The time for artists is now. They are being called up to the show. Their role in cultural renewal can no longer be relegated to the minor league.
It is the dream of every AAA ballplayer to be called up to the show. It's the day they spend their entire career preparing for. It comes with new demands and scrutiny.
Today Christian artists everywhere are being called up to the show—to join the big leagues, to join the national conversation about cultural renewal. It is a perennial task, but of great urgency today. Pope John Paul II in his Letter to Artists framed the task as such: "God therefore called man into existence, committing to him the craftsman's task. Through his 'artistic creativity' man appears more than ever 'in the image of God,' and he accomplishes this task above all in shaping the wondrous 'material' of his own humanity and then exercising creative dominion over the universe which surrounds him."
Dostoyevsky, in his novel The Idiot dropped the enigmatic phrase, "Beauty will save the world." Ippolit Terentiev asks Myshkin: "Is it true, prince, that you once said that beauty will save the world?" and then mockingly adds: "What kind of beauty will save the world?" But Myshkin gives no answer to Terentiev's question. The answer to that question is the burden of the Christian artist. Even Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn attempted an answer in his Nobel Lecture on Literature, "Beauty Will Save the World."
What kind of beauty will save the world?
Moderns are mostly skeptical about truth and goodness. But for them, beauty is different. It still connects. It still effectively points to something beyond itself. Solzhenitsyn observed,
The old trinity of Truth and Good and Beauty is not just the formal outworn formula it used to seem to us during our heady materialistic youth. If the crests of these three trees join together, as the investigators and explorers used to affirm, and if the too obvious, too straight branches of Truth and Good are crushed or amputated and cannot reach the light—yet perhaps the whimsical, unpredictable, unexpected branches of Beauty will make their way through and soar up to that very place and in this way perform the work of all three.
This is why Christian artists are pivotal in the new evangelization. No longer marginalized, they're in the starting line up.
Beauty works differently than truth or goodness. Consider the famous watercolor drawing of a young hare by Albrecht Dürer. Who knows more about a hare in the end: Dürer or the scientist who dissects a rabbit in a lab? Beauty is knowledge by union and empathy with, not knowledge by disassembly and distancing from. This is not to discount science, but only to point out that beauty deals in frameworks and science in facts. Frameworks are what make sense of the facts. Dürer comprehends the hare's creatureliness in ways that the scientist will never grasp in his lab.
Beauty also differs from truth and goodness, because it presents itself with the power of attraction. It appeals and delights. Thus the inevitable "ohs" and "ahs" as the sun sets beyond the snow covered mountains. Beauty opens doors of the mind and compels a response in ways that truth and goodness do not. It's a salve to the skeptic.
Beauty is not a feeling or a subjective experience, but the aesthetic experience of the oughtness of reality, the created order in its original patterns and proportions. Donald McGilchrist puts it, "Beauty displays the rightness of things; if something is good and true, it will be beautiful." Robert Frost adds, "The artist in me cries out for design." Beauty then is a field of knowledge. This means that the artist is an apprentice to creation, a student of reality, unmasking the veil of sin that obscures the radiance of design and the fingerprints of the Designer. Beauty and design are the language of God.
The artists' moment is upon us. Artists everywhere are being called up to the show to remind us of what it means when God said of his handiwork, "It is very good." It's show time. The task before the Christian artist is as timely and important as it is enormous.
Having been called up to the show, will we be ready to answer the call?