The Shell of Contemporary Art

You remember the story about the Emperor’s New Clothes? The Emperor was buck naked, but nobody would admit it because they didn’t want to be mocked as somebody not smart enough to see the beauty of what he was wearing. It took a child to admit that the Emperor had no clothes. And after that, the jig was up. Let’s talk about art.

The Invisible Sculpture

The contemporary art world today is very much an Emperor’s New Clothes kind of endeavor. Let me read you some examples of art shows in various parts of our country going on right now. There is an Italian artist by the name of Salvatore Garau, who just sold for $18,000 an invisible sculpture. Turns out his invisible sculpture entitled “I Am,” he says, “It exists but not in material form. It’s actually more like a vacuum.” He goes on to say,

The vacuum is nothing more than a space full of energy. And even if we empty it and there’s nothing left, according to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, that nothing has weight. Therefore, it has energy that is condensed and transformed into particles, that is, into us. It’s much like we shape a god we’ve never seen.

This piece of $18,000 artwork consists of a five by five square that the artist says, “Must be displayed in a private space free from obstructions where lighting and climate control are not required.” He’s so convinced that this exists even though you can’t see it. He included a certificate of authentication for the buyer.

It’s a five by five gravel square that is empty. But he tells us that there’s an invisible sculpture there.
In Los Angeles at the Nino Mier Gallery there is a display of artwork from artist Louise Bonnet that consists of fat, chunky, rubbery body parts set against a background of various colors. She says that each scene represents, listen to this, “A woman’s desire to be alone and to remain inaccessible in a world that expects women to be available and accommodating.”

Now I don’t know about you, I’m a relatively smart person, but I have to tell you, one artist talking about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and another artist talking about a woman’s desire in a world where she’s expected to be… This is all so much gibberish. We’re supposed to think that this is art because somebody has declared it to be art. When in fact it is silliness.

In Chicago at the Anthony Gallery a display of art under the title of “Wonder Years,” by Chinese artist Wu Yue consists of a variety of pieces that he has painted made up of pop culture subjects that he merges with surrealist forms. In other words, he has one piece that has a dinosaur skeleton, Michael Jordan dunking a basketball, and intricately drawn human hands all in one celestial setting. He has another work that has Casper the Friendly Ghost as the main feature of the piece. Forgive me but are you starting to think that we’ve lost our minds?

It’s not just the art world either. You don’t have to be on social media very long to find a common topic of conversation that asks this question, “Has Hollywood lost all of its creativity? Why are there so many movie remakes? Why are there endless sequels? Why is there nothing that makes us better for having watched it?”

Well, let me see if I can give you some Biblical perspective.

Yearning for Beauty

We are living in a world today that was described for us in Romans 1. Romans 1:18-22, the Apostle Paul tells us this:

"For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became worthless, and their senseless hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools."

In verse 26 it says this, “For this reason God delivered them over to disgraceful passions.” In verse 28 it says, “And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a corrupt mind so that they do what is not right.”

We live in a culture that is starving for creativity, that is yearning for beauty and can’t seem to find it anywhere. Our art is degrading. Our cinema is immoral. Now, I’m not telling you that there’s nothing good in the world. I’m just saying that by-in-large we’re living in a Romans 1 kind of world where God has left our culture to follow their own non-sensical thought processes. We now look at ugly things and pretend that they’re beautiful. We now look at things that degrade women and suggest that it’s profitable. We now look at things that tear down our culture and make us hardened toward other human beings and we tell ourselves that they’re edgy, that they’re pushing the envelope.

The Invisible Artist

Well, let’s look at what the Bible has to say about art. In Genesis 1 we find God who is the Creator. When He made the earth, he formed it out of a substance that He spoke into existence. And when He shaped it into space and time, He created something majestic: mountain scenes, beautiful lakes, vast oceans, awe inspiring deserts. God could have created a world that was simply basic, that would have sustained life but would have had no particular beauty or variety. But that’s not what He did. He went out of His way to make this world inspiring to us, fascinating, captivating. Because that’s who God is.

The first mention of art in the Bible is probably in Exodus 31. When God instructed Moses to build what was called the Tabernacle, it was a place where they could come to worship and God would meet with His people there. The Tabernacle utilized the best artisans that the nation of Israel had available. And they all contributed the unique creations that their particular skill set could do. Carpenters crafted great works from wood. Silversmiths put together incredible ornaments that decorated the space. There were those who sewed the curtains and the trim. Every artisan in Israel was called to use their God-given creativity to put something together that would uplift the soul, that would move us toward God.

In 1 Kings 6 we see the same process take place when the Tabernacle is traded in, in a sense, for the Temple. King Solomon brought the best artisans of the land to create a Temple. In fact, the text actually says that they created what might be translated, “artistic frames.” That is, they didn’t just build a building. They created something that inspired awe.

You see, that’s what we do. When we create beauty, at its best we glorify God and we lead people into His presence. Art that glorifies God uses the best of our skills, our abilities and our craftsmanship. It’s designed to be creative, intelligent, well-crafted. Art needs to have value. That’s what’s missing nowadays.

You see, we’re told in Psalm 50:2 that God dwells in the “perfection of beauty.” That is, when we create God-glorifying art, the artist’s goal is to lift the human soul toward heaven and to illuminate in new ways the beauty of who God is, in His holiness, in His power and in His grace.

The reality is, the creativity in a skill that God has placed in the heart and hands of an artist is meant to guide them to create those things that will help us transcend the ugliness and the pollution of this broken world. Art is a gift. It’s meant to lift us up. It’s meant to strengthen us, to encourage us, to inspire us.

And yet, we have a culture that is experiencing an absence of creativity. We are experiencing the disappearance of beauty. We’re experiencing entertainment that no longer entertains. It just makes us miserable.

So, what’s the solution? Those who follow Jesus have a calling, not to just oppose the decline of our culture, but rather to offer an alternative. To do better than the world around us. Whatever your skill is, be creative. If you work with words, then put words together in a way that communicates something that lifts people’s spirits. If you know how to do art or sculpture or if you work with your hands, or if you have organizational skills to build things that make the human condition better, do what you can do in the sphere of influence that God has given you. Utilize those things that He has uniquely gifted you to do.

You might say, “Well, I don’t have any artistic skills.” What are you good at? And are you using the things that you’re good at, the skill set that is uniquely yours? Maybe it’s natural talent that you have been gifted by God, something you’ve had your whole life. Maybe it’s a learned skill that you’ve developed through hard work and practice. Whatever it is, we need to provide the alternative to our culture, which is to offer things that make people feel better, that call them to something higher.

In a world where you can sell empty air space for $18,000 and pretend that there’s a beautiful piece of sculpture there, how hard can it really be for us to offer an alternative that will draw people into a realm where they see the world as a place of divine presence, a place of hope and love? You should pursue truth. Practice creativity. Promote beauty. And in the process honor God.

This is TruthCurrents.
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