In our current world, and on deviantArt, I think the presence of genuine Christian artistic beauty is immensely lacking. Simply put, in the words of Kreeft (I won't bother paraphrasing):
"Beauty is one of the three foods of the soul, along with Truth and Goodness. These are three things we all want infinitely and absolutely. They are the three attributes of God that our very nature tells us about .... They are also the three personality traits of Jesus in the Gospels that stunned everyone: His Hard practical wisdom; His warm compassionate love; and His fascinating creativity and unpredictability. He was not only true and good, He was beautiful. Christians have succeeded, and are still succeeding today, quite famously in the first of these two areas. Christian philosophy is the most intelligent of philosophies, and Christian morality is the most holy of moralities. But Christianity no longer produces the world's most beautiful and arresting art. Modern man is rejecting Christianity not because it looks stupid or wicked, but because it looks boring: dull, hokey, embarrassing, square, sissified, bland, repressive, platitudinous, preachy, dreary, weary, stale, flat and unprofitable. Its pictures are no longer moving pictures. They do not move hearts. The secular media makes the magic now." (from Jesus-Shock)
Succinctly, I could summarize this post my simply saying that the most effective means today to bring the entire world to Christ, a primary vocation of all Christians, is through beauty.
All of us are called to be witnesses to Christ, to evangelize. This means not only spreading merely the truth of the Gospel, but also the goodness of it, and also - the beauty of it. We have to be living with a very wholistic worldview - we can't just isolate important aspects of reality, but ignore other crucial and essential aspects. We have to appeal to the entire human person: his whole heart, mind, soul and strength. As far as the mind goes, we need to appeal both sides of the brain: the left linear, logical, rationalistic lobe, and the right visual, spatial, and artistic lobe (for a more scientific and practical study of this that will greatly help you artistically, see the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards). Modern education I think appeals nearly exclusively to the left brain. Which is interesting, because that's made us such a visual culture centered culture - I think because it appeals to a neglected half of the brain.
Our current culture then is very image based (more on that in a second - sorry, told you this post would be incoherent), even though these images aren't produced by true imagination, it's simply an industry. Popular media applies a template, put together off of what sells, and simply switches the colors in the template. This is less true of artistic imagery, where there is a lot of hope I think, but it is very true of music and cinema and architecture. It's all the freaking same thing, and mostly done I think in the name of efficiency (one thing sold well, so let's put it out again under a different package. Or - this building works well for its purpose, so lets put a billion copies of it all over the world). It's excessively pragmatic.
In clearer terms: it's scattered, and so is Christianity (and so is this post). because Christianity is the heart and soul of human culture. It's denied a wholistic view of reality, it focuses exclusively on a few components to the neglect of essential and crucial points. It's the old conflict between the One and the Many. We are all Martha today, anxious and worried about many things, and there are so few Mary's out there, content with the one thing necessary (Christ). Simply put - it's relativism, a denial of transcendence, of the One, the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.
We need a cultural change. Obviously. It's not merely that we're living with a lack of beauty, but more a lack of a sensitivity to beauty. We live in a culture of death, and it is our duty to build a culture of life. The way in which we do this is through culture. And the most important aspect of culture today that will affect all the others is art. So... if you haven't gotten this already: the artistic arena is a battlefield is immense importance. And very few Christians are fighting there, and we're losing the world. This is a CULTURE WAR. It's a WAR. And people are REALLY DYING. It's a desperate situation, and human souls are at stake.
If I can get across anything in this post, I would wish it to be this: people are starving to death. They are starving for Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. It is a literal hunger, which biological hunger only reflects. As Kreeft says, Beauty is essential human need. We need beauty, and if we don't have it, we die. And not just die once, but die forever: we go to hell. Because it's an aspect of God, and if deny God, if we choose against God - we go to hell. People are HUNGRY. It is our mission, our duty, as commanded by the one to whom all authority in heaven and on earth is given to: Feed the hungry.
There is genuine, real, tangible despair present in the lives of the majority of the human race. We have to be witnesses to the hope that is within us. People are waiting to hear the Gospel, because as Tolkien says "there is no story men would rather believe was true". Our very beings ache with longing for the truth, goodness and beauty of the Gospel.
So. I mentioned we live in a very image-based culture. I think we can really use this to our advantage. Unfortunate or no, mankind does not know how to read. He is also deaf. So let's use images, let's use sign language. Show, don't tell. That's what art is - signs. I think I recall Aristotle outlining this rather well in his "Poetics", he used the term "imitative art". Walker Percy and Peter Kreeft outline it even clearer (see Percy's Lost in the Cosmos and everything Peter Kreeft has ever written). C.S. Lewis points out that "Nothing is yet in its true form". Everything is a sign pointing beyond itself. It's an effect pointing back to the first cause: the Creator. Art, Tolkien says, is "sub-creation". We participate in the act of creation through art! It is thus an essentially Christian vocation.
Why were C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton the most effective and popular apologists of the 20th Century (and the 21st, thus far - they are more relevant today than they were in their own time)? Not because they defended the faith with flawless, clear, logical reasoning (though they often did). No, it's because they primarily used images, signs, analogies. An image sticks in your mind, and you can't really block it out. For instance: a pornographic image burns itself into your mind, whether you willfully look at it or not. It bypasses intellectual barriers. Truth is far more easily denied than goodness and beauty. You can deny a logical proof of St. Thomas Aquinas, but you can't deny the obvious in your face goodness and beauty of a Mother Teresa.
