Put it in the microwave, it’s faster. Don’t do dial-up, get broadband…no, no, better yet, now we have wireless and the latest fiber-optic Internet. Why? Because it’s faster. Google is pitching it, we’re clicking it, and every technology is promising it. There’s a fascinating theology taking over the world, and that principle is speed. Never mind the studies that prove fast-food is killing us, phones are infecting us, or our schedules and calendars are over-burdening and putting undue stress on us. The name of the game is productivity and it needs to be done now!
Numerous principles, effects, and studies could be mentioned here on the psychosis of all of this, but I personally want to note its effect on the arts. Austin Phelps writes about watching people in Dresden at the Royal Gallery: they would sit for hours before a single painting. He says, “Weeks are spent every year in the study of that one work of Raphael. Lovers of art cannot enjoy it to the full, till they have made it their own by prolonged communion with its matchless form. 1” A man once made mention of coming to tears and to Christ by staring at a Rembrandt painting for hours. This is the power of art! It has a contemplative quality that connects us to the deep. It allows us to gaze into and along the artist’s thoughtful expression and meditate on the hard work and expertise of true precision and beauty.
There’s something about the deep waters of art that connect us to the deepest realms of our own pleasure. It’s like an operating scalpel. Even God likens His own Word—prose, story—to a double-edged sword. As we contemplate true, beautiful, and meaningful art, it connects us with the real stories of people—their hurt, sorrow, pain