Monday, August 1, 2016
Luther and Art. . .
Why is this important? Man is inherently an idolator and this idolatry is expressed visually as well as in thought and word. Iconic imagery prevents the idolatry by shifting the focus upon that which is faithful to God's Word, which effectively speaks the Gospel, and which glorifies God instead of replacing Him with false gods. Like Blessed John the Forerunner, the role of art in the Church is to point to Jesus -- the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
We live in a visual age. We are constantly reminded that people are visual learners. If this is true, then it is an even more compelling case for faithful Christian art that instructs the faithful and counters the heroic art that glorifies man or the shocking art that degrades us. Facebook suggests that words will soon disappear from social media and it will exclusively visual image or video. If that is the case, the cause for Christian art is made more urgent or the young will be left with a one sided and unfaithful influence that will be difficult to escape.
Zwingli turned the church into a meeting room devoid of images and stole the art that had directed the imagination of the people. In contrast, Luther cultivated this art and, though without a formal theology of art or icon, encouraged the faithful use of the media in service to the Gospel. Art is sorely needed not only to tell the truth about God but to tell the truth about man. We live at a time when we are in greater danger than ever in succumbing to the allure of a technology that has been invested with all our hopes and dreams of happiness and improvement. Man is in love with the ability of technology to provide momentary pleasure that is seemingly inexhaustible in delivering the new and better. Unless art also tells the truth of man (depicting the fragility of our lives and the character of suffering technology tries to hide), we will be ill-equipped to answer the fallacy with fact, the temptation with truth. Now is the time to rediscover the noble history of Lutheran art and artists (from Albrecht Durer to Lucas Cranach to Hans Holbein -- to name a few). Now is the time to restore the role of art as emblem and agent of the Word, depicting for the eye that Gospel heard in the ear, felt in the touch of baptismal water, and tasted in bread and wine.