjoy!

The Misty Mountain String Band

MMSB – YouTube

 

 

 

 

 

Experiencing Art

We will enjoy and appreciate art more if we know more about art. Here are some tips. 

My family lived in Stuttgart, Germany in the early 1990s and during one “in-law” visit, my father in law asked to go to an art museum. I was skeptical; I wasn’t raised to be a fan of art, and had no interest in becoming one. Out of love and respect for my father in law, and in the interest of family harmony, we went. The museum was amazing, my eyes were opened, and I never eschewed art again.

While traveling in Eastern Europe in April of 2000, our family visited the National Art Museum in Warsaw.  I had always had a love of history, and our experience in Germany demonstrated the close tie between history and art, so I wouldn’t miss it. To see the Polish art was to feel the joy, and the suffering, of Poland over the centuries.

The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC lacks the pathos of its European equivalents; America just hasn’t suffered in the same way or for as long. We had young children with us and the icy glare of the museum guards warned us not to touch anything. Nonetheless, it was an enriching experience.

In the years since, I have completed the change from art apathy to art affection. We enjoy the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC and the Fellowship for the Performing Arts, a Christian theater group. I am getting a Master’s in Theology in Christianity and the Arts, and have spoken publicly about the need for arts in the Church. The arts have shaped the world for Christ in the past, and Christians must use them to shape the world for Christ in the future.

Part of appreciating art is knowing how to experience it. Artists spend weeks, months or years creating art, and yet most tourists spend only seconds looking at that piece. Even in my pensive moods I only invest minutes. How different from Catholic priest Henri Nouwen, who spent four hours looking at Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son while at the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg.

Art is not merely for contemplation; it is for action. Art promotes not only thinking but also feeling and doing. Throughout history art has been used to heal, to inspire, to frighten, to arouse, and to shame. Art helps sell products and even sell people, like media stars and politicians.

Experiencing art is a learned skill, one from which everyone would benefit.   The following checklist comes from the Art Gallery at New South Wales, Australia. I have used it many times before and can help novices get more enjoyment and insight out of art than ever before.

A personal response

  1. What first attracted you to this artwork?
  2. What is it that holds your interest?
  3. How does the artwork make you feel?
  4. Does it remind you of anything? eg another artwork, a place, person, story, idea or memory
  5. What is it about the artwork that sparks these memories and associations?
  6. Talk about the artwork with a friend or family member. Are your responses the same or different?

The basics

  1. What is the title of the artwork?
  2. What is the name of the artist? Where and when did they live? Are they still alive?
  3. When was it made? If no date is given, the artist’s birth date can give you a rough idea.
  4. What is it made of?

What you can see

Composition – What is your eye drawn to first? What are the different elements in the artwork? How have they been put together?

Lines – Look at the directions of lines, the edges of shapes. Are the lines horizontal or vertical or at other angles, straight or curved, continuous or broken, thick or thin, long or short, heavy or light, smooth or jagged, aggressive or delicate, fuzzy or crisp?

Shapes – Are the shapes rounded, rectangular, triangular, regular or irregular, symmetric or asymmetric, fat, thin or tapered, convex (bulging) or concave (hollowed out)?

Tones – Look at the light and dark, shadows and highlights. Are the tones pale, murky, dazzling, dim, harsh, subtle? Is the contrast high or low?

Colours – Are the colours natural or exaggerated, intense or soft, dull or bright, warm or cool, complementary (opposite on the colour wheel) or harmonious (near each other on the colour wheel)?

Patterns – Are the patterns bold or subtle, simple or intricate, geometric or regular, rich or sparse?

Textures – What is the surface texture like? Is it even or uneven, smooth or coarse, shiny or matte? If it’s a painting, can you see the brushstrokes?

Process and technique

  1. What type of artwork is it? e.g. a painting, drawing, sculpture, photograph, video, sound work, installation.
  2. How do you think it was made?
  3. If it is a painting, drawing or sculpture, can you see evidence of how the artist’s hand moved?
  4. Do you think it moved slowly and carefully or quickly and energetically?
  5. How long do you think it took to make?
  6. Do you think other people may have helped the artist make it?
  7. How is it displayed? If it is in a frame, what is the frame like?

Context

  1. Where and when was the artwork created? What do you know about the place and that period in history? What was life like? What was happening socially, politically, culturally? Do you think the artwork is influenced by this?
  2. What do you know about the artist, their life, influences and art practice?
  3. Was the work originally created as a piece of art or do you think it had some other purpose? eg religious, ceremonial, practical
  4. Do you think it was originally intended for display in a gallery or for another space? eg palace, temple, church
  5. How does it compare to other works? eg by the same artist, or by someone from the same place and period in history, or those displayed in the same room. In what ways are they similar? In what ways are they different?
  6. What part of the Gallery is it in? Why do you think it is in that particular location?

