Would Augustine Have Enjoyed Picasso?

Beware the local movie house! Satan lurks there! At least my mother thought so. As a child she was careful not to walk near the neighborhood theater for fear the Devil would snatch her right off the street.

Many Christians, when confronted with “modern” abstract painting, remind me of my mother. Afraid of being caught in the clutches of some obscene philosophy, they refuse their senses the rich feast of a painting by a master like Picasso. His philosophy may be lost and despairing, but his paintings as paintings—their colors, their lines—are simply magnificent. And praise God I can enjoy them!

Many of the great artists of the twentieth century, while being slaves to godless philosophies, were masters of composition. Reject their philosophies, yes, but only after savoring their achievements as painters.

Just what is meant by “modern art”? Actually “modern” is misleading. What is usually referred to as modern art is abstract art as it evolved in the twentieth century, beginning with the impressionists at the turn of the century and culminating with the abstract expressionists in the 1950s. Usually it is distinguished from “contemporary art,” that is, what is happening in the art world now.

More generally, most people label any abstract painting “modern.” I will use the term in this broader sense while not forgetting the historical context.

As we stopped before a painting by Paul Klee at the Denver Art Museum recently, a friend asked me, “What do you think he was trying to say with that?” The question is a good one in its place, but to ask it before one examines the painting as a painting is the quickest way to become puzzled and bored at an art museum. We should encounter a painting as a message ...

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