Where does our service lie?: The Christian Artist and the Church (Part 2)
Last week I brought up the topic of how we might think about the relationship of the artist to the church, raising some questions about the nature of both “Christian art” and the artist’s sense of membership with the church. It is with these questions in mind that the thoughts of Catholic writer (and Georgia native…I couldn’t resist!) Flannery O’Connor might prove to be helpful. Unlike Calvin Seerveld, O’Connor maintains that the artist sees her art first in relationship with the world and understands that the faith of the artist cannot be detached from “his vision of what-is.” The limitations of art itself should determine her production of art rather than any limitations set by the church.
But don’t let this fool you. The church is not disconnected from the artistic process in O’Connor’s vision. She reminds us that the Christian artist should also remain grounded in the church, and the church, in fact, is what insures the artist’s freedom to work creatively within the world. O’Connor maintains that the church provides the artist with a sense of mystery and the possibility of grace, both of which are necessary to the artist’s evaluation of the world as it really is. The problem with many views of the Christian artist is that they suppose this sense of grace must be cut off from the world, and that the artist must communicate abstract truths. But O’Connor argues that “you cannot show the operation of grace when grace is cut off from nature or when the very possibility of grace is denied, because no one will have the least idea of what you are about.” By presenting the world as it is rather than proving truths through abstraction, the artist’s work naturally reveals spiritual truths about the world. Furthermore, being a Christian artist does not mean the production of explicitly “Christian art.” O’Connor’s own artistic depiction of the grotesque reflects her view that to get at the spiritual heart of matters in this world, one need not attend to explicitly spiritual subjects. Sometimes it is the lack of the spiritual that leads us to an understanding of the need for its presence.
The Christian artist’s sense of membership, then, is to be grounded in the reality of the created world and, at the same time, in the church from which she gains her understanding of the world’s true nature. Seerveld, and O’Connor would both agree that the artist must make a choice regarding involvement within a particular community and that artistic creation must take place within the realm of that membership. But O’Connor ultimately leads us to conclude that the Christian’s path is not as bifurcated as we think. The Christian artist is not forced to choose between good and evil, or between the church and world. It is in her attendance to the way the world really is, in all its good and evil, that the artist becomes placed not in a divided membership, but in a unity of “grace and nature” that suggests a truly Christian character for human artistry.
 Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners (London: Faber and Faber, 1972), 147.
 O’Connor, Mystery and Manners, 166.
 Ibid., 145-46.