(Tim) This week saw the release of David Michaelis’ biography of Charles Schultz, the creator of the cartoon strip, Peanuts. Titled Schultz and Peanuts, reviewers are commenting on Michaelis’ heavy emphasis on Schultz as Suffering Artist. What did he suffer?
The Times (10/14/07) sums it up: “Drawings rejected by high school yearbook. Odd haircuts by Dad.”
Not exactly the Gulag, right? Well, this only as context for what follows.
I’ve noted before that in decadent societies artists become the high priests and art, itself, the sacrament. Now I don’t want to push this too far, but I’m determined to push it far enough to get us into a self-reflective and self-critical mode.
Commenting on readers’ desires for artists to be portrayed as anguished souls, University of Minnesota’s Patricia Hampl spoke of our need “in the age of entertainment’s dominance…for art to be something separate from our quotidian lives, something almost spiritual."
Ah yes, “something almost spiritual.”
Today, some of the most historically informed, doctrinally committed, and biblical Christians I know attach an importance to art and aesthetics that is entirely foreign to the historic reformed church, and that often has been vigorously opposed by orthodox Christians across church history. Believers of the past were quite intentional in keeping up their guard against idolatry infiltrating believers' hearts, the Church, and her worship. They understood how easily art and aesthetics are conscripted to serve as idolatry's' Trojan Horse.
Now, of course, at this point some of our good readers are on the verge of dismissing my concern with some useful smear like, “He’s poor white trash; his little learning has made him mad; he’s lived a nasty, brutish life and he’s trying to turn his own cultural deprivation into a spiritual principle; he’s a Cretin; he’s a Puritan; he’s a Baptist.”
Well, maybe I am. But then again, maybe not.
Rather, maybe we need to stop and think about Satan being able to appear as an angel of light. Maybe we need to consider that our noble talk and work raising up a distinctively Christian culture, our pursuit of art, architecture, and music that is true, beautiful, and good--even within the church and her liturgy--is another face of our society's view of artists as priests and their works as our sacraments.
If you're disinclined to hear such a warning, read Augustine's Confessions once more and ask yourself why the early church was so fiercely opposed to the fine arts?