Concepts of Art Expressed Through Scripture, Evangelism, and Practical Applications

IDS Senior Integration Paper
Mr. Trimiew and Mr. Kellogg
Fall 2000




The need for a Christian worldview of art is great. Recently, there have been many scholars who have given a defense of Christianity and art, yet there is still no profoundly visible Christian influence in the art world. This is due in part to the fact that many Christians do not pick up these scholarly books or papers and read them. Even if they did read them, they probably wouldn't understand them because they have not studied enough philosophy or theology.

Christian artists have to be able to answer questions like the following. How do I affect the world for Christ and not lose sight of Him? Do I even need to venture into the art world? If I do, how do I go about doing it? Where do I find my place in God's Kingdom and how do I justify it to myself and to skeptics?

These questions must be answered in an intelligent, but easy to read and understand method. They should be answered in a step-by-step explanation of why people should be involved in the art world, especially Christians. There are three steps that will give people this explanation. The first step is a foundation layer that must be understood before the second and third steps can be taken. It is a biblical defense of the visible arts looking at why people must create visual art, the biblical concepts of what art must be, and how artists can apply these concepts to their work. Second, is a look at how artists have used their art to convey these concepts or how art has been used to spread the Gospel message throughout the last 2,000 years. The final step is a detailed look into the lives of three artists who are models for the concepts set forth in this paper: Rembrandt, van Ruisdael, and Rouault.


Art, the Artist, and the Bible


The first step, as stated before, is a biblical defense of the visible arts looking at why people must create visual art, the biblical concepts of what art must be, and how artists can apply these concepts to their work. This step is composed of three elements that have to be put together to complete it.

The first element that needs to be understood is that God created. [1] He created the universe and all that is in it. [2] He created man in His own image. [3] These statements are simple but profound and have important implications.

He created the universe and all that is in it. God is a creator, an artist. In fact, He is the first creator and the first artist. [4] He had everything imaginable and unimaginable at His disposal when he created. It was a palette of raw materials and colors that He used to make what we see around us, what we don't see, and what we haven't seen yet. The wonders and beauty that came out of that palette are amazing and awe inspiring.

He created man in His own image. Man is created in the image of God! We have his attributes; therefore, we can relate to Him. What is most important about this statement in this context is that all humans have some amount of God's creative ability. Even those who aren't artists, have creative ability in the area to which they are called. For instance, a businessman may not be able to paint or draw something with any artistic talent whatsoever, but he may have the ability to “draw up” a solution to a problem in a creative and unusual way.

It is here that a moment needs to be taken to clarify the difference between an attribute and talent. All people have some amount of God's creative attribute, but not all people have an artist's talent. An attribute or characteristic, in this sense, is something that is inherited from the Creator; it is what makes people who they are. Talent is a gift or ability that God bestows upon people for His glory. Not everyone has the same talents, but everyone demonstrates the image or attributes of God.

From this some conclusions can be drawn. First, man can and should create because God did. God would not reject man's creative activity because it is a reflection of God Himself. Francis Schaeffer states, “. . . because man is made in the image of God . . . man not only can love and think, and feel emotion, but also has the capacity to create . . . Creativity is intrinsic to our mannishness.” [5] Second, and more important, God created everything and therefore, He owns it. Creations belong to the one who created them. The world is His and we are His. Every person, every artist, must submit themselves to the direction of their Creator.

What do these conclusions have to do with art and artists? For one thing, they should be especially meaningful to artists who are Christians and struggling because someone told them that they couldn't be a Christian and an artist. These people have every right to be an artist and a Christian. One does not cancel out the other. First of all, they are exhibiting an attribute of God when they use their creative gift. Secondly, they are fulfilling the call of God on their lives by creating art. The creative talent that God bestowed upon them should not be wasted. In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25 verses 14-30, one of the lessons learned is that everyone is to use their gifts and talents wisely because an account must be given to God for the use of His gifts. [6] A wise use of talents will result in greater opportunities to share and use them, but a misuse or nonuse of talents will result in the loss of those gifts. [7]

The people who have received these gifts from God have every right to be artists and Christians. They also have the responsibility to use those gifts. What they do not have is the right to be irresponsible with their work. They are responsible for what they do with their talent. They are also accountable to their Creator for their creations. This is also true of who are artists and are not Christians. They are responsible for their creations and the impact that those creations have on the world. “Can man refuse his responsibility for his creations any more than God can deny that He made man in His image when He created the world?” [8]

In review, the first part of the first element is that God has created this earth and the people on it. The people are created in His image and are therefore creative. To some of these people, He has also bestowed a talent for creating visual art. The bestowing of this gift entails that these people must use it or loose it. They must also be responsible with it because they will answer to the one who gave it to them.

The second part that must be understood is the biblical considerations for art. In other words, what is the significance of art within the creation, fall, and redemption context or what does the Bible say the purpose of art should be? This context is stated beautifully in an Old Russian Orthodox liturgical Hymn. “Man, who being made in the image of God had become corrupt through sin, and was full of vileness, and had fallen away from the better life Divine, doth the wise Creator restore anew.” [9]

God created the world and it was good. In fact, it was very good. [10] It was very good until Adam and Eve sinned and brought the consequences of that sin upon the entire world. As a result of that one action, sin entered the world and corrupted it. Everything man did and does is corrupt and evil. But God, in His infinite goodness, put into action a plan to redeem creation. Just as the action of one man brought a curse upon the whole earth, so the action of one Man, Jesus Christ, brought redemption to the earth. [11] This made Him Lord over man and Lord over all creation, including art. The creation-fall-redemption context is important to the discussion of art because art too was corrupted through sin but is part of the redemption of Christ.

