The distance between good and bad [art] is not perhaps so large as is the distance between good and great.” The words are those of Kenneth Hayes Miller, one of the foremost of recent teachers of painting, whose pupils at the Art Students League in New York include such painters as Reginald Marsh, Isabel Bishop, and Edward Hopper.
A vast number of artistic works may be called good because they are loving gestures toward the divine. But there are also works of art that are sadly superficial and others that are altogether perverse. Superficial appeal to the eye can be fascinating to both artistic innovators and their extensive audiences, and works containing nothing more than such an appeal may be harmless. Quite different, however, are works so full of aesthetic disorders that a parallel can be drawn between their effects upon the aesthetic sensibilities and the effect of narcotics. Addiction to this kind of art seems to atrophy the capacity to enjoy orderly and beautiful works.
Christian artists and Christian users of art are responsible for what they permit to dwell within their aesthetic sensibility. The Holy Spirit insistently teaches us to be discerning. But discernment affronts the casualness of an age without standards that confuses novelty, faddism, and popularity with aesthetic worth. The strenuous requirement of discernment cannot bow to mere popularity.
For the Christian artist to fulfill his high calling in Christ calls for discipline, discernment, and order. This requires that aesthetics be subjected to the mind of Christ, who is himself the truth; such subjection both ennobles man and glorifies God, for as John’s Gospel says, the truth will make us free.
Out of this context, then, we turn to the high mysteries, both ...1
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