Subject and meaning

  1. Can you classify the artwork and its subject according to a type? eg landscape, portrait, still life
  2. Does it depict something recognisable like a person or an object? Is it realistic or more abstract? Natural or unnatural?
  3. Could it be a symbol for something else?
  4. Does it tell a story?
  5. Is the subject familiar to you? What other examples can you recall? eg in other artworks, literature, music, films
  6. Can you see people in the artwork? If so, what are they doing? What might they be thinking? Look at their expressions, gestures, clothes.
  7. What do you think the artwork is about?

What you can’t see

  1. What difference would it make if something about the artwork changed? eg if was a different colour or size or made of other materials or in a different frame
  2. What difference would it make if the artwork was in a different setting? eg a temple, outdoors
  3. Can you extend the artwork in your imagination? If it shows a scene, what might have happened before or after that moment? What is happening outside the frame?

At the Gallery

When looking at artworks at a Gallery, you can expand your knowledge and enjoyment of art.

  1. Read the information provided – look for labels and text panels on the walls, room brochures, information boards that you can carry around the room.
  2. Take advantage of tours, exhibition talks, lectures and symposia, courses and publications.
  3. Visit again! Even seemingly simple artworks will reveal new things on a second, third or fourth viewing.

Remember, the last and most important questions are:

  1. What was this art work created to do?
  2. What does this art work do?

Conclusion

The checklist above is a good beginning for those who wish to enhance their experience of the arts. Experts won’t need it, but amateurs can use it. Those who do will discover that they appreciate, understand, and use the arts more than ever before.

Christianity and the Arts

How and why Christians should engage in the arts at church, at home, and in all areas of life. 

**Source Images for the The Church, the Arts, and Shaping the World for Christ.**

On 31 October 2017 the Protes***tant world will celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 theses on the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther was concerned about some of the then-current practices of the Roman Catholic Church and posted 95 objections to these practices to generate conversation. He had wanted to keep the discourse within the Church and so wrote them in Latin so as to be unreadable to the masses. However, within two weeks the theses had spread all over Germany and within two months, all over Europe. In January 1518, Luther’s friends had translated the 95 theses into Germany, printed them and distributed them. Thus the Protestant Reformation was born.

Other major events were happening in Europe around the same time. The ancient Roman Empire had finally fallen when Constantinople was lost to the Turks (1453), Johannes Gutenberg made the first practical movable type printing press (c 1440), explorers were discovering the New World (1492), and the intellectual ferment of the Renaissance had begun.  Naturalism, the worldview that considers only natural elements and believes that all phenomena are covered by the laws of science, leaving no room from the supernatural or the spiritual, developed into the “Enlightenment”. The arts had long been considered the pathway to ultimate reality, but this began to change.

Protestantism, therefore, grew into maturity at about the same time that science overtook the arts as a source for truth. Protestant theology focuses on reason, Protestant churches have plain architecture and plain interiors, and Protestant religious practice avoids the emotional. Protestant evangelistic efforts focus on convincing people of the truth of the Bible and the person of Christ. Understanding that faith comes by hearing the message of God (Romans 10:17), John Calvin felt that the ear was the supreme sensory organ. Perhaps that is partly why Protestantism’s primary claim to sublimity in the arts is its music.

Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy began 1000 years earlier. Their theologies do not neglect reason but focus on authority. Cathedrals and Orthodox churches are breathtaking to behold and both liturgies overflow with ritual and history. Augustine (AD 354-430), the most famous early Christian theologian, felt that sight could be a great source of temptation and advocated Christian imagery to replace secular. This may have been a major factor in Catholic and Orthodox visual artistry.

Islam and Hinduism also emphasize beauty, ritual, the emotional and the transcendent.

Protestant and Catholic teachings distrust dance and minimize its use. Islam permits dancing, but not of the “languid, effeminate type”[1], and Hindus incorporate dance into worship. The ancient Hebrew religion and modern Judaism have a long tradition of dance (Exodus 15:20, 2 Samuel 6:14).

The World Wars, the possibility of nuclear holocaust, the inequities and insoluble problems of life have proven the inability of reason alone to solve the vexing problems of mankind. Many have rejected religion, even civic religion, and face a life with no transcendent meaning. Intuitively understanding that naturalistic philosophy is self-contradictory and emotionally unwilling to accept personal oblivion and a meaningless universe, people are searching for more. In response, new religious movements based on paganism, Eastern spirituality, technology, and even mainstream religions have proliferated.

Historically, Protestant Christians have abandoned the arts to our peril. Early reformers rightly objected to ostentation and waste, using the money of the poor to provide magnificent edifices for the rich. But they went too far. Even as God created the natural world and the science that describes it, He created the spiritual world and the arts that reflect it. The Charismatic movement has recognized the need for emotion and ritual in every Christian’s walk with God, and they are the fastest growing Christian group in the world.

Below are some articles describing the impact of the arts on practical matters in the world. I wrote them for seminary, but hope they will be of interest to other readers as well.

[1] Reliance of the Traveler, 40.4

 

**Articles and a presentation on Christianity and the Arts**