In this context, the relevance of the Bible to art may be seen. The first consideration to look at is what is called the “cultural mandate.” After God created man, He gave man a mission. “Then God blessed them [Adam and Eve], and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'” [12] In this command, God gives man the responsibility to bring all the earth, which includes culture and the arts, into submission. God made them stewards of his masterpiece and they were to care for it. This mandate came before the Fall, and as such, Adam and Eve had the capability to carry out their duty. With the Fall, man became imperfect and his ability to carry out this mandate also became imperfect. The redemption of Jesus did not give back to man the ability to perfectly fulfill this mandate. It did, however, enable those who receive His redemption to fulfill it more completely than those who do not. [13] Yet, all people, because of the grace of God can work to fulfill the cultural mandate. This is especially true of the arts. Frank Gaebelein says, “God enables fallen men and women, whether saved or unsaved, to make positive contributions to the fulfillment of the cultural mandate through art.” [14] For instance, the cultural mandate might be fulfilled through art that reflects the natural world and the state of human society. Such art would put before people what is happening and might make them question their own actions or philosophies. In this way, the art has been used to check people's actions therefore helping to bring them under the submission of God. (See the section on Rouault.)

A second biblical consideration is beauty. Nowhere is the idea of beauty more strongly expressed in the Bible than in the passages about the Tabernacle and the Temple . Francis Schaeffer is quick to point out that in both of these buildings God used artists and artwork to make them beautiful. [15] In the Tabernacle, God commanded that there be carvings of holy things and natural things--cherubim and flowers. The Tabernacle was adorned with beautiful cloth as well as silver and gold. The priests' garments were adorned with gems and carved pomegranates of blue, purple and scarlet. Schaeffer also says the fact that the pomegranates were to be blue shows us that “. . . there is freedom to make something which gets its impetus from nature but can be different from it and it too can be brought into the presence of God.” [16]

The Temple also had artwork that served no practical or functional purpose but was just for beauty's sake. It was covered with precious stones to make it beautiful. There was bas-relief and art in the round everywhere. I Kings 6:29 tells us “. . . he carved the walls of the temple all around, both the inner and outer sanctuaries, with carved figures of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers.” [17] This is important because sculpture of the so-called sacred and secular world is seen next to each other. God makes no distinction between the two—all creation, seen and unseen, is for His glory. God wanted His Temple to be beautiful because that was where His glory rested.

As beautiful as these buildings were, their beauty did not last. The sin and disobedience of Israel caused God to keep His promise of bringing judgment to His people. The Temple was destroyed. When Israel returned from exile and rebuilt the Temple it was not nearly so beautiful. The old men who remembered the first Temple wept at the sight of the new one because they knew what was missing.

Yet, they were still able to have hope because the Temple that Ezekiel prophesied was more beautiful than the first Temple . It is the eschatological Temple that will come from heaven and will not be made by human hands. [18] The beauty of heaven is beyond human comprehension. The Apostle John has a hard time trying to describe the beauty of heaven that he saw in his vision. In Revelation 15:2-3, he describes " . . . something like a sea of glass mingled with fire . . .” [19] The beauty that John sees can only be described using a simile. How beautiful it must be!

A third biblical consideration for art, and one that is closely linked with beauty, is truth. Truth does not mean whether an object is realistically true or not, for as already presented, God has given license to derive things from nature that reflect it, but that are not necessarily mirror images of it. Truth means the difference between what is true and what is false, “. . . which means in the arts the distinction between what has integrity and so speaks truly and what is pretentious or sentimental, vulgar or shoddy, and thus is false.” [20]

This is not an impossible distinction, as some in this society believe. Truth is knowable. Why? Because there is One, Jesus Christ, who knows all truth and who knows that truth absolutely. Man, in his finiteness, cannot know truth absolutely because he does not have the capability to know every relationship to everything. He can know absolute truth though, because Jesus does know all those relationships because He is Truth Himself. [21]

Consider the idea of truth in the light that art reveals man's intentions about the world, other men, God, and himself. [22] Art is a signpost for the culture. It reflects the religious, psychological, philosophical, and societal worldviews of the time. In this art is true. Yet, at the same time, this art can be untrue. Francis Schaefer and Frank Gaebelein have taken up this issue in their writings. Both list four things that art should be judged by and the lists are very close to each other. Schaeffer lists technical excellence, validity (whether the artist is honest to himself and his worldview), intellectual content (the worldview portrayed), and the integration of content and vehicle. [23] Gaebelein lists durability (whether it has stood the test of time), unity (does the work hang together), integrity (the overall truthfulness of the work), and inevitability (quality of rightness of finality of expression). [24] With these guidelines, a person may see that a work of art can be beautiful or well done, but untruthful. The opposite is also true. A work may not be aesthetically pleasing but very truthful. (See the section on Rouault.)

A Scripture verse that applies when speaking about beauty and truth is Philippians 4:8. “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” [25] This is a good standard to use when thinking about art. Art may be lovely and noble but it must also be true, pure, praiseworthy and virtuous in order to be considered great art.

In review, the second part to the first step is recognizing the need to complete the mission that God gave man in the cultural mandate by producing art that is beautiful and truthful. This does not mean that art must be aesthetically pleasing or exactly true to nature. Beauty is certainly found in technical excellence, i.e., aesthetics, but the genuine beauty of an art object is in its truthfulness to the artist or the subject.

The third element to the first step is understanding the influence of these three biblical considerations for art and artists. For all artists, Christian and non-Christian, there should be a call and a reason to use the gifts that they have, a call to excellence in beauty, and a call to truthfulness. These calls should give artists today a direction and focus for their art in a world where hardly anyone is willing to step up and say, “This is right and this is wrong. This is good and this is bad.” So how then should the artist, particularly the Christian artist, apply these things to his life?

In her book Hidden Art , Edith Schaeffer says that all people should live “. . . artistically, aesthetically, and creatively.” [26] The most important thing an artist can do to realize these three attributes in his life is to recognize that he was created for the Creator. Revelation 4:11, “‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.'” [27] This is the reason that we must serve God, consciously or unconsciously (all must serve the purpose of God because He is sovereign). “Not to serve God, is to be in the moral world that which a deformity or a monster is in the world of animal existence. It is not only to defy the claims of God. It is to ignore the plain demands of our inner being, to do violence to the highest guidance of our mysterious and complex life . . . We can only glorify God by yielding ourselves to Him . . . Only when we have presented ourselves unreservedly to God as a living sacrifice, can we taste the joy of an untroubled conscience, and of a true inward peace of soul . . .” [28]

With the recognition that man is a created being and that he has been made to serve the Creator God, he must also come to the recognition that he is a fallen being. Everything that is man is corrupt and sinful. Creativity has its limits because of the Fall. [29] He is unable to express his creativity like he was created to express it. It is partial and lacking. There will always be something missing. Romans 8 says that all creation has been groaning under the curse and waiting for the redemption that was promised. The redemptive activity of Jesus Christ has, in part, fulfilled the promise. His death has made it possible for people to become heirs with God, to receive the blessings of the promise. There is also coming the day when Jesus will consummate the fulfillment of these promises. It is this redemption that brings people to God and it is the fulfillment of the redemption that gives them hope. The creation will not be corrupt forever. One way to praise Him for this is through art. (See the section on van Ruisdael.)

The next to the last part of application is to find and recognize the call or will of God: who fits into the category of people that God has bestowed with the talent for the visual arts and who does not and how those who have this talent are to use it. When God commanded the building of the Tabernacle, He called the artisans to work on it. Not only did He call them, He “ . . . filled them with the Spirit of God, in wisdom and understanding, in knowledge and all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works . . .” [30] God calls people to do different things in order to ensure diversity. “There are diversities of gifts, but the same spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.” [31] How can calling be recognized? Calling can be recognized through natural talent, prayer, and the counsel of the wise. [32]

The last element in the application of living out the biblical considerations for art is to do all things to the glory of God in submission to Him. It is only by His grace that men are creative. “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible . . . All things were created by Him.” [33] “‘ You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created. '” [34] “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” [35]

In review, the principles of application are 1.) the artist must recognize that he is a created being and therefore owes allegiance to the Creator, 2.) the artist must recognize that he is fallen and sinful and therefore his creative ability is partial, but that Jesus Christ has provided a way of redemption and wholeness, 3.) the artist must recognize the call of God on his life, and 4.) the artist must submit himself to that call and create all things to the glory of God. If an artist applies these principles to his life, his art will be excellent, beautiful, and truthful. His art will make an impact for the glory of God on his own life and the lives of those who see his art.

It is critical that an artist understand this first step. If an artist does not understand this first step, he will not understand why he has the gift he does and the purpose of that gift. He will either put this gift aside and waist it through non-use or he will take this gift and abuse it because he does not know the responsibilities that come with the gift.

“The ultimate goal of man's recreation is to lead him back to his original condition, ‘to restore the lost image of God.'” [36]


Using Art to Spread God's Word


The second step is a look at how artists have used their art to convey the concepts put forth in the first step or how art has been used to spread the Gospel message throughout the past 2,000 years.

An overview of art throughout the past 2,000 years shows that art has served one main purpose and two sub-purposes. The main purpose is to glorify God. The two sub-purposes are to beautify the world and to teach. The latter of the sub-purposes is what is explored in this step.

Through the centuries art has taught many things, namely history and religion. It has also taught sociology, natural science, and psychology. It can teach by recounting a story, by depicting one moment in time as a remembrance for the rest of time, and by reflecting the contemporary world.

One of the first incidents of didactic art that has been recorded is found in the Bible in the Book of Joshua chapter four. It is the story of the miraculous crossing of the Jordan by the children of Israel before they conquered the Holy Land . Joshua commanded twelve men to gather one stone each (a building stone) and to set them up on the other side of the river. “Then he [Joshua] spoke to the children of Israel , saying: ‘When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, “What are these stones?” then you shall let your children know, saying, “ Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry land . . .”'” [37] These stones were to be a memorial. Were these stones artwork? I would argue that they were a work of art. They were natural art. They were not created by man but were found by him. What makes them artwork is that they had to be arranged and set up. The stones did not move or arrange themselves. Men had to put them in place in such a way that they would not topple over and that takes effort and creativity. This was a natural work of art and its sole purpose was to teach future generations about the provisions of the Lord God of Israel . In essence, it was to spread the knowledge of the work and Word of God.

Another important point about this artwork is that there is nothing inherently Godly or Christian about it. If a gentile person, someone not of Israel , saw these stones after Israel had conquered the land, they wouldn't know what to think about them. They might suppose that it was an altar to a god. The meaning would have to be explained to them in order for them to understand the work. This is one of the reasons why the writings of great artists are so important. Their writings explain their art and the philosophy behind it. This is why artists should be encouraged to keep a journal of why they paint, sculpt, build, etc., for future generations who want to understand their artwork. This can also be a tremendous witness to one's beliefs. Of course, a piece of art, if done well, will stand without the writing of the artist to support it. The writing of the artist only contributes to the overall understanding of the piece.

A second item about using art to teach or spread the Gospel is that an artist must take into consideration the culture he is in or is targeting. All cultures have their own art forms and way of understanding art. (Western art is not the only art.) The Chinese and the Africans and the Australian aborigines all have beautiful forms of art. Art speaks to the mind and soul and it must be understood in light of the culture that the mind and soul inhabit. To spread the Word of God through art to another culture is much like learning the language of that culture to translate writings or studying cultural norms to guarantee effective communication. [38] A study must be done of the art already existing and the philosophy behind the art, whether it is practical, religious, for aesthetics, or art for art's sake. Once this is accomplished, an artist is well on his way to understanding the art of the culture and how best to communicate with it. It takes a lot of study and time to find out what speaks to the culture, to find out what best communicates to them. It is time consuming, but well worth the effort.