All good art points back to Christ, who is the "image of the invisible God". Our art makes the invisible visible. It awakes in us a longing for the invisible. Real beauty gives us a glimpse of the object of our longing, which in turn awakens such intense longing for the whole picture. It hurts, deeply - but it is also the most joyful thing we know. It is "agony and ecstasy". It makes us wonder. It draws us outside of ourselves, to be possessed by something greater than ourselves. It hurts, like a burning fire! The German word for this is "sehnsucht". That's why the saddest things also strike us as the most beautiful: beauty hurts, it burns. "Thou touched me!I tasted thee, and now I burn to live within thy peace" (St. Augustine). This wonder, this awe, is very like the experience of contemplative prayer. It is an infused state of silent awe, a gaping mouth into which the Body and Blood of Christ (beauty made incarnate) is inserted.
That's also why beauty seems very subjective. Because it's a mystery, and we recognize it by our intense longing for that mystery, and so I think we tend to judge beauty by our subjective experience of it.
Let me give an example. When I see something beautiful, especially natural created beauty, I feel almost uncomfortable. When I see a very beautiful woman, or a gorgeous sunset, or a cute baby - it causes unrest. I want to do something, I want to fully appreciate this incredible beauty, but I can't. I am helpless, and I am struck with silence. It evokes a longing in more for something I can't quite put my finger on. As Sam Gamgee says, "If there's any magic about, it's right down deep, where I can't lay my hands on it, in a manner of speaking."
As artists, we participate in sub-creation, in making a sign for the beauty of creation. As I said, art is the art of making signposts. Art points back to reality it is depicting. If you paint a portrait of a person, the pigments on the canvas aren't literally the person, and no on in their right minds would perceive it as such. Instead, it points beyond itself, to the real person it depicts.
We must depict Christ. I don't mean we have to just draw pictures of Him (though that's very important). We have to depict the object of human longing, or a very small glimpse of it anyway. Jesus Christ IS beauty, just assuredly as He is Truth, and Goodness. And One. It is part of His identity, of who He is. He is the most beautiful person of all time. Our lives have to be an image of that beauty, as we strive for sanctity living in "imitation of Christ". Our art must be the fruit of our own sanctity, of the divine indwelling of God within us. So we must depict the hope that is within us, we must depict the beauty of Christ, by making beautiful art.
Make good, excellent, beautiful art. A lot of modern Christian art makes a very utilitarian mistake of utilizing poor art for the sake of telling the truth of our faith. It's not authentic, it's not sincere. It's preachy: preaching is boring. It's not beautiful because it isn't sincere, and it shoots itself in the foot. You can be sure no poor work ever came out of a certain carpenter's shop in Nazareth.
I think making good art is integral to fighting abortion and preserving the dignity of the human family and building a culture of life. Like spouses who participate in God's creation, the artist pro-creates (or rather sub-creates) along with God. God is the primary artist, not us. We're just instruments. You are an instrument of God's creation. So let your art be born out of love, your own love affair with Christ. Sing this love, because lovers sing! Kreeft says: "It is as natural for the lover to sing as for the fire to burn." (Jesus-Shock)
What are we singing? The Song of Songs! We are singing the song of love! We are singing of the love of Christ for His people! Let your finger drip with this - "I arose to open to by beloved and my fingers dripped with myrrh, and my fingers were full of the choicest myrrh". Let that drip onto your page, let it be the paint you paint with. Let it pour out of Scripture, into your heart, and out through your fingertips. Pour out your lives, heart and soul, onto that paper! Let it drip with the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Let your art be the fruit of the love of Jesus Christ.
As artists, we can produce a cultural change that will enhance the world's perception and sensitivity to Beauty. This will ultimately yield an immense openness to Jesus Christ. Let's be His instruments, as He plays His great Song of love for the world.
To conclude (yeah, finally), I'd just like to point out an example of immense Christian beauty present here on dA...
The Theotokos of Vladimir by ~LordShadowblade [link] To me, this is one of the most beautiful pictures I have ever seen in my life. It has changed my life, and it was the model I used to describe genuine Christian artistic Beauty in this entry.
All art is Marian. It makes us handmaidens of the Lord. We become signs, just like Mary, the greatest signpost pointing to Jesus that ever was, because she was the greatest saint that ever was. I appeal to you know: surrender your lives to God just as Mary did, the woman who sang the Magnificat to God Most-High. Surrender totally, completely, entirely to the Holy Trinity. You will then bring about, just as Mary did, the birth of the Messiah, Emmanuel ("God-with-us") in your art, and in human hearts - the temples of the most Holy Trinity. Then will the world proclaim: "God is truly among you!" (1 Cor 14:25).
Late have I loved thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new. Late have I thee! Thou wert within me, while I was outside of myself. I was searching for thee in all the outward joys and beauties. And all I found was loneliness. Then I fell and was broken by those same lovely things which I soughtthings that thou thyself made. Yet thou wert with me, while I was not with thee. I was being kept from thee by my hunger for the world's lovely things. I did not even recognize that all the things I sought had been created by Someone, or they would not exist at all. Then thou called me and cried to me and broke through my deafness! Thou sent forth your beam, the light of your magnificently beautiful presence. Thou shone your Self upon me to drive away my blindness. Thou breathed your fragrance upon me and in astonishment I drew my breath now I pant for thee! I tasted thee, and now I hunger and thirst for thee. Thou touched me!I tasted thee, and now I burn to live within thy peace. ~ St. Augustine.
Omnes ad Iesum per Mariam,