Faith, Art, and Love

30 09 2011

“Art offers the possibility for love with strangers” — Walter Hopps

In this post, I will be comparing art to religion.  The connection between art and faith was severed at some point in the 20th Century.  Contemporary artists rarely speak of any sort of Christian faith—it’s as if the only allowable form of religion is something outside of the Western mainstream.  The stereotype of Contemporary American artists is that they are outside of society, outside of the mainstream, and probably a-religious or atheistic.  So for me to write this, “outing” myself as a Christian, may be surprising or even off-putting.  The purpose of this blog is not religious proselytization, but to compare the goals of Christianity, as I am familiar with it as a Lutheran, with the goals of art.  At the center of each is love.

Love is something universal across cultures and across faiths.  It is unconditional between a mother and child; it is a bond between lifelong best friends; it is the philanthropic acts in which we engage in order to love our neighbors.  As Walter Hopps states, art and love are linked.  Indeed, my endorsement of art as a series of meaning-making interactions can be re-expressed. Love is within those interactions and experiences—in fact, the experiences are love.

This guy was about as much of a hippie as I am, and HE talked about love. So I can, too.

Love is the core of the expression of the Christian faith.  In Matthew 13:34, Jesus commands us to “love one another.  As I have loved you, so must love one another.  By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  At the surface, this seems like a re-phrasing of “The Golden Rule:” treat others as you would like to be treated, but the purpose of this commandment is less self-serving than that.

As Christians, we have been given a wonderful gift of salvation by grace.  There is nothing any person can do—no sin they can commit—that is so bad it would take that gift away from them.  What Jesus is saying here is not a requirement to get into heaven, but how to reflect that grace in ourselves.  We aren’t supposed to love one another because it’ll come back around, but because He loves us unconditionally.  Therefore, we can be like Christ and love others unconditionally.  Artists behave in this way as well.  Whether it is an Abstract Expressionist working with a monumental canvas or an interventionist interacting with an unsuspecting bystander, the goal of art is to create this experience—to create love—with any potential participant.

Reverend Billy's performances may seem to mock religion, but they are as much about love as anything. With him, it is a love of people and a desire to help slow consumerism and put an end to the business practice of human rights-abuse.

One of the more popular verses read at weddings is from 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul writes, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  Paul isn’t writing about marital love, here.  He’s writing about the centrality of love in the expression of the Christian faith.  That is what he means when he says, “And now these three remain:  faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.”  When all the extraneous factors of religion are stripped away, all that is left are faith, hope and love.  The most important of these three is love, because it is the expression of what we receive from Christ.

Faith, hope, and love are also at the core of art.  Faith in the power of art, hope that it can affect something in the viewer, and love—the experience of interaction between artists and viewer.  Without love, art doesn’t exist—we need that interaction for art to happen in the first place, which is what makes the other two factors possible.

As far as descriptions of romantic love go, I much prefer David Bowie over Paul.  “Love is careless in its choosing, sweeping over cross a baby.  Love descends on those defenseless.  Idiot love will spark the fusion.   Inspirations have I none, just to touch the flaming dove.  All I have is my love of love, and love is not loving.”

Yep. I'm comparing David Bowie to Paul. Just go with it.

Love can be fantastic.  It’s patient, kind, keeps no record of wrongs, trusts, hopes, perseveres.  But it can come from nowhere, without reason, and if you don’t maintain it, it can leave just as quickly.  Love is amazing, but love itself is not loving.

It isn’t easy.  It takes work.  Whether we are talking about the Christian expression of love or love as the goal of artistic production, it doesn’t just come into being because we think it should.  Christians must renew their experience with their own faith in order to continue reflecting that experience to others.  Artists must renew their experience with art to do the same.  Love itself may seem careless, but the application of love is something artists must focus on in order to be successful with their work.

The goals of art and faith are the same.  While art may seem more separate from religion than it was at, say, the height of the Renaissance, that connection is still there.  We’ve just forgotten about it.  But it doesn’t have to stay forgotten.




One response

1 10 2011

manonmona reblogged this on Espacio de MANON.

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