A final and more complex example of the way that art can be used to spread or share God's Word is the way the church used art to spread the Word of God for the past 2000 years.

The very first images found from the early Christians were those that were done in the catacombs. The images of the early Christians were of two kinds. The first were images from the Old Testament. The most popular are Adam and Eve, Abraham and the Three Angels, the Sacrifice of Isaac, Jonah, and Daniel. These are stories of profound faith and salvation. [39] The images from the New Testament are of Jesus and his life and can be put into three categories: incarnation and childhood, public ministry, and passion. Scenes from the incarnation and childhood include the Annunciation to Mary , Nativity , and the Adoration of the Magi . Scenes from public ministry include His Baptism , Miracles , and Transfiguration . Scenes from the Passion include the Last Supper , Carrying and Raising of the Cross , the Resurrection , and the Ascension . [40] All of these and more were themes from the life of Jesus that the early Christians used in their places of worship. Yet, the two most prevalent themes are Jesus portrayed as the Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God. Perhaps this was because these Christians needed to be reminded for Whom they were suffering persecution and that He was watching over them.

The early Christians used paint, mosaics, and relief sculpture (coffins) to portray these themes. The subject matter as well as the media carried over into the Byzantine and Medieval periods. The churches of these periods were adorned with paintings and mosaics. It was during these times that colors and animals became very important to artwork. The color of a robe often identified the person(s) in the work. Color also came to symbolize emotion and characteristic qualities. An animal often identified the character of the person. Why did Byzantine and Medieval art rely so heavily on symbolism? The symbols allowed the people in the church to “read” the story. The common people of these ages couldn't read the Bible or anything else and they couldn't understand the Latin in which the church conducted services. Thus, the visual arts became a didactic tool to teach the people Bible stories. The symbols became like words on a page. If they saw a woman wearing blue and white, they knew that woman was Mary, the mother of Jesus. If they saw a woman all in red, they knew she was Mary Magdelene. If they saw a dog in the picture, they knew that it was portraying loyalty. Red was the color for love, blue the color for loyalty or royalty, and white the color for purity. The symbols allowed for the interpretation of the work.

Another medium for artwork in the Byzantine and Medieval periods is illuminated manuscripts. Often, scribes would highly decorate Bible pages with vibrant colors and tell the story of the page. They would also do elaborate cover pages for each book of the Bible. Sometimes Bible covers would be intricately carved from wood or inlaid with precious stones and gold.

The final predominant medium for the telling of the Word during these periods was stained glass. The light that poured into sanctuaries through stained glass windows was to reflect that Jesus Christ is the light of the world. The themes of the stained glass were the same as the paintings and mosaics.

When discussing the didactic use of art during the Byzantine and Medieval periods, it is important to note that not all the information the people received about the Bible was through visual media. There were dramas, sermons that the people could understand, and popular literature for those who could read that told the story too. “This work is important; [but] it must eventually be understood in relation to the visual media of the Christian communities.” [41]

Even when the Renaissance and Reformation occurred and the common people began to be literate, the visual media played a large role in the life of the Christian community. The symbols established during the Middle Ages were still integrated into art and churches and chapels were still adorned with biblical scenes. It was also during the Renaissance that art began to branch out from the church. Not only did Renaissance humanism and individualism figure into the subjects of the artwork, art was not just for the church anymore. Wealthy patrons began to pay artists to complete works for their personal enjoyment. These were works of religious ( David by Michelangelo) as well as non-religious ( Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci) and mythical subject matter ( The Birth of Venus by Boticelli).

Arising out of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment came in full force bringing with it the separation of the sacred and the secular. Some people have called it the breakdown in philosophy and science. [42] Man became the center of the universe, not God. Science became the end-all way of knowing. God and Christianity were sent to the edges of the picture, if not totally out of it. The art of the time period reflected the philosophy of the day. Art began to be about man and not God. From this event we have the result of how art has been used to spread the Gospel today.

The modern use of the classical visual arts, i.e., not movies, to spread the Gospel basically doesn't exist. With the sacred/secular split and the utilitarian ideas of Charles Darwin, the church took the stance that all things must further the work of the church and therefore everything must be “spiritual.” What was not spiritual was sinful. Artists set aside their talent because the church saw art as secular and sinful. This created a huge gap between Christianity and the world. While Christianity had been the foundation for art for more than a millennium, it had become a reason not to create art. This gap is what Franky Schaeffer calls the church's addiction to mediocrity. He says, “Today, Christian endeavor in the arts is typified by the content of your local Christian bookstore-accessories-paraphernalia shop.” [43]

The gap left by the lack of art founded on the Bible has been devastating. God's image has been defaced before the world. [44] Art has become about man. The Impressionists painted the way they saw light. The cubists broke down the incredibly complex world into the way they saw it, geometric shapes. The expressionists tried to express their feelings in their art. The minimalists created as little as possible without creating nothing. All of these artistic movements have truth in them. These art movements are not bad, but they are definitely about man and not about God. They show the truth about how ugly and sinful mankind is without the redemption of Jesus Christ and without the influence of Christian artists.

Christian art was put in the closet. Paul Tillich, a theologian, has said that Christians “. . . have replaced the great wealth of symbols appearing in Christian tradition by rational concepts, moral laws, and subjective emotions.” [45] The majority of the Christian art that exists from this century is not excellent and beautiful and truthful. What happened to building beautiful and excellent buildings for the church to worship in? “Young people often point out the ugliness of many evangelical church buildings. Unfortunately, they are often right. Fixed down in our hearts is a failure to understand that beauty should be to the praise of God.” [46] What happened to beautiful paintings and tapestries and sculpture to make our churches beautiful for the glory of God? What happened to art that reveals the truth about the created world and the Creator God?

