Christianity and the Arts after Rookmaaker: A Reflection on the Symposium
The team at Transpositions is very grateful to the scholars who contributed posts for our Rookmaaker Symposium, and also to those who offered their comments and questions. The week provided a small snapshot of Rookmaaker’s life and work, and it points to various reasons why he played such an influential role in encouraging Christians to participate actively in the various activities we call “the arts.”
Since Rookmaaker’s death in 1977, a great deal has happened within the interdisciplinary conversation between Christianity and the arts: a host of new books have been published, new organizations have been formed, more churches actively and intentionally explore how to incorporate the arts in worship, and new educational curriculums have been developed. I wonder what Rookmaaker would think of all this if he were alive? I’m sure that he would find many kindred spirits today. But I also wonder how the concerns of today are different from, or have even moved beyond, the ones that motivated Rookmaaker?
I was intrigued by a couple of questions made by commenters that point towards a sense that the relationship between Christianity and the arts has changed since Rookmaaker’s time. In response to John Walford’s post “Hans Rookmaaker’s ‘Four Freedoms’ and Christian Art (Part I)”, Betty Spackman writes:
the invitation to freedom he [Rookmaaker] offered to my generation of artists I find is now a much too ‘taken for granted’ thing for my students who are artists of faith in Christian academia in particular. We fought to gain freedom but I think my students now needing to ask what to do with it. Many are in danger of either spiritual apathy or artistic laziness as they enjoy what is perceived as a given – as ‘justificaton’ of their practice. But as Rookmaaker said, art needs no justification. That is not the point, not the focus. Being free in a post humanist world brings incredible new dangers and challenges to young artists and my prayer is that there will be those ready to step into the lion dens of the future. How can we help prepare them?
As someone who is a Christian and who also graduated from a studio art program at a Christian college, I resonate with Spackman’s observations. Of course, I have met some who questioned my choice in college to pursue a degree in studio art, but she is right that I never really had to ‘earn’ my freedom to be an artist. Thanks to Rookmaaker and others, many Christians today feel that the arts (in its various forms) are a perfectly acceptable professional field (even if it won’t make you very much money!). But now that growing numbers of Christian artists no longer harbor deep wounds from their religious communities, how will this affect the ‘Christianity and the arts’ interdisciplinary landscape?
kjbake01 asks a very similar question:
What do we say to our overly romantic and thoroughly encouraged young artists? Many churches have been quite admirable in giving a gigantic “green light” to their artists, praise God, but the work created seems to be overly extemporaneous and even self-indulgent. What’s the way forward?
Peter S Smith and Betty Spackman responded to this question by suggesting the importance of re-imagining both the arts and the artist. In other words, more thoughtful work is needed to move us beyond the frameworks we have inherited from modernism. In his response to kjbake01, John Walford reminds us:
any Christian artist who takes Scripture seriously, who keeps his or her eyes fixed on Christ’s teaching, and that of his apostles, will surely soon discover that there is no place for self-indulgence. But rather, we are called to fight the Narcissus within us.
As more Christians become professionally associated with the arts, and as artists begin to take on new roles in our churches, it is important that Christians learn to discern how to be Christ-like in these new situations. This is the primary challenge that faces all disciples of Christ, and it is one that will be met with greater frequency amongst Christians working in and with the arts as Christianity’s relationship to the arts continues to evolve.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons