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Using the Piquant Arts Set - Elria Kwant

Using the Piquant Arts Set

by Elria Kwant

The books in this set were published in the UK by Piquant Editions (www.piquanteditions.com) during the period of 2000-2010. The set consists of books by Hans Rookmaaker, Calvin Seerveld, Alistair Gordon, Betty Spackman and books about artists Peter Smith, Roger Wagner, Maria Gabankova, John Walford, Anneke Kaai, Dunstan Massey and Ben Simpson. The vision of Piquant for publishing them was to help ordinary Christians understand visual culture.

There are two tracks in the art set:

- books by Christians ABOUT the arts;

      - books OF art by artists who are Christians.

All these books represent only a ‘taster’ of the material now available for Christians on creativity and the arts – it is in no way ‘comprehensive’ – the opinions of these authors are sometimes contradicted and there are more views expressed by others who have since written on the arts, this is just a starting point, but we hope after ‘tasting’ your appetite will be whetted for more! – and, beyond the need for sermon illustrations…

Particularly if you live in the majority world, you may think, ‘Why bother? These artsy books are for people who go to galleries in the West, we have other concerns in our culture. These things are useless in our spiritual work for the gospel!’ However, have you considered how Western visual culture (advertising, film, internet games) has infiltrated your own culture through globalization. You will not be able to stem the tide! You have to help believers engage with it! In the West the church has been too slow to grasp how urgent that task is – it is proving to be a matter of life and death!

Still, in the West it is rare to find a church where leaders are able to encourage or guide their congregations in how to engage with or make sense of the pervasive visual aspect of our culture beyond warnings that ‘pornography is bad’? (And, why is it bad? And what is pornography?). In many churches artists continue to feel marginalized (for example, few artists make it to the leadership team in church). Most Christian leaders feel insecure facing what they perceive to be the ‘vague’ way in which images communicate. (But has not many literary critical studies on Scripture clearly shown, that ‘words’ by comparison do not communicate nearly as clearly as we may have been led to believe?)

As pastors and teachers, how will you guide your churches in deciding on what images to use in witness or to ‘decorate’ the worship space? Is it important? (Have you considered what you communicate to outsiders even before they’ve heard a word from your lips?) Perhaps there are gifted artists in your churches who can bless your culture through their Christian way of ‘seeing’– how will you include, support and encourage them to work with integrity and not just preach another dogma? You may find yourself, unlike us in the secular West, in a religious culture, where powerful religious images define the visual landscape. Has anyone researched, studied and considered how to use this in relation to the gospel in your culture? Maybe you will be called to this task!  Finally, yes, the Reformation has brought a ‘printed word’-biased slant to Christianity. But it is interesting to note that that was of course not how the largely illiterate first hearers of the biblical texts experienced the content of Scripture. Maybe you will be better equipped than theologians in the secular West to discern how the biblical texts draw from and engage with the imagery of the surrounding cultures of their day … and perhaps deduce guidelines from that for us all?

 

What Are these Books About and Where Do You Start Reading in Them?

a) BOOKS ABOUT THE ARTS:

--- The Complete Works of Hans R Rookmaaker (1922–77)

First, this daunting set. It is one of the earliest Piquant publications. Hans Rookmaaker was a Professor of Art History at the Free University of Amsterdam and a close friend of Francis Schaeffer who started L’Abri in Switzerland in the 1950s. These are bits you may enjoy reading:

1) Rookmaaker’s biography (by Laurel Gasque, a student and friend of HRR) appears in part IV, Volume 6. We strongly encourage you to read it. Some things that struck us from his life, are:

- he became a Christian from a totally non-Christian background during the 2nd World War in a POW camp simply by reading the Bible as a ‘cultural’ document

- he prophetically understood that a hitherto unforeseen era of leisure and entertainment would erupt after the War as a result of the technological advances during the wartime

- he became passionate about encouraging Christians to think about and engage with this leisure culture, contribute to it, also shape it rather than shun, ignore, and consume it as if it was a harmless trifle!

- he left only one published work at the end of his life, though he ceaselessly taught, lectured, wrote articles for the secular and Christian media – but instead of leaving a corpus of publications, he poured his life into students and followers whom he mentored

- he was able to shift effortlessly from serious academic discussion to explaining a complicated detail in the most simple language to someone with no arts knowledge

- he left no organization, event or movement that he had started or led during his lifetime,

- yet there is hardly an event, organization or initiative by Christians who are evangelical artists in the West today that did not at its origin have a someone who had been envisioned and profoundly influenced by Rookmaaker’s mentoring!

- he had very wide interests in culture and theology – there was no divide between ‘secular’ and ‘Christian’ ministry in his life: ‘Christ saved us to make us human, not to make us Christians’!