Why did Christians stop telling the Gospel message in their art? As stated before, it is because Christians were told that art was sinful. The Christians, who did create, created on the side and half-heartedly. They settled for mediocrity instead of excellence. Christians do not have to, and should not, settle for mediocrity in their art. God has given Christians the talent for the creation of art just like he has given to all men. Yet, Christians have an edge over the rest of the artists because they have God's Spirit to help them. This does not imply that artwork done by Christians must only be of a religious nature, that is, portray Old and New Testament themes. It does imply that Christian artists are called to excellence and beauty and truth if for no other reason than that it is what God expects. It also implies that Christian artists should be setting the standard and making all artists raise themselves to their level.

Can this happen? Yes. Christians have the ability to raise the standard. They have the ability to set the standard for the art world. They did it for hundreds of years. Why not now? Will it be easy? No. It will be struggle to overcome the mentality of the world today. In fact, it could be hundreds of years before anyone recognizes that God's Word was spread through artists today.

How will these things happen? First, they will happen when all artists, Christian and non-Christian, come to the realization that all art should be for the glory of God and, ultimately, it is whether purposefully or not. Second, Christian artists must realize that not only their art, but also their life is Christian. God has redeemed the whole person and, therefore, they have freedom in their creativity. Third, there must be recognition that there is no such thing as Christian or unchristian subject matter, except for art that would purposefully lead people away from the truth. [47] All truth is God's truth. God created all things—natural or supernatural—and they are for His enjoyment.

Artists must rise to the call of God on their life. They must commit themselves to the call of excellence, beauty, and truth. They must declare the Word of God, that He is Creator of everything, that creation is fallen, but that He has redeemed it. When this happens, there will be revolution in the art world. Artists will come to acknowledge the concepts and principles in the first step, the historical tradition of spreading the Gospel through art will revive, and God will be glorified.


A Brief Look into Three Artists and Their Art


The third and final step is the conclusion to this paper. It is a detailed look into the lives of three artists who are models for the concepts set forth in this paper: Rembrandt, van Ruisdael, and Rouault. Their lives and art reflect the ideals of excellence, beauty, and truth. Each one, in one way or another, has spread the Word of God in his art. They demonstrate that people have and can integrate their faith with their art. Their collective works have stood the test of time and can truly be considered great art.


Rembrandt [48]


Rembrandt van Rijn was a Dutch painter of the seventeenth century. He is recognized as the greatest painter of his time. Born in 1606, his parents had destined him for the law or the church. The talent and desire of the young Rembrandt made them reluctantly reconsider their decision and he was sent to Amsterdam to be an apprentice to an artist. He returned home six months later and began his career.

Rembrandt is best known for his use of light and shade or chiaroscuro and the way he was able to portray the emotions or psyche of his subjects. For these two techniques he has been given the title “Master of Reality.” [49]

Rembrandt took the stark uses of light and shade that developed in the Renaissance a step further. The Renaissance artists used these elements to suggest the idea of light. “Rembrandt's pictorial method involved refining light and shade into finer and finer nuances until they blended with one another.” [50] This technique made the light more real to the viewer beause the human eye perceives light as dynamic and gradual. Often this is called Rembrandt's “psychology of light.” That is, light and dark work together to produce calm and quiet on the canvas.

The use of chiaroscuro allowed him to develop the character and psyche of the subject(s) he painted or etched. By molding light in direction, intensity, and shadow, he was able to portray emotions. Love, compassion, calm, frenzy, concern, hate; all of these are appropriate to describe Rembrandt's characters.

Something else that set Rembrandt apart from the rest of the painters of his day was that he did not conform to and even rejected the classical ideals of art, especially those of the un-clothed figure. “Rembrandt's assault on the classical rules of art was also a means of understanding them.” [51] He wanted to understand the classical form and ideals, but he was too concerned with the particulars of nature to accept them. His contemporaries praised his use of color and light, but they criticized him because of the lack of drawing and classical proportions. They also criticized him for not “finishing” his work. They saw visible brushstrokes as a sign of weakness. Modern art historians have disavowed the standards of Rembrandt's contemporaries as irrelevant. Nevertheless, Rembrandt knew where he stood in contrast to these ideals and he liked being in that place.

He painted the way he wanted to paint and what he wanted to paint. Rembrandt painted people of all kinds and in all kinds of settings. He did many portraits. He fulfilled many commissions to paint guilds (a sort of union) and military companies. He painted biblical scenes from the Old and New Testament.

One of Rembrandt's most famous paintings is the The Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq (Fig. 1). It is better known as the The Night Watch . This was a commissioned group portrait of a company of men called the Kloveniers. It is a unique group portrait in that the men are not carefully placed and arranged across the canvas as one might expect them to be and as the critics of his day expected group portraiture to be. However, the men are carefully depicted in their frenzy to prepare to march in a parade. The picture is highly balanced and each man, weapon, and architectural feature serves this balance. Color and light are also used as balancing tools. The prominent figures of the Captain and his lieutenant are in the foreground in direct light while all the other men fade into the background. “In The Night Watch , Rembrandt combined portraiture and pageantry, strong light and mysterious darkness, action and pose, important citizens and fantasy characters.” [52]

Another group portrait that Rembrandt was commissioned to do was Dr. Tulp's Anatomy Lesson (Fig. 2). The portrait shows Dr. Tulp explaining the muscles and tendons in the arm of a corpse to his students. The students are crammed together around the body that is foreshortened and diagonal in the picture. The diagonal line created by the body was very unconventional in portraiture. Each man, although dressed alike has a different expression on his face: some are very interested, some are confused, and some look like they are going to be sick. This portrait is a very good example of Rembrandt's concern to portray each person's emotion.

Of the many, many biblical scenes that Rembrandt painted, two of the most moving are Return of the Prodigal Son (Fig. 3) and Supper at Emmaus (Fig. 4). In Return of the Prodigal Son , Rembrandt uses light to convey emotion. The light is diffused in the picture illuminating the father and son and shadowing the onlookers. The son kneels and buries his head in his father's chest. The father leans over the son comforting him, speaking to him, assuring him that all is well. The father's face is one of compassion and mercy.

