Friday, February 22, 2008

The Wright Attitude to Imagination, Art & Beauty

I've just finished reading a wonderful little book, namely Evil and the Justice of God by N T Wright. Amazingly (given the current blogging theme on beauty here), Wright turns his attention to creative imagination, beauty, and art. I'll quote the entire section below (bold emphasis is mine):

But the Christian imagination - shrunken and starved throughout the long winter of secularism - needs to be awakened, enlivened and pointed in the right direction...Christians needs to sense permission, from God and from one another, to exercise their imaginations in thinking ahead into God's new world and into such fresh forms of worship and service as will model and embody aspects of it. We need to have this imagination energized, fed and nourished, so that it is lively and inventive, not sluggishly going around in small circles of a few ideas learned long ago. And the Christian imagination must be disciplined, focused and directed, as with consciences itself, so that it doesn't simply rush madly about in all directions. It will not do to suppose that any old imaginative world will be as good as any other...

How can the Christian imagination be re-educated so that we can become conscious of living between the victory achieved by Jesus and the ultimate renewal of all things? At this point we must speak about art... To make sense of and to celebrate a beautiful world through the production of artefacts which are themselves beautiful is part of the call to be stewards of creation... Genuine art is thus itself a response to the beauty of creation, which itself is a pointer to the beauty of God.

But we don't live in the Garden of Eden. Art which attempts to do so quickly becomes flaccid and trivial...

The beauty of creation, to which art responds and tries to express, imitate, and highlight, is not simply beauty which it possesses in itself but the beauty which it possesses in view of what is promised to it... If Christian artists can glimpse this truth, there is a way forward to celebrating beauty, to loving God with all the soul, without lapsing into pantheism on the one hand or harsh, negative 'realism' on the other. Art at its best draws attention not only to the way things are, but to the way things are meant to be...

I want to draw out a few things which Wright has brought up in this small passage.

  • We (Christians) need to heed the call to push forward into a new era of creativity in the realm of arts and aesthetics. Wright seems to sense that Christians and the Church are in the artistic equivalent of a cul de sac, going round and round rehashing the same old tired ideas when it comes to art, worship, notions of beauty, etc. I believe we should respond positively to this challenge, accept its rebuke, and move forward.

  • A further important point, which bears repeating, is that we don't live in the garden of Eden. Although most Christians would agree with this, many would perhaps suggest that Paradise of Heaven is the Garden of Eden, and that at the end of the day all of this culture and technology here on earth is a waste of time: one day God will get rid of it all and we'll all go back to the garden, either in Heaven or in the New Creation. Yet to believe this is to fail to grasp a key theme in scripture. The story began in the garden, but it ends (in the book of Revelation) in a garden-city. A garden in the midst of a city (or is it the other way around?). This is not just a theological curiosity, and I expect this is what Wright is on about. God embraces our culture, and brings his paradise into our midst. Thus as we celebrate beauty and our Hope in God, we must remember that this goes beyond images of flowers and waterfalls.

There's lots more to say, but I'll leave some space for my readers to add their comments...What do you folks think about this?

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