The Point of Art

Over the past year I’ve tried several times to put into words the point of art. Or to put it another way, why is art more than just a hobby? What is its greater or spiritual use? I don’t think I have THE answer, or if there even is one, but I wanted to share some thoughts, and I’d love to hear yours!

I know in my gut that art has a profound use and that the world would be pretty bleak without it. Art undoubtedly adds aesthetically to the world, but is that it? It’s not exactly an insignificant role (think of how Heaven is described in the Writings: bursting with beauty of all kinds), but I think there’s more. Creating art or being an artist can easily look and feel like a luxurious hobby next to more “useful” or worthy occupations (doctors, teachers, ministers, counsellors, orphanage managers… to name a few of my most easily guilt-tripping ones). Now comparing the use of relative jobs is a losing game from the beginning, especially in a world which focuses on monetary and external value. Still, this question of arts’ USE is one I’ve pondered and enjoyed seeking to find a satisfying answer to.

While thinking about this question, I came upon this psalm, a jubilant celebration of the Lord’s creation.

“O Lord, how manifold are Your works!
In wisdom You have made them all.
The earth is full of Your possessions—
This great and wide sea,
In which are innumerable teeming things,
Living things both small and great.”
Psalm 104:24-25

Comparing human creations to the Lord’s creation is perhaps ambitious. However, looking at Creation and the joy, colour, and variety with which the Lord made the natural world, I experience such a clear call to participate in the joy of creation. The joy in beauty, nuance, texture, and really stopping to notice the intricacy of our surroundings. Art, in any form, requires us to stop and see and feel in order to appreciate it. We have to be present in the world rather than immersed in the bubble of ME. We cannot hope to create like the Lord does, and I don’t think most artists are trying to, but it does feel a bit like celebrating what He did when we stop and notice it enough to try and understand, embody, convey, or capture what it means, and to create a vehicle through which others can experience that meaning.

But even if it is a celebration, that still feels like a bit of a cop out answer. I believe that what is most powerful about art is that it captures something True. Truth comes on all levels, from the most natural and tangible, to the most elevated and profound. In painting (my medium) these can be truths as simple as the curve of a birds wing, or as grand as the awesome beauty of a landscape, as nuanced as a person’s expression, as tender as a human connection. And when something true is depicted, it reaches us and uplifts us, challenges us, touches us. It shows us something about the world, human nature, creation, life. And as human beings this enriches us, and, I believe, brings us closer to the Lord.

I think when we really engage with art we have to seek to understand something outside of ourselves, something relatable, something challenging, something comforting, something inspiring: something real. Art has the ability to convey these ideas, feelings, these understandings, that are bigger than any one of us, and must inevitably direct us to their only source: the Lord.

I don’t claim that my art has any such lofty abilities, but it is ideas like this that keep me painting, that give me the deep desire to create for something that is bigger than honoring my own skills or achievements. They help me to feel that in creating art, I’m forcing myself to rejoice in the Lord, remember to notice Him, and learn from Him.

“May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
May the Lord rejoice in His works.
He looks on the earth, and it trembles;
He touches the hills, and they smoke.

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
May my meditation be sweet to Him;
I will be glad in the Lord.”
Psalm 104:31-34

This is such a big topic and there is so much to say. What are your thoughts, fellow artists, creators, human beings?

About Tania Alden

Tania is a wife, mother, artist, and South African American (in that order). Born in the USA she spent her formative years in Westville, South Africa, only returning to America to attend Bryn Athyn College. Tania and her husband Micah now live in Bryn Athyn with their small and delightful daughter. Tania loves to share memories and discussions, especially when they are centered on South Africa, parenting, art, the movie "Gladiator," and spiritual life.

7 thoughts on “The Point of Art

  1. “Creating art or being an artist can easily look and feel like a luxurious hobby.” Thank you Tania for your wise and lovely thoughts about art. I have been sad to hear creative family members expressing a bit of guilt about using some of their time to make beautiful things instead of being “useful.” Beauty is the face of order. The Lord makes all kinds of people to serve His many uses in this world and the next. I wish that our culture valued the “hands on” varieties (both artistic and mechanical) as much as the head ones.
    “Let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish Thou the work of our hands.” Psalm 90
    (By the way, the work of your hands is lovely! Nathan and Vera gave us your beautiful Heron painting as a thank you gift for helping when their little son Heron was born. It is a treasure.)

    1. “Beauty is the face of order.” Yes!! I feel like I was looking for those words but couldn’t find them. Thank you for your warmth, Janis.

      And I’m delighted that you have a copy of that painting! So very fitting.

  2. “I believe that what is most powerful about art is that it captures something True… And when something true is depicted, it reaches us and uplifts us, challenges us, touches us. It shows us something about the world, human nature, creation, life. And as human beings this enriches us, and, I believe, brings us closer to the Lord.”

    Spot. On. Beautiful.

    Isn’t it interesting that people often boil their impressions of art down to whether or no its “good?” That kind of like/dislike reaction has always struck me as hollow. I think that when art really resonates it is when people see truth in it and not good/not good, if that makes sense. The truth is what strikes us and then the tender care that went into the creation and the expression of that truth makes it stick and move the observer.

    I love that you found these words. Thank you for sharing them.

    And for the record, your art most definitely has the so-called “lofty” abilities you describe. No question.

    1. Thank you, dear Justine! And I so agree—I’d never thought of it in those words before, but it’s so obvious that limiting art to being “good” or “bad” does feel like it’s missing the point, and the power.

      Thank you for your love and support, it’s a special thing in my life!

  3. It’s possible you might be fascinated with E. Bruce Glenn’s book on art as “the affectional ordering of experience.” I had him as a teacher in college and he used that book to teach us with. He had obviously put a lifetime of thought into it. Writing was his art, but the ideas would probably apply more broadly and might be interesting to consider. Just a thought.

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