On a personal note, the prodigal son was one of Rembrandt's favorite parables. One author notes that Rembrandt did not use himself as a model for depicting biblical stories, but he did use himself and his wife in his painting of the prodigal son squandering his inheritance. [53]

The painting Supper At Emmaus captures the moment when the disciples realize that the man they are eating with is Jesus, the moment before Jesus disappears. The faces of the disciples do not show shock but quiet amazement and awe. Jesus is outlined by the architecture of the room, a huge arch. The halo that shines from him is not stark, but subtle. The painting is quiet. Rembrandt did an excellent job to capture the spirit of the moment.

Rembrandt was not only a painter. He also etched. The prints that were made from the etchings were a good source of income because they could be produced in great quantities. His etching Christ with the Sick around Him, Receiving the Children , also known as the Hundred Guilder Print (Fig. 5), is one of his most famous. It also shows the humility and mercy of Christ. “[Rembrandt's religious] art is that of a committed Christian who desired to interpret biblical narratives in human (as opposed to theological) terms. The spiritual stillness of Rembrandt's religious paintings is that of inward-turning contemplation . . . [and] the humanity and humility of Jesus.” [54]

Rembrandt was a brilliant and versatile artist who went against the expected norms of his day and gave the world a beautiful gift. His artwork is of the best quality. It is beautiful. The quality that set his work apart is his endeavor to show people for who they were, not what they pretended to be. This makes his art truthful and all the more beautiful.


Jacob van Ruisdael [55]


Ruisdael was a contemporary of Rembrandt's, but unlike Rembrandt he painted landscapes not people. He was born in Haarlem to a family of painters and artisans between 1628 and 1629. From an early age painters from within his family and without influenced him. At the age of twenty he joined the painter's guild of which his father and uncle were members. For the next three years he was an apprentice studying under one of the masters. This meant he could not sign or sell his work. After these years, he spent one year as vrije gast or assistant to a master. In 1648, after these four years of study, he became a master painter.

He traveled throughout Holland and into Germany taking his paintings from what he saw of the landscapes and seascapes. His fame spread beyond Holland and his paintings were fairly desired (they were just below the Italian school) probably because of the diversity of them. He lived on the earnings from his paintings except during the years of the 1670's when the art market took a severe decline. [56] During these times he worked as a surgeon or surgeon's assistant. All in all, he was a prosperous and generous person. He was able to care for his father and keep him out of debtor's court as well as help others who were in need. He died in March of 1682.

When looking at Ruisdael's works, a person must look at them with the eyes of a 17 th century Protestant Dutchman in order to properly understand the works. His works are contemplative and reflective. He, along with other painters like him, used “selective naturalness” [57] to compose his paintings. There was an understanding that the visible world reflected a spiritual meaning (Ruisdael was before the Enlightenment's sacred/secular split). These painters understood that God had created the world with order and beauty, but that because of the Fall there is corruptness in creation. At the same time, they also took into consideration the present Lordship of Jesus Christ and the paintings reflect the peace that His reign gives.

The results of these beliefs can be found in the natural elements that comprise Dutch landscape painting. Beauty is to be found in the rivers, forests, country roads, villages, open sky, beaches, etc. The Fall is to be seen in the decaying matter such as dead trees in Ruisdael's paintings. The decaying matter was to serve as a reminder that this life is short and was a warning not to abuse it. This idea can also be found in the rushing water of Dutch painting meant to show the fleeting of man's life. Man's mortality is also to be seen in the woodlands or mountains because these were the places where hermits would go to pray and contemplate. Ruins, wind, and waterfalls show the inconsistency and changefulness in man. God's redemption and intervention in human affairs can be seen in the use of light-beams to signify that God was breaking into a dark and dirty world showing his grace and mercy. This is also often seen in the relationship between light and storm clouds.

Ruisdael drew on all of these elements for his paintings. They are meant to be contemplated, especially their religious nature. Yet, their religious nature is not the subject matter, nature is. The religious nature of his art is only a reflection of who the artist is.

Of all the various themes of Ruisdael's paintings, he is most famous for his waterfalls. Even contemporary critics realized the value of these works. Arnold Houbraken published the earliest biography of Ruisdael's life. He said, “He painted both local and foreign landscapes, but especially those in which one sees water crashing down from one rock onto another, finally to spread out in a roar into dales and through valleys: and he could depict the spray, or the water foamy from dashing on the rocks, so naturally and clear and translucent, that it appeared to be just like real water.” [58]

The painting that expresses this sentiment best is called Waterfall with Hilltop Castle (Fig. 6). The waterfall in this painting expresses “. . . the comparison of the tumult of life in this world with a rushing torrent in a darkened landscape . . .” [59] The water carries away tree trunks, an allusion to men. Yet, all is not lost. This painting also reveals God's sovereignty with light beams shining down on earth.

The painting that embodies the greatest religious consideration is the Detroit version of The Jewish Cemetery (Fig. 7). This painting incorporates water, wind, dead trees, ruins, dark and cloudy skies, sepulchers (perhaps pointing to death but also to the expected resurrection of the dead), a rainbow, and a light beam. The Detroit version has a lighter feel than the more intense Dresden version. In the Dresden version (Fig. 8), almost the entire scene is in shadows with the exception of the sepulchers. The water is also more alive in this version. “Ruisdael's two paintings of The Jewish Cemetery have long been recognized as allegories of the life of man, although their specific interpretation is disputed.” [60]

However this specific work is interpreted, one thing is clear about Ruisdael's work in general. It is that his art truly reflects his Christian life. His art reflects that God is the Creator whose creation has fallen into sin, but is not left without the hope of the redeemer, Jesus Christ, who constantly intervenes in the lives of His own. Ruisdael is a great example of an artist who used natural subject matter to worship His creator and reflect his beliefs and the world around him. It is because of this that his work is truthful and beautiful.