2) Following the biography there are a couple of interviews: in Volume 6, part II (pp 131ff); and further ones in Volume 2 (pp377–381) and Volume 3 (pp496–501); as well as letters, in Volume 3 (pp403–406) And Volume 4 (pp 393ff), which will give you more of an understanding of the man. 

3) Next we suggest his short discussions, in response to various general cultural questions from students, recorded in the ‘Westminster Discussions on Faith, Art and Culture’, in Volume 4, pp 407ff.

4) Rookmaaker lectured and taught first on ART. Volume 1 part I is for specialist readers only, his PhD thesis on the art of Gauguin. Similarly the philosophical aesthetics writings in part I of Volume 2 where he applies Dooyeweerdian philosophy to art history and art criticism are also for specialist readers. Modern Art and the Death of a Culture, reproduced in Volume 3 of the Works, quickly became a Christian classic. It is slightly specialist reading for those interested in the history of modern art. Here you will encounter Rookmaaker’s prophetic insight. He insisted that the modern art of his day was not merely ‘strange’ and ‘ugly’ in the same way other new movements of art were considered ‘strange’ and ‘ugly’ when they started. To him, a completely new ‘spirit’ was at work in the art of the twentieth century that differed from other earlier revolutionary arts movements: it was anti-nature – hated nature, attempted to pervert it, destroy it, whereas art in the past had assumed nature as the ideal, even considering it as the ‘second book of God’s revelation’ (alongside the first, the Bible).  Calling believers to grasp (and respond to) the significance of this very different ‘spirit’ that had arisen in their culture, became his life’s mission! Further art-historical articles appear in part I of Volume 4.

But part II of Volume 1 (pp231–362) reproduces Rookmaaker’s large number of very accessible short reviews of art exhibitions, written for a local daily newspaper – perhaps you want to check these when you next visit a gallery because there will certainly be some of the works or artists discussed represented, if not a whole exhibition! They are arranged by period. His reviews of twentieth-century art, artists and movements appear in part III of Volume 5 (pp209–247; 361–379).  There are more miscellaneous exhibition reviews in Volume 4 (pp461–480).

5) In relation to the arts, Rookmaaker was also a passionate ENCOURAGER of ARTISTS, and all Christians involved in creative/cultural work. The Creative Gift is a collection of essays calling Christians to engage in culture that was published posthumously in 1981. It is reproduced in part II of Volume 3. We strongly encourage you to read the first three chapters – essential reading, we think, for everyone in or hoping to be in Christian ministry: pp139–180. The chapters that follow addresses the moral shift that happened in the West since the 1960s. It is more specialist; however you may be interested in it as an example of how to reflect on what is happening in the bigger picture of your own culture, and maybe reading it will give you a passion for understanding and ministering into your own culture in a similar way?

In Art and Entertainment in Volume 3, we encourage you to read pp 58–133, which includes chapters on ‘Norms for Art’ and ‘Norms in our Association with Art’ – guidelines for Christians in judging the arts, making art, and using the arts.

The booklet Art Needs No Justification has been distributed for many years by Inter-Varsity to all new arts students at universities in the UK to encourage them (see Volume 4, pp 350ff).

6) Rookmaaker’s second love was MUSCOLOGY, and in particular jazz. In 1960 he published Jazz, Blues and Spirituals (see part II of Volume 2). You can get a taste of these writings in his articles on ‘Spirituals and Gospel’ in Volume 2 (pp339–358). Also must-read are his L’Abri lectures on jazz and rock in Volume 6 (pp 185–203): ‘Jazz and Revolution’ and ‘Rock and Protest’ (remember that at the Christian church seriously shunned rock music as being spiritually destructive, even ‘demonic’!).

7) But Rookmaaker was foremost a PASTOR at heart. He mentored his students, and reflected deeply on the BIBLE, though not a trained theologian. Theology and mission students should read his writings on ‘God’s Hand in History’, material he composed during his internship in the War, without any formal theology education, simply from reading the Scriptures. He urges for a rediscovery of the witness of ‘history’ as the third way in which God reveals himself, alongside Scripture and direct revelation by his Spirit. He also reflects on the apparent ‘absence’ of God from his people at times (is God ‘dead’?); as well as the what happens to ‘good people’ in a general time of apostacy/judgement or to ‘bad people’ in a general time of obedience/blessing. His article on ‘Prophecy in the Old and New Testaments’ in Volume 6 (pp91–119) has particularly interesting observations on ‘symbolism’ in prophecy, drawing on his art-historical insights. Also most interesting will be the wide scope of pastoral concerns he addresses, for example in Volume 3 (pp314–335; 460–476); in Volume 4 (pp425–439); in Volume 6 on ‘Evangelization’ (pp125–130); and in the following L’Abri lectures in Volume 6: ‘Our Calling in Post-Christian World’ (pp163–173); ‘To Do the Truth in Art’ (pp225–235); ‘Hermeneutics of Art’ (pp236–251); ‘Christianity and Music’ (pp259–268); ‘The problem of Christian Themes in Art’ (pp276–287) and his sermons on ‘Predestination’ (pp288–293) and ‘Love is the End’ (pp294–298).

