Cover of Only let people be careful not to allow that ancient error to sneak into the visual arts once again, which claimed that the art of painting serves a higher spirit only if it portrays scenes from the Bible, or architecture serves a higher purpose only if it erects buildings for worship. The spirit of Christ ennobles all of life. Someone who regards nature as Jesus regarded it, who then possesses the artistic talent for transferring the received impression to a canvas and helps us to enjoy that impression, has glorified his God as a Christian.

Similarly, someone who is able to understand human life in the wealth of its manifestations and in the multiplicity of its struggles, as that must be understood with the light of God’s Word, and who knows how to transfer the received impression into the world of beauty, has interpreted the Spirit of his Lord dwelling within that life.

— Abraham Kuyper, as translated in Wisdom and Wonder: Common Grace in Science and Art, pp.181-2.

Observations:

  • This passage is part of a larger argument that Kuyper is making, viz., that relegating artistic expression to ecclesiastical life alone impoverishes public life and robs laymen of an opportunity to glorify God. That is, in reclaiming the idea that vocation outside of the church could be just as “sacred” and God-glorifying as ministerial work, the Reformers also restored the legitimacy of art outside the church (178-9).
  • For those of us who are tempted to push artistic expression completely out of the church because we see it as either extraneous or indulgent, these words of Kuyper’s offer balance: “It is therefore a gap in the life of Christianity if, because it is too far estranged from nature and too little interested in the sensate life of the imagination, it should lack the impulse to manifest itself in the world of beauty, […] thereby to glorify the name of her God in the realm of art” (181).
  • Kuyper’s thoughts here resonate in the work of Francis Schaeffer, who presents them in a more refined and concise format.
  • Within Kuyper’s ideal of “enjoying” the impressions given us by artists, he leaves room for the portrayal of struggle, i.e., the realities of life in a fallen world. This finds parallel in Schaeffer’s more extensive discussion of what he calls the “light” and “dark” themes in art (see his Art and the Bible).
  • Kuyper’s words, now over a hundred years old, serve as an older articulation of the (currently frequent) call for Christians to not merely create what Schaeffer calls “Sunday-school art,” but to be Christians who are free to be artists in every sphere of life.
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