Georges Rouault [61]


Rouault was born in 1871 in a village outside of Paris to a cabinet-maker. His family was also a family of artisans. His aunts painted porcelain and fans. He would pick up their left over supplies and draw on the floor. He traced his love for art to this time as a child. At age fourteen he was apprenticed to a man who restored stained glass windows. The vibrant color and design would stay with him for the rest of his life and heavily influence his art. At age 19 he entered the esteemed l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts . He was put under the tutelage of Moreau. Moreau taught his students three things: respect for interior sentiment, spiritual humility, and a radical independence of spirit. [62]

Rouault took these ideas and ran with them. He developed a very real and very deep faith. This faith allowed him to see in a spiritual, not logical or theological, sense the suffering and sin of mankind. He was also able to recognize his own inadequacies because he recognized the sovereignty of God. One of his favorite quotes came from the anonymous artisans of the Medieval ages: “Not unto us, Lord, but unto thy name be the glory.” [63] He was also very intensely aware of the passion of Christ and the salvation He brought. Rouault never wavered from this faith. He stood firm against a world that was questioning everything. This is a great part of what makes his work so valuable.

The radical spiritual freedom that Moreau ingrained into Rouault allowed him to go against the grain. Rouault struggled all of his life with the sin and suffering of this world. He had no problem depicting it that way. His art was revolutionary in this aspect. “All canons of beauty are shattered.” [64] Yet, at the same time his work is closely linked with that of antiquity. His work greatly reflects the influence of stained glass with the thick, bold, black contours and the vibrant and pure color. Thus, Rouault's work is of a very stark but meaningful and spiritual reality. Jacques Martain says of his work “There is not abstraction in it, save that abstraction which brings out from things the meanings with which they are pregnant, and re-creates on the canvas or the paper the essentials, and just the essentials, of their significant elements.” [65] A perfect example of this is his painting Christ Mocked By Soldiers (Fig. 9, The Old King , resembles the style of Christ Mocked By Soldiers ). Christ, the central figure, is outlined with thick black lines that look like the lead caning of stained glass windows. His face shows solemnity and weariness. This is possibly a reflection of Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet he opened not His mouth . . .” [66] He is clothed in a bright red robe that contrasts the muted background and the robes of the soldiers. It is a very somber picture but one that gets its message across in a powerful way: Christ suffered for humanity out of His own love for it.

Rouault was angry at the sin in the world and it is from this frustration that some of his most moving and horrific pictures come. He depicted harsh judges, sad clowns, dejected prostitutes, and arrogant upper class people. He wanted to lay out in bold colors his feelings about the world. He showed the world its ugliness and depravity. For him, this was the truth—truth in art. One of the most impressive pictures from this time is the one of The Three Clowns (Fig. 10). It is impressive because it is paradoxical. When people normally think of clowns, they think of happy, smiling, goofy people that run around acting stupid to make other people smile. Yet here, Rouault shows the world that not all is fun and games. He shows them that clowns are human and suffer the results of their humanity.

The continuous struggle of Rouault's beliefs took him deeper to see that the world did not suffer in vain. He saw the compassion of Christ on the cross and he wanted to convey it to the world. He once said, “‘My only ambition is to be able to paint a Christ so moving that those who see Him will be converted.'” [67] His work began to reflect this compassion as well as pity for the human race. This work was the series called Miserere (the Miserable).

Miserere was a group of 58 etchings that displayed his faith but also the plight of the everyday man. They were divided into two categories: Miserere, the suffering of humanity, and Guerre, the horrors of that suffering. After bluntly showing the truth about mankind, Rouault finishes each section with the hope of Christ's cross and the salvation and love that shine through it. This is what makes his religious work so intense. He applied his faith to the world around him. He saw the cross of Christ as a solution to the problems of the world.

Two etchings that are emotionally touching from the Miserere section of this series are “Who does not wear a mask?” and “Sing Matins, a new day is born.” “Who does not wear a mask?” (Fig. 11) strikes many people because it forces them to ask themselves about the masks they wear. It forces them to question their truthfulness with themselves and with others. “Sing Matins” (Fig. 12) strikes many because after seeing all of the suffering of mankind, Rouault tells them that there is hope. In essence, everyday is a chance to start over.

Two etchings from the second half of the series, Guerre, that are striking are, “This will be the last time, father!” (Fig. 13) and “Out of the depths . . .” (Fig. 14) These two pictures speak volumes because many people understand the anguish of a heart that knows it will never see a loved one again. There are people who also understand the emotional terror that a soul can go through in the depths of woe, when all there is left to do is cry out to God.

Rouault's artwork is a very personal artwork. The expression that comes from his soul and lands on the paper should speak to anyone who sees it. It is definitely not aesthetically pleasing, yet it is beautiful because it speaks the truth about the state of man and the love of God. Rouault saw his work as “. . . the imprint of divine mercy on human art.” [68] We should see it that way also.




The lives of these men have shown that it is possible to be a Christian, an artist, and to have Christian influence in the art world. They have also demonstrated that in order to do so an artist must have a clear vision of God as sovereign Lord and Creator of the universe, an understanding of the sinfulness of man and His dependence upon God, and an awareness of Jesus Christ's redemptive work of salvation. The artist must also commit himself to a high standard, the standard of great art: excellence, beauty, and truth. This is also the standard of God. He expects nothing less in return for the gifts and talents He has bestowed upon His creation because it was for His glory that He gave them. In turn, artwork must be for His glory.

It is this author's prayer and wish that after reading the arguments in this paper and understanding the steps presented, all artists would reiterate the cry of the workman of a thousand years ago and a great artist of this century,

“Not unto us, Lord, but unto Thy name be glory!”




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[1] Genesis 1:1

[2] Psalm 24:1-2

[3] Genesis 1:26-27

[4] Edith Schaeffer, Hidden Art (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1971) 15

[5] Schaeffer, Francis, Art and the Bible (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1974) 34.

