An aspiring artist’s journey, from Kigali to Cape Town – Part one

The Christian, the Bible and Art

Is art something that a Christian should be occupied with? Especially a Christian living in a developing country like Rwanda, where people can’t afford to give their children coloured pens or paper to play with. Kigali has a developing art scene, in embryonic stages, but Rwanda is only 20 years post genocide; people are focused on survival, development and making a life, not the arts. In this context perhaps art is seen as something of a luxury, a frivolous and pointless occupation.

The Starling

The starling

According to Francis Schaeffer, “The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.” The Bible starts with an amazing blast of creativity, God spoke and creation came into being. Creativity is at the very heart of the God we serve. Have you ever stopped to consider how many different species of birds there are? The birds of East Africa are flamboyant with their colour combinations and sweet song. Think about the starling with its bright blue and purple body, its piercing orange eyes and chest. Did the Lord God consult the colour wheel? Did he know that purple placed with orange creates a beautiful, electrifying contrast? Every art student learns this in colour theory, because the master artist has already placed these colours together at the beginning of time. Think about a giraffe, why did God make such a creature, what is its point other than pruning trees, and fodder for the bravest of lions? The elephant can prune and the buffalo is fodder. So what’s the point of this graceful creature, with its exquisite eyelashes, its over extended neck, and fine markings? I can only conclude that God is the eternal artist and that he made the giraffe because it gave him pleasure to do so. When I see a sunset I often say to my children – “look, God painted a picture in the sky, just for us!” – The Psalms say that, “the heavens declare the glory of the Lord”. God has made things beautiful, come to Cape Town and see. The splendour of creation speaks of intelligent design, that an infinitely creative being planned the universe.

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God paints a picture in the sky

When God made man and woman he made them in his image. No other aspect of creation was made in the image of God. Have you ever seen a monkey draw a picture and colour it in? Creativity is a human attribute, which has been placed in us by the creator himself. We have been made to create, like him, whether through pottery, music, dance, cuisine, poetry, literature, sewing, drawing or painting. Recently I met an accomplished Christian artist who said – “God made me to paint!”

There is no doubt that human beings have the ability to create and be creative. However the image of God placed in humanity was tainted at the fall of Adam and Eve. Humanity is still able to create and may be technically brilliant, but because of his rebellion against God, what he creates may not reflect the truth of the creator. As Nancy Pearcy comments, “Artists are society’s barometers, sensitive to new ideas as they percolate through the cultural atmosphere.” A film is not merely and film, nor a song a song, or a painting a painting, these expressions convey a message, they convey the worldview of the artist.

Often in societies where people have come to a true knowledge of their creator through his word, there is a heightened sense of creativity, that glorifies God. Think of Handel’s Messiah. This piece of music is so stirring that the Royal Albert Hall still puts on a rendition every Christmas. Handel could never have known that this piece would become one of the most preformed in history, all to the glory of Christ. To this day audiences still stand during the Hallelujah chorus, because originally King George stood to acknowledge that Jesus Christ was the only King of Kings.

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Handel composed to the glory of Christ!

So we can conclude that God is not anti art, he is the original artist, and if the Christian finds himself involved in the arts he should do so to the glory of God himself. Our sense of beauty and artistic expression should be informed by the truth of God’s word. Post Reformation theologians spoke of two books of revelation, the book of God’s word and the book of God’s world (creation). It is the book of God’s word that needs to inform the book of God’s world. Without truth and God’s deeper revelation of himself in his word we are unable to know God’s plan of salvation through his son Jesus Christ or how to live for him. We are to be careful not to worship the creation, or the created, but our worship should always be directed towards the Creator. The creation can witness to our hearts that there is a God, but we will never know God fully through only observing the sun setting. There is no doubt that being able to pursue the arts is not a frivolous luxury, but a great privilege, that not all generations, of all time, in all places, may enjoy. As said by John Adams, the American President during the struggle for independence, “I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, natural history and naval architecture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, tapestry, and porcelain.”

Books quoted

Francis Schaeffer – ‘Art and the Bible’

Nancy Pearcy – ‘Saving Leonardo’

Part two of ‘an aspiring artist’s journey from Kigali to Cape Town’ coming soon…

I would love to hear your thoughts about art and the Bible, please leave a comment…

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9 comments

  1. I believe that Art is literally ‘wonderful’ (can lead us to wonder, and ultimately to God) and it has a very special importance in a context like Rwanda, where like you imply it can seem other pressing needs seem to come up to the surface. Historically culture here is mostly expressed verbally rather than in visual products (rather than just not existing!), but more than ever folks need more outputs, and more interests than just ‘suriviving’, but this all has to be put in perspective. Because there is a tendency to call many things less than the proclamation of the gospel as ‘the work of God’. Art, farming, cleaning up a widows home, teaching kids photography, community health, whatever, all these things can glorify God, all have their place, mainly when we verbally testify to the ultimate creator/artist/healer/builder/fixer Jesus.

    1. Thanks for your comment Joe. I agree that art is ‘wonderful’ and can lead to wonder. But like you say, there is no substitute for the verbal testimony of the Creator through the book of God’s word.

  2. Reblogged this on Conversation Magazine and commented:
    Our friend Nancy Lambrechts, living in Rwanda and discipling ladies on the wonderful Preach the Word programme, is also a gifted artist and writer and here she gives us a wonderful introduction to a theology of art…

    1. Thank you Andy. Hope all is well with you and your family.

      1. Back in Kenya after a busy but good time in the UK. Settling ok by God’s grace. Would love to visit Rwanda one of these days…

  3. Eli Mallett · · Reply

    I only just came across this Nancy and I haven’t got anything massively inspiring to say other than a big resounding Amen! You write so beautifully Nancy, your words are ointment to the soul. I gather your exhibition was a complete success, very pleased for you
    🙂

  4. Thanks Eli. The exhibition was a hoot, so much fun to see the faces of the girls when they saw their paintings. Greetings from Rwanda to Madagascar.

  5. Michael Williams · · Reply

    I have struggled with my God-given ego when it comes to living as an artist. Particularly when my art is praised and in the back of my mind I am aware that most of what I have created has been because of God’s grace. Often before embarking on a major project I will offer it up in prayer for God’s glory. This creates a sense that you are essentially only the potters wheel, the clay the art, the potter’s hands, God himself.

  6. Michael Williams I do not mean to give your ego any reason for struggle, but I must say that you and your ‘art’, your creative thinking and sense of adventure have always been an inspiration to me.

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