February 18, 2009

There Is Art--Then There Is Art

2009 1505 page14 capncient Athens offered the world’s largest art gallery. Intelligence and culture marked the Athenian people.

Ellen White in The Acts of the Apostles, pages 233, 234, described the significant value Athenians placed on artwork. She wrote: “Everywhere statues of their gods and of the deified heroes of history and poetry met the eye, while magnificent architecture and paintings represented the national glory and the popular worship of heathen deities. The senses of the people were entranced by the beauty and splendor of art. On every hand sanctuaries and temples, involving untold expense, reared their massive forms. Victories of arms and deeds of celebrated men were commemorated by sculpture, shrines, and tablets. All these made Athens a vast gallery of art.”
One sentence in this quotation jumps out at me—“The senses of the people were entranced by the beauty and splendor of art.” Teachers, psychologists, therapists, and others for years have been convinced that one’s preferences in art often indicate a person’s true personality. Religious leaders also believe and make use of the fact that art is an avenue to the soul.
Before his fall into sin, Lucifer directed the heavenly choirs and was the consummate artist. His knowledge of color, form, design, and all aspects of music has not been lost. He still well knows how to use art in all its forms to capture the senses, and his vast experience is employed to draw away our love from the One who created art in the first place, the supreme Artificer.
The word art implies creativity and beauty. When God created this world and humankind, He instilled a degree of creativity—a part of Himself. It is reasonable to assume that because God gave humans a dose of His own creative spirit, He expects us to use this creativity in ways that honor Him.
Art for the sake of art, it seems, is the rule in most schools of art today. The notion that aspiring artists are accountable both to fellow human beings and to God for the use and effect of the art they create is a concept that has been largely lost in our modern-day world. Accountability is needed, however, to keep art from becoming totally debased.
The Adventist Approach
Historically, Seventh-day Adventist schools and colleges have excelled in their teaching of music. Even small rural churches make a valiant effort to have “special music” for the worship service, while larger churches—especially those connected with Adventist colleges and universities—have well-trained choirs and orchestras that perform at professional levels. This is most commendable; but music, as important as it is, is not the only art form that God created in us.
2009 1505 page14Compared to music, the visual arts have been neglected. As a result, the Adventist Church has lost many of its creative young artists because so few places exist within the Adventist school structure where the visual arts receive emphasis, along with values-based, critical-thinking skills. These youth go into the “world” and attempt to utilize the God-given creative spark within them. Subsequently, many leave the church.
Terry L. Benedict, arguably the most renowned Adventist film producer in the United States, says: “As a human being develops higher levels of functioning, many unique patterns and traits emerge. For that reason, educating groups of gifted individuals is not easy. They are not a homogeneous group. The more a person’s giftedness becomes apparent, the more each characteristic is accompanied by a need that requires different learning opportunities and modification of the curriculum or its delivery system.”
In the Bible we read about Bezalel, a God-ordained artist. The Lord said: “I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, to make artistic designs” (Ex. 31:3, 4, NASB).* Bezalel and the others who helped him create the wilderness temple employed workmanship that was exquisite, both functionally and artistically.

Adventists believe that “every human being, created in the image of God, is endowed with a power akin to that of the Creator—individuality, power to think and to do. . . . It is the work of true education to develop this power, to train the youth to be thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other men’s thought” (Ellen G. White, Education, p. 17).
A Time of Opportunity
Adventist educational institutions should be encouraged to develop a new caliber of art that is a fruitful hybrid of faith, accountability, and creativity. To be sure, employment opportunities in the various art industries are growing rapidly, as is the potential for using the arts and other media in spreading the gospel.
A new organization called The Shae Foundation† has come into being to help accomplish this goal. It was founded by Terry L. Benedict. Its mission is “to inspire artists to recognize their God-given gift of creativity, to nurture their creative spirit, and to promote their accountability to society.” The foundation is helping to develop curriculum materials to empower children and youth at K-12 educational levels to be accountable for the media they watch and is assisting the schools and communities to develop a philosophy of nurturing the creative spirit. College-level art students are being supported in their artistic development through mentoring, apprenticeships, internships, and workshops.
The creative spirit, which is present in every person to some degree and is expressed through words, images, sounds, and forms, may be one of the greatest evidences of a Creator. Accountability for giftedness is expected not only by the Creator but also by society, which the individual serves.
Combating Pornography
Adventists need to deliberately combat the onslaught of pornography and other degrading art forms. Pornography might be considered an art of sorts, but it certainly is not uplifting to the individual or the community. Those involved in such “art” display no awareness of responsibility or accountability.
Can the arts lead to spiritual transformation? Can the arts provoke people to ask the right questions, to do right things? Can the arts make a positive difference?
The answer is a resounding “Yes!” And that is the answer I believe our Creator intended. Inspiring artists through accountability is a powerful key to planting seeds that change, enrich, and save lives.
If Athens was such a vast center for art, imagine what heaven will be like. Let’s prepare our artistic tastes for something better! Now is the time to develop a new caliber of art that is a fruitful hybrid of faith, accountability, and creativity. 
*Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
George P. Babcock, ED.D., is a retired educational administrator living in Collegedale, Tennessee, who has served the Seventh-day Adventist Church for 48 years, both in North America and overseas.