A few days ago as I was looking through some entries in FB, I saw the photo of a friend of ours who works in Prague, leading a small church that meets in a very nice cafe.
The photo depicted him with his eyes looking up. I thought it was a very inspiriting shot, simple, but communicating the sense of aw and wonder that many in our western world seemed to have lost.
As I read different comments, I realised that he was inside Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona.
As I shared with Sean, my husband, about the photo and the place, he said to me: “That is christian art”.
All of the above made me think once again about: What is christian art? Is there such a thing as christian art? Is the art christian because it was made by a”christian” or is it christian because it portraits certain christian elements?
When I went to Sagrada Familia, several years ago, I found myself in a place that it was full of joy, colour and beauty. Antoni Gaudi, the architect who envisaged this project, was a man ahead of his time. I don’t know what his religious beliefs were, I do know that nature played an important role in the way he designed things. For example, the fact that there are no corners in nature, influenced his architecture, as his designs have no corners but curves.
But even if I don’t know what he believed in relation to God, Jesus, etc. he managed to have a vision of a place where, as I said, joy, colour and beauty, reflect the Creator.
He designed a place, that takes you and me, outside of ourselves and make us think of somebody much greater than us.
For many centuries before the Reformation in the XVI century, christian art was the portrayal of religious scenes. The early works were characterised by hardly any perspective and by their darkness. Later we will find other masterpieces like the Sixtine Chapel, where the story of God is told in a magnificent way. These fabulous pieces of art, however, are not relational and they don’t reflect the world that people were living in.
When the Reformation took place, the emphasis changed. Francis Schaeffer, in his book “How should we then live?” makes a very helpful point. The Reformation affected the way art was done. Now, it was not the religious paintings that occupy the mind of some of the artists, but the ordinary people, and we see this very clear in many of the dutch painters.
The people that before were unnoticed, now, they became the centre of the paintings. Every day life became sacred: bringing the milk, harvesting, writing a letter.
The artists started to observe the world around them, and by bringing the ordinary out of the obscurity they came to reflect the reality of the world that they lived in.
Now, were these artists christians? I don’t know, they certainly have been affected by a new understanding of God and His world.
I believe that every time somebody creates something that somehow depicts the nature of God, His creation, the world as it was intended to be, an awareness of what the world is not, that gives voice to those who haven’t, that brings out the people and things that are in obscurity, that that is, what I like to call “God centred art. It is the art done with eyes wide open, observing, taking it all in. And by doing it we reflect the One, who was a craftsman, who walked around and was able to see the lilies of the valley, the tears of a widow and the hunger of the multitude.