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Barth & Art

Barth & Art

My full review for JinHyok Kim's The Spirit of God and the Christian Life is coming on Friday via GraceForSinners. So keep your eyes open for that. In the meantime though I had to take some of these excellent quotes from the book on "Barth & Art." In an effort to make my review more reasonable, I had to take out some amazing words from Barth. But I was motivated to write in response to, or simply about, them. Previously though, I wasn't going to put this together since I had already talked about Barth & God's Beauty but my wife's recent post on vanity spurred me to more vanity. So let me try, through Barth, to explain why vanity and art got equated in my mind,

“Although the Spirit awakens and invites us to God’s own glory, there is no full manifestation of it in time. This eschatological openness, nevertheless, is the source of our yearning, which characterizes our existence and invokes prayer. It makes us hasten to dwell in “a holy place on earth” that emerges from God’s self-glorification.”

This was principally why Barth and his views of art came to mind while reading my wife's post. For Barth, the Holy Spirit invokes in us a desperate longing for the eschaton (there is vanity because we have hope). The Holy Spirit provides us glimpses, we are invoked to sigh and pray for more (vanity doesn't cease but increases with hope). There is a sense in which the surrounding earth gets darker when our glimpses of the eschaton recedes (apart from hope everything is vanity). But during glorious times in the Holy Spirit there are glorious spots on earth.

Art for Barth is suppose to reflect this. If this is a correct and appropriate view of life then the best art should reflect it. And quite obviously, we should expect the Christian life to reflect this. Before looking at art specifically though, Barth describes what this life should look like. There should be a joyfulness knowing of the eschaton and living the life that pursues a greater realization of it now through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

“This playful nature of culture encourages us not to take the human work in society with utter seriousness and also warns us not to approach culture from a strictly dogmatic perspective, thereby offering a possibility that theology and culture meet one another freely, joyfully, and playfully. In this respect, the distance between theology and culture is not a static gap but an eschatological boundary in which theology and culture can be truly connected by the Spirit’s redemptive work.”

I think many of us have heard about "frumpy" Christians. And perhaps some of us think we've even conquered that. We drink. We smoke. We enjoy a flippant turn of phrase or two. We're not grumpy, joyless Christians are we? Perhaps. But I stumbled over the word "playful." Not times of playfulness but a genuine life of playing before God. But Barth is not reducing our efforts in obedience in this life to child-like negligence,

“Ultimately, in the last resort, our life is truly only a game. . . . We should not fail to say that as God’s children we are in fact released from the seriousness of life and can and should simply play before God. . . . We are always, in fact, his little children, and our work in relation to his is more play than work, obedient play, play in the peace of the father’s house that is waiting for us, yet still play.”

There is a reality to our need for obedience. But those works are almost silly in comparison to the work of God. This truth should manifest itself in overly serious Christians. You know. The ones who are continually stressed by "their work" for God. If these realities are true then obedience should be joyful. Playful. Restful. Eschaton focused. And it is this eschatological reality, these invocations from the Holy Spirit and this playfulness that should be found in art. Art exists in a serious world (vanity) and it must reflect that (vanity of vanity). But it establishes it to display the glorious nature of an eschatological joyfulness and playfulness before God.

“In other words, art is a playful way for us to transcend this world and move toward the coming Kingdom, while living within the limitation of this world.”

“Art can be redemptive because of its eyes to see the sorrow of the world and its ears to hear the cry of creation.”

For Barth art was a medium, a looking glance, to bring these eschatological experiences in the Holy Spirit to an object. In a piece of music or a fresh painting there remains a glimpse of the eschaton we strive for. Sometimes the art must reflect the darkness waiting the eshaton: sometimes we must stare at the vanity. And the Holy Spirit uses this to invoke us to pray and sigh for our future: now. Experiences of our eschaton: here. Good art should wax and wane between these just as our present life does.

“Barth drew parallels between art and salvation: “We now have the doctrine of justification to back us—that the greatest artists, notoriously, have not always been the best of men.” It also means that great religious works of art are not necessarily created by good Christians. Barth is not the only person who claims that neither the faith of the artist, nor the content of the art, can determine the religiosity of art. His distinctiveness rather lies in his view that the value and quality of art are dependent upon the way it discloses in this world the eschatological promise. In this light, it is not at all surprising that the mature Barth discovered the genuine form of beauty in the sound of Mozart’s music (not in Bach’s sacred music) and in the human faces of Botticelli’s paintings (not in Raphael’s religious work).”

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