One of the biggest gaps I have seen between what most call the “Christian subculture” and culture at large is its disengagement with the arts. Somehow that subculture has gotten into its collective head that if a piece of art isn’t explicitly christian or made by an artist that is, it isn’t something we should admire or spend any time trying to understand. Even in the general culture people have little patience for trying to grasp much of ”modern” art. Part of the challenge we all face is that we haven’t been educated in art or in art history in a way that gives us a perspective or framework to do so.
Several months ago I was introduced to a podcast whose mission is to take on this challenge, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. The Lonely Palette is a Boston-based podcast that uses selected pieces from the Boston Museum of Fine Art, where the host, Tamar Avashai, offers lectures that served as the genesis of the podcasts. She covers a wide range of periods and media, sprinkling in snippets of conversations with museum-goers and their reactions to what they are seeing. The host helps the listener understand the particular piece’s historical context and often information about the artist that helps us understand what the piece is trying to say. Will you like all the pieces having heard this background? I doubt it. But you will at least come closer to understanding why it is what it is.
As Christians, it’s important that we seek to appreciate art because it is one of the things in mankind that most reflects the image of God. It’s not necessarily the content of the pieces that do this, though it can be, but it is really the process of creating them that does this. I believe that when God created man in his image one of the key aspects of that image was creativity and the desire to create. Just like everything else about God’s creation, this was corrupted as a result of sin, but a glimmer of creativity still remains. Yes, it’s often used to create things that aren’t beautiful to us, in fact the very definition of beauty is up for debate as part of the corruption. But even if the things created are not beautiful and the people that create them are overtly fallen, the creative impulse reflects God’s image and we should seek to at least understand and appreciate that about those works. Avashai’s approach helps us do that, and I encourage you to listen, learn, and appreciate the pieces she highlights, and enjoy the engaging, entertaining presentation.