It was the worst thing I had ever done as an artist. On the easel before me, in the midst of a just completed abstract painting, was a giant arrow pointing heavenward. In a moment of artistic weakness and evangelistic fervor I had brushed it in.

Why such a crudely pious statement? Frankly, it was an attempt to gratify my hunger to make the painting “authentically Christian”—an anxiety not uncommon in believing artists.

Christian painters know that the evangelical community expects their work to be obviously apologetic in content. Any deviation, whether it be a more subtle expression of the Christian faith or experimenting with contemporary styles of painting, and the artist stands accused of pursuing a frivolous career unworthy of the true disciple. It should be no surprise that this climate has strangled the creative talents of many people. Except for Georges Rouault, a Catholic, there has been no great Christian painter in our century. When painters become propagandists their art suffers. We can see this more clearly by assaying the demise of painting in the Soviet Union. What has happened there parallels in many ways what has happened to twentieth century Christian art.

Painting never has been the Soviet Union’s leading art form (the Western practice of easel painting was uncommon before the 1700s). Rather, its artists have excelled in music, ballet, and literature. But there was a period, about the time of the Revolution, when Russian painters were on the cutting edge of the avant-garde.

Cultural as well as political upheaval followed 1917—a new art for new society. Chagall and Kandinsky rushed home from their exiles to help in reshaping Soviet painting. But the foremost exponent of revolutionary art was Kasimir Malevich. ...

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