Art, the product of human creativity and that is aesthetically pleasing, comes in numerous forms, including film, music, painting, fiction, woodwork, steelwork, architecture, knitting, dance, and cooking and baking (to name but a few). In my view, true art is always (1) driven by creativity, (2) produced with some level of skill, and (3) aesthetically pleasing. This implies, of course, that several things or works have been mislabelled as “art”, such as when an “artist” plonks down an empty canvas or unworked rock or simplistic photograph of someone sitting on the loo, and calls it “art”. No, my friend, such things are not art but an embarrassment to the world of art.
Now, obviously, not all art is good. Perhaps most poor art is created by junior artists still learning and perfecting their craft. This is understandable, and we should be patient with them, encourage them, support them, and focus on the good, if any, in their work.
But another cause of the crummy and lousy art being produced is the artist’s surrender to create for the market. Instead of creating what they want to and out of passion, many artists create art that the market gatekeepers claim will sell. For example, an author might be passionate about Tolkien-styled fantasy that is clean and conservative – that is the type of fiction he really wants to write – but he listens to the gatekeepers and instead writes romance novels that have liberal themes; and since he lacks passion for the novels he writes, he produces novels that lack that special ingredient that can only come from passion. An example of this seems to be many of the recent Hollywood films that have far-left themes but lack substance and deep characters and skilled story telling – such films will surely end up on the forgotten and abandoned pile of “art”.
Yes, it is understandable that an artist might chase after the market: he wants to increase his sales, he wants more money. Nevertheless, it is difficult to justify why we should encourage and support and purchase such low-quality, politically-driven, passion-less art.
So, much art is bad in quality. But there is another sense in which art can be bad: it can be bad for your spiritual or psychological or physical well-being. Certain art is bad for you. I believe, for example, that artistic pornography, or deeply violent or psychologically disturbing stories, or music that kindles negative behaviour, such as depression or aggression, are unhealthy forms of art. I won’t explain why I find these as examples of unhealthy art, and you may disagree with them, but, surely, you can find your own examples of such negative art (and if you think all art is healthy or acceptable, then I fear you are like a person lying for hours in the sun without sunscreen and thinking that you will not burn). Nevertheless, art that is bad in this sense should be discouraged and avoided.
Let us now address this question: Why enjoy art? Given our discussion above, the question clearly focuses on good art, that is, quality art that is not bad for you; and, unless otherwise indicated, we will hereafter use the word “art” to refer to this sense of good art. So, why might you sift through the mountains of good and bad art to find the good, and then spend time enjoying some of this art? Do you not have better things to do with your precious time? Well, let me mention one of the many reasons for why you might consider enjoying art:
As with sleep, leisure time is a non-negotiable. Indeed, God commands us to set time aside for rest from work (Exodus 20:8–11). For the sake of your health and well-being and relationships, you simply cannot afford to neglect activities outside of work and that relax and de-stress you, such as hiking, camping, playing a sport, visiting with friends, eating out, reading, and so on. Now, many people don’t know how to fill much of their leisure time, so they spend an unhealthy portion of this time engaging with technology, such as watching an hour or more of television a day, or mindlessly scrolling through social media, or watching YouTube video after video after video to trigger a dopamine spike, or surfing the internet without a real purpose, or checking news sites every hour. Such activities are unhealthy, and it’s foolish to allow them to have a grip on you.
An excellent remedy to this unwelcome situation is to replace some (or most) of your screen time with art time. Why not turn off your screens and devices and then listen to good music, or read a novel or poetry, or visit an art gallery and get lost in a painting, or go to a ballet show? Why not try enjoy and appreciate art in some leisure time for a few months to see whether art or technology inspires you more, speaks to you more, uplifts you more, encourages you more? What you find might surprise you.
So, why enjoy art? Because it can help you wean yourself off of technology; because it is a healthier way to relax than to be glued to a screen; because good art is good for you.
A related question is this: Why create art? That is, why might you spend time mastering some skill and then use this skill to produce good art? Well, there are many reasons why you might do this, such as:
As with enjoying art, creating art can be a healthy leisure activity.
The world is crying out for good art; it’s pleading for us, especially Christians, to shine the bright light of good art where bad art has left a dark, smelly, repulsive odour.
Certain art helps us explore certain issues (such as human nature) in unique ways.
Art can move and inspire people in ways that non-artistic methods cannot.
As with many of us, you might get a powerful urge to create art, regardless of whether you plan to share the art with others.
Creating art can help you balance your intellectual and creative sides (I have a suspicion that many scholars would be better at research if they spent more time creating art).
These are good reasons for why you might consider creating art, but I want to focus on another reason: creating art is one of the many ways in which you can enjoy time with God, practice His presence, and get closer to Him.
God is the perfect artist, He is the Creator of the universe (Genesis 1:1), He is the paradigm of creativity because creativity is an essential part of His divine nature. Clearly, God enjoys creating things – just look at the spread out stars, or the remarkable dinosaurs, or the weird-looking ocean fish, or the atoms, or how the hippopotamus produces its own sunscreen, or how human beings are psychological complex and relational creatures. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” says David in Psalm 19, “the sky displays His handiwork. Day after day it speaks out; night after night it reveals His greatness.”
But God, the ultimate Artist and Creator, made mankind in His image and after His likeness (Genesis 1:26); God imparted creativity inside of us, and this creativity is there whether you believe in Him or not. Like God, we are creative beings, and we were meant and designed and intended to create things.
Now, it is a wonderful experience for an artist to be in a community of like-minded artists in which he can share ideas, receive instructive feedback and guidance, get support and inspiration, and simply talk about a shared enjoyment. So, why not engage in a similar journey with God? Why not invite Him into your creative activities, speak to Him about your ideas, seek His feedback, and simply enjoy Him while you and He create things together like two lovers cooking a wonderful food dish together? God will enjoy this, you will enjoy this, and you and Him will have precious father-and-child bonding time.
So, my friend, create things and be artistic, but not alone; create things in the presence of God with the intention of enjoying Him.