How to Judge Art-Pt. 3

Having looked at the first two of Francis Schaeffer’s criteria for judging art (technical excellence and validity), we now move to the third: content. This criterion deals with the worldview or ideological perspective expressed within the art. Though some express it more fully or explicitly than others, every work of art—whether painting, sculpture, film, music, theater, literature, etc.—expresses a worldview, a framework of understanding and living in the world. The Christian’s task is to evaluate these ideas in light of biblical truth. Says Schaeffer, “If we stand as Christians before a man’s canvas and recognize that he is a great artist in technical excellence and validity—if in fact he is—if we have been fair with him as a man and as an artist, then we can say that his world view is wrong” (Art and the Bible, 43-44). Alternatively, we may applaud an artist’s convictions and be forced to admit that the execution of the art involved is decidedly sub-par.

It’s worth noting that a work of art will rarely, if ever, be completely consistent or completely contrary to the Christian worldview—a fact that only underscores the need for careful discernment. Such discernment, in turn, depends on a solid knowledge of the Scriptures, a quality in which Christians should be constantly growing.

Schaeffer also adds two additional comments when discussing this criterion. First, “if something untrue or immoral is stated in great art it can be far more destructive and devastating that if it is expressed in poor art or prosaic statement. …Ordinarily, many seem to feel that the greater the art, the less we ought to be critical of its worldview. This we must reverse.” The second is this: “It is possible for a non-Chrisitan writer or painter to write and paint according to a Christian worldview even though he himself is not a Christian” (44-45). The opposite, of course, is also true. This leads to four different possibilities: (1) the Christian who creates art consistent with a Christian worldview: (2) the non-Christian who creates art inconsistent with Christianity; (3) the non-Christian who, for whatever reason, creates art consistent with the Christian worldview; and (4) the Christian who creates art inconsistent with his faith (46).

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