The Mission of Art
Growing up as a missionary kid in Guatemala, David Taylor was learning the meaning of beauty before he even realized it. Taylor names the tropical landscape as one of five key elements in shaping his own identity as an artist. The others: listening to his mother play classical music on her grand piano; watching his father tend orchids in the backyard greenhouse; reading "books outside my tradition" recommended by his Regent College professors, including Eugene Peterson; and "being given permission to try and fail—again and again—by the leadership of Hope Chapel [in Austin, Texas], as I sought to discover what an arts ministry was supposed to be about."
Taylor, Hope Chapel's arts pastor for eight years, is now studying theology and liturgy in the doctoral program at Duke Divinity School, with an eye toward establishing an arts center in Austin. He has just released his first book, for the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts (Baker), with contributions from such culture observers as Peterson, Andy Crouch, Lauren Winner, Barbara Nicolosi, and Taylor himself. He hopes his book will "offer the church a theologically informed, biblically deepened, liturgically sensitive, artistically robust, and missionally shrewd vision for the arts."
Question & Answer
What is beauty?
Classically, the approach has been to see beauty in terms of three qualities: unity, complexity, and radiance. The textured parts of Shakespeare's Hamlet hold together in a way that keeps us asking for it again and again. But that can also be true of a Texas barbecue, the four beasts of Revelation, and the athleticism of Kobe Bryant. We shouldn't stop with classical ideas about beauty; we also need to think about beauty Christologically. The moment we sever beauty from the death and resurrection of Christ, we risk sliding toward idealism or pretty-ism. In Christ we can discover the broken side of beauty, and it is in that light that we will find beautiful the self-sacrifice of a Mother Teresa or the terror of a Schindler's List.
I might find something beautiful that you find ugly. Are we both right?
Yes. You might find the German language beautiful; I may find it ugly. But we find it beautiful and ugly for complicated reasons. You may despise bratwurst and German consonants, but that doesn't mean that the language of Martin Luther ceases to be beautiful. We have to distinguish between the form of the material and our personal response to it.
How can the church better integrate the arts into its life?
It's not that we haven't thought biblically about the arts; it's that we haven't thought biblically deeply enough. It's all there, as Andy Crouch points out in Culture Making: in Genesis and in the Gospels, in Jesus, the Icon of God and the great metaphor user. My prayer is that the essays [in my book] will stir us to develop a theology—a Christian mind about art—that is capable of sustaining a long-lasting, fruit-bearing tradition of art-making by the church, for the church, and for the good of the world, to the glory of God.
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More information about W. David O. Taylor can be found at artspastor.blogspot.com. For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts is available at ChristianBook.com and other book retailers.
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