8) Finally, but not least, we encourage you to use the website www.artway.eu, edited by Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker, who edited the Complete Works and is also the daughter of Hans Rookmaaker,. The site gives bi-weekly Christian ‘visual’ meditations on art by both secular and Christian artists. It also lists arts events, exhibitions and so on, and is an excellent resource for learning to ‘see’ and ‘read’ art images; as well as being an excellent resource on images, from around the world, on Christian themes for those looking for visual materials or ideas for use in church.  

--- Bearing Fresh Olive Leaves by Calvin Seerveld 

This is the most ‘specialist’ book in the art set. Calvin Seerveld is a Canadian emeritus Professor of Aesthetic philosophy. He works in a biblical/Reformational framework that refers to Calvin and Dooyeweerd. (It is interesting to read Rookmaaker’s review of an early article by Seerveld in Volume 2 of the Complete Works (pp151ff)!) Similar to Rookmaaker, Seerveld has been a lifelong encourager of Christians in the arts and culture.

The Introduction and chapters 1 and 2 are most useful for general readers: chapter 1 shows that art is not a luxury in culture, but and part of God’s intention in creation. In trying to define what ‘art’ is, and what makes art ‘christian’, Seerveld is particularly suspicious of ‘Christian’ art used to ‘advertise’ the gospel, under the guise of ‘evangelization’. His definition of art uniquely introduces the concept of ‘allusivity’ to replace ‘beauty’, which he finds too heavily burdened with Greek ideals in the history of art writing. Chapter 2 deals with the Christian’s task as artist – the artist’s freedom and responsibility in society. The following chapters are more specialist – in chapter 5 he gives guidelines for artists working today (pp 58–59 give three guidelines). A later chapter also looks at art and propaganda. There is an inset with full-colour illustrations and many b/w works included as examples in his discussions. (Note that Rookmaaker also usually illustrated his lectures though the Complete Works did not include illustrations. He believed very strongly that in drawing principles from looking at a particular work when discussing a trend or period, instead of making generalizing observations.) 

--- Beyond Air Guitar by Alistair Gordon 

This is a very practical resource: a workbook for Christians who are trying to work in the creative ‘industries’ as a career. It is written in a Western context but we think the problems faced in other cultures will be very similar for these people. Alistair Gordon is an artist, based in London. He runs a network for Christians in the arts called MorphÄ“ Arts (www.morphearts.org). He gained experience in mentoring artists as a UCCF worker (UK equivalent of Intervarsity) at universities in the UK. He also studied the writings of Rookmaaker and Seerveld and many other contemporary writers on (Christian) faith and the arts. This book can be used by anyone who does not have an arts background to mentor artists or creative people in a local church! It is easy to read. Have a look! 

--- A Profound Weakness by Betty Spackman 

At Piquant this is the book we are most proud of having published! It is difficult to define it, as it crosses the boundary between books ‘about’ the art and books ‘of’ art. Betty Spackman is an artist, and every image in this book is also a work of art! We think this book is essential reading for those who choose, make or use ‘Christian’ images in church.

The subtitle explains the content: ‘Christians and Kitsch’. Betty defines ‘kitsch’ as ‘the stuff I hate to love and love to hate’! She tackles the objection many evangelical Christians assume about Roman Catholicism – that they use images in an idolatrous way. She shows clearly that as evangelicals we are not free of rather dubious way of handling images and ‘stuff’.

Although very visual, this is by no means an easy book to read. But please, we urge you to read at least the following two parts: to start, turn to the very end and work through the Questionnaire, or better still, discuss it in a Bible study group! Next, read the Introduction. Each of the chapters deals with a different ‘theme’ or ‘experience’ of common human life – how do we ‘picture’ it and how as Christians, in particular, do/should/can we ‘communicate’ the gospel visually in a truthful way that communicates with the ordinary people on the street?

In the West, our art history has been heavily influenced by Christianity. In most of the Majority World that is not true. So there has not been a natural ‘Christian’ art/imagery to draw on for the church. Unfortunately the imagery that has flooded into the churches has largely been Western ‘cute’ kitsch! At the same time, because of the large amount of sophisticated religious imagery that abound in these countries, people are very sophisticated in ‘reading’ visual symbols. So it is particularly sad that Christianity has become associated visually with images that often contain a visual ‘lie’. There are huge opportunities for Christian research in relation to this book in your own culture.