[6] Matthew Henry Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible Online. Internet.

[7] Matt. 25:14-30

[8] Margaret Stucki, “God the ‘Creator'-Man ‘The Artist'-Created in His Image,” Creation Social Science and Humanities Society-Quarterly Journal 8.3: 13.

[9] Ellen Myers, “Biblical Creation in the Russian Orthodox Liturgy,” Creation Social Science & Humanities Society-Quarterly Journal 7.3 (year): 30

[10] Genesis 1:31

[11] I Cor. 15:21-2

[12] Genesis 1: 28

[13] Jesus is with His people always. It is because of this that we have the power to accomplish what He commands. Matthew 28:18-20

[14] Frank Gaebelein, ed. D. Bruce Lockerbie, The Christian, The Arts, And The Truth (Portland: Multonoma, 1985) 76

[15] Francis Schaeffer, Art and the Bible (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1974) 11-19

[16] Francis Schaeffer, Art and the Bible (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1974) 14

[17] I Kings 6:29

[18] Acts 7:48

[19] Revelation 15:2-3

[20] Frank Gaebelein, ed. D. Bruce Lockerbie, The Christian, The Arts, And The Truth (Portland: Multonoma, 1985) 77

[21] John 14:6

[22] Nicholas Wolterstorff, Art in Action (Grand Rapids: Eerdman's Publishing Co., 1980) 3

[23] Francis Schaeffer, Art and the Bible (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1974) 41

[24] Frank Gaebelein, ed. D. Bruce Lockerbie, The Christian, The Arts, And The Truth (Portland: Multonoma, 1985) 87-93

[25] Philippians 4:8

[26] Edith Schaeffer, Hidden Art (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1971) 32

[27] Revelation 4:11

[28] H.P. Liddon, “Created for the Creator,” Creation Social Science & Humanities Society-Quarterly Journal 7.3: 32

[29] Celia Jolley, “The Creative Urge: A Biblical Creation Basis for Art,” Creation Social Science & Humanities Society-Quarterly Journal 14.2:12

[30] Exodus 35: 31-2

[31] I Corinthians 12: 4-6

[32] Henry Blackaby and Claude V. King Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God (Nashville: LifeWay Press, 1990)

[33] Colossians 1:16

[34] Revelation 4:11

[35] Colossians 3:17

[36] Ellen Myers, “Biblical Creation in the Russian Orthodox Liturgy,” Creation Social Science & Humanities Society-Quarterly Journal 7.3: 30

[37] Joshua 4:21-22

[38] Paul G. Hiebert and Eloise Hiebert Meneses, Incarnational Ministry (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995) 169

[39] Gardner's Art Through the Ages ed. Fred S. Kleiner, Christin J. Mamiya, and Richard G. Tansey, 11 th ed., (New York: Harcourt, 2001) 305

[40] Gardner's Art Through the Ages ed. Fred S. Kleiner, Christin J. Mamiya, and Richard G. Tansey, 11 th ed., (New York: Harcourt, 2001) 308-9

[41] Margaret Miles, Images As Insight (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985) 28

[42] Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1976) 144

[43] Franky Schaeffer, Addicted to Mediocrity (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1981) 21

[44] Franky Schaeffer, Addicted to Mediocrity (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1981) 44

[45] Donald Whittle, Christianity and the Arts (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967) 7

[46] Schaeffer, Francis, Art and the Bible (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1974) 16.

[47] Franky Schaeffer, Addicted to Mediocrity (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1981) 21

[48] Rembrandt was part of the Dutch Reformed Church.

[49] An Introduction to Music and Art in the Western World , ed. Milo Wold, Gary Martin, James Miller, and Edmund Cykler, 10 th ed. (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1996) 176

[50] Gardner's Art Through the Ages ed. Fred S. Kleiner, Christin J. Mamiya, and Richard G. Tansey, 11 th ed., (New York: Harcourt, 2001) 757

[51] Rembrandt , ed. Michael Kitson, 3 rd ed. (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 1992) 12

[52] An Introduction to Music and Art in the Western World , ed. Milo Wold, Gary Martin, James Miller, and Edmund Cykler, 10 th ed. (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1996) 177

[53] Rembrandt: Life of Christ (Atlanta: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995) ix

[54] Gardner's Art Through the Ages ed. Fred S. Kleiner, Christin J. Mamiya, and Richard G. Tansey, 11 th ed., (New York: Harcourt, 2001) 756

[55] Jacob van Ruisdael was part of the Protestant Dutch church.

[56] E. John Walford, Jacob van Ruisdael (New Haven: Yale University, 1991) 11

[57] E. John Walford, Jacob van Ruisdael (New Haven: Yale University, 1991) 29

[58] E. John Walford, Jacob van Ruisdael (New Haven: Yale University, 1991) 4

[59] E. John Walford, Jacob van Ruisdael (New Haven: Yale University, 1991) 143

[60] E. John Walford, Jacob van Ruisdael (New Haven: Yale University, 1991) 99

[61] Georges Rouault was part of the Catholic Church.

[62] William Dyrness, Rouault: A Vision of Suffering and Salvation (Grand Rapids: Eerdman's Publishing Co., 1971) 28

[63] William Dyrness, Rouault: A Vision of Suffering and Salvation (Grand Rapids: Eerdman's Publishing Co., 1971) 69

[64] Georges Rouault, Georges Rouault , text by Jacques Martain ( New York : Harry Abrams, Inc.) 8

[65] Georges Rouault, Georges Rouault , text by Jacques Martain ( New York : Harry Abrams, Inc.) 22

[66] Isaiah 53:7

[67] Anthony Blunt, introduction, Miserere , by Georges Rouault (Boston: Boston Book and Art Shop, 1963) 2

[68] Georges Rouault, Georges Rouault , text by Jacques Martain ( New York : Harry Abrams, Inc.) 34



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