Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Dyrness on Visual Arts

Written by: on September 4, 2013

Dyrness on Visual Arts

Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue by W. A. Dyrness addresses the topic of visual arts, a hot topic in today’s worship leadership circles, and he states his purpose this way, “This book aims to extend and enrich a Christian conversation on the visual arts… .  As the subtitle indicates, it is also my purpose to bring questions of visual arts and theology into dialogue with worship.”  (Kindle Locations 38-41).  As one who is not overly focused on the arts I approached the book with little enthusiasm.  However, I was encouraged.  Dyrness did a respectable job of setting a good foundation of Biblical context and then he ably reflected on the expression of the visual arts through history.  Though his focus is still not primary interest of mine he certainly helped me to embrace both the value of visual arts in worship and to understand better the pitfalls of errant critique.
I particularly appreciated the following comment that almost echoed sentiments found in Romans 1:18ff, “Herein lies the significance of the visual arts for the Christian. Though there are limits and dangers, we all live our lives in a world that is loaded with symbolic possibilities. Whatever our faith commitments, or lack of them, we live in a world that invariably reflects God’s values and even features echoes of his presence. People may miss the significance of these echoes, but as long as they are human they cannot miss the values embedded in creation.”  (Kindle Locations 1112-5).  For me, the value of the visual arts is how they point to the creator God.
I was particularly interested in the author’s section on art and discipleship.  He relates the concept of servanthood as expressed by the artist to discipleship.  The author contends that the artist is even more connected to creation because he/she engages creation in their task in a way that others do not.  ”Mathematicians and philosophers may live with ideas; the artist cannot live without the world of nighthawks and maple trees.” (Kindle Locations 2142-3).  I do not agree with the author because at this point he overlooks the symbolism of numbers which relate often, if not always, to some thing.  I do agree, however, that the idea of servanthood can be expressed in the artist’s task.
Dyrness even goes further to say that artists better understand the aspect of suffering in their following Jesus by virtue of handling the material of the creator, “but artists understand this call, it seems to me, in a particularly intimate way.”  (Kindle Location 2148).  The author has not made his case that the work of the artist provides any more of an intimate venue than the work of a mathematician for instance.  He continues to press his point for a superior sensitivity on the point of an artist with this summary comment, “Artists are not able to live such a life any easier than anyone else, but they should be the first to understand the basic structure of such a life.”  (Kindle Locations 2173-4).  It is an interesting thesis but he has not convinced me.
The book was a good reminder of the importance and value of the arts in relationship to worship and theology.  It has prompted me to be more sensitive to giving space for the arts in my discipleship.  Even  the illustrations I use during conferences the power of those visual arts could be enhanced if I give more thought as to how they are presented and discussed.  I will give much more attention to this process as a result of reading this book.
Dyrness, W. A. Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academics, 2001.

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David Toth

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