 

b) BOOKS ‘OF’ ART

The Visibilia Series

This set of four books introduce four different Western Christians who are professional fine artists. With this series we wanted to give a visual reply to questions a Christian in the fine (visual) arts may ask: Is there a particular ‘Christian’ style in which I should be working – or styles I should not be using? Are there particular ‘Christian’ themes I should be expressing? What will make my work particularly ‘Christian’?

--- Peter Smith’s book is in black and white. Drawings and prints. He has been strongly influenced by the teaching of both Hans Rookmaaker and Cal Seerveld. He recently retired from a career as College arts teacher to work as a full-time artist. His work shows how a Christian ‘sees’ the world, and by expressing it in art, he opens our eyes to ‘see’ it too – in particular he notices the fine nuances – the castaway bits, showing beauty in pieces that may look ‘useless’, capturing moments, particular moments of light and shadow, this moment, now, noted, recorded …

--- Maria Gabankova (http://zpravy.org/Maria/MG.html) comes from a family of figure painters. Her works are huge, sometimes colourful and sometimes expressing direct Christian themes, though in an unusual, classical or more contemporary setting. Many works have a ‘political’ message – she empathises with the underdog and expresses extremes of pain and suffering. She excells at studies of the human body and some nude images are included. These are clearly not pornographic … (Why not? Should Christians look at nude images?)

--- Roger Wagner (www.rogerwagner.co.uk) works in a visionary way as a painter. Included are some of his breathtaking tree ‘portraits’ – capturing the grandeur of a tree! He often expresses biblical themes set in contemporary Western contexts, especially against background images of industrialization. He challenges readers to ‘imagine’ Christian truth in the bright light of today’s West – simple, yet profound … or he paints an everyday scene with super-real clarity, as if seeing it with ‘different’ eyes … His work, as with the previous two artists, challenges how we ‘see’… what is ‘real’?

--- John Walford (http://www.flickr.com/photos/walford/) was a student of Hans Rookmaaker who subsequently became Professor of Art History at Wheaton College in the USA. Before retiring he took up digital photography as a hobby. With the help of digital manipulation, and a technique he used for years in his Art History lectures of showing two or more images simultaneously, one reinforcing an aspect of the other by either similarity or juxtaposing an opposite, sets up a visual conversation with the viewer. He communicates in a very direct way, and can help us understand advertising images, but there is a deeper level of communication too that can only be found when we also understand something of the context and history and meaning of the original images he refers to in their own right. Unlocking the meaning of his work is therefore not unlike unlocking the truth of biblical texts. Some of his images have direct Christian themes, others refer to particular experiences or general seasons of human life. He has also made several images …

--- Kaai Collection

Anneke Kaai is a reformed evangelical Dutch artist. She paints almost exclusively biblical themes. Her aim is to arrest both believers and unbelievers with her large, expressive, abstract images. These are exhibited yearly in a number of traditional churches in the Netherlands, many of which are open to the public as tourist attractions. The books represent her series on Genesis, the Creed, the 10 Commandments, Psalms, Biblical words, as well as Women in the Bible and the Apocalypse (both of which differ from the other series in being more figurative). The images are also often projected during worship services or used in Christian meditation but they are not liturgical art. These may be interesting images to use in cultures where it is suspect to use representational art in worship contexts.

--- The MysticMountain by Dunstan Massey

The context in which this work was created is the extreme opposite of the Kaai collection. Father Dunstan is a 90-year-old Benedictine monk from Mission in Canada. The work in this book has been conceived over a period of 25 years and combine pen and pencil drawings with an epic poem that traces the meaning of the promise that our bodies will one day be resurrected. It is devotional and inspirational art and poetry. The art draws on the mannerist Roman Catholic tradition and is seeped in liturgical and classical symbolism. It introduces another ‘strain’ of Christian art. It expresses Dunstan’s life, which he describes as being lived for half a century in a rhythm of ‘prayer, work, prayer’. It also shows the influence of his skill as a current-day fresco painter, an art form he describes as so labout intensive as to have been economically impossible today had it not been for the efficient support of the community in his monastery.

--- Basho’s Beastly Birthday Party by Dr Simpo (Ben Simpson)

Ben Simpson is an animation graduate. Having come to faith as an arts student, he was captured by the very visual stories in the Bible, particularly the spectacular array of ‘beasties’ lurking there. In this colourful book he imaginatively animates the gospel for 4 to 10-year-olds. The result of this book is invariably that children ask for paper and pen in order to DRAW!

FINALLY, we hope from the wide variety of visual material presented here, that it will be clear that there is no particularly ‘Christian’ style or even theme for artists who are Christians. Some artists work with biblical themes but a painting of a tree or a throwaway piece of pottery can be as effective to communicate the way in which Jesus transforms how we see … or, how knowing Jesus affects what we see!