Sunday, June 7, 2009

6/8- Calvin and art

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

/8- Calvin and Art

Moses, saying, 2See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: 3And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, 4To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, 5And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship. 6And I, behold, I have given with him Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan: and in the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded thee; 7The tabernacle of the congregation, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is thereupon, and all the furniture of the tabernacle,(Ex. 31:1-7)

And yet I am not gripped by the superstition of thinking absolutely no images permissible. But because sculpture and painting are gifts of God, I seek a pure and legitimate use of each, lest those things which the Lord has conferred upon us for his glory and our good be not only polluted by perverse misuse but also turned to our destruction. We believe it wrong that God should be represented by a visible appearance, because he
himself has forbidden it [Exodus 20:4] and it cannot be done without some defacing of his glory. And lest they think us alone in this opinion, those who concern themselves with their writings will find that all well balanced
writers have always disapproved of it. If it is not right to represent God by a physical likeness, much less will we be allowed to worship it as God, or God in it. Therefore it remains that only those things are to be sculptured or painted which the eyes are capable of seeing: let not God’s majesty, which is far above the perception of the eyes, be debased through unseemly representations.(I.11.12)

Art is a gift from God, Calvin said. It is a means of human expression. The best art, according to Calvin’s taste- not his demands, was art that imitated reality. Calvin did demand that we should not try to paint God nor the invisible spiritual realities. God is the greatest artist. He has an appreciation of beauty and has given us eyes and desire to appreciate beauty as well. Art is not the best way to communicate the gospel, according to Calvin. Art tends to be subjective in its interpretation, more than the written or preached word. In this sense Rembrandt (who grew up, was married in, and had his children baptized in a Reformed church), exhibited Calvinistic art.
As Leith (IRT p. 194) put it, “the nativity [in Rembrandt] occurs not in a castle but in a barn; the man on the cross is not a Greek god who is asleep but a man who is dead; Mary at the foot of the cross is not a Greek goddess with a tear on her face, but a mother who has been bereaved of her dear son.” Remember Calvin’s main sin is idolatry. So he is very cautious not to elevate humans or to falsely portray God or the spiritual.
The same could be said about the different artistic media we have today. TV, the internet, theater, printed page are all gifts of God. They should glorify God, not take away from His glory. They should add beauty to life, not dirtiness or despair. The purpose of art is not simply to arouse passion, feeling or human expression- but to glorify God in passion, feeling, and human expression. As of all things- there is good expression and passion and bad. The judge of all art is not the critic, but the greatest artist of all- the Creator.

Prayer: Help me, Lord, to have an eye for your beauty this day. Instill in me an appreciation of true beauty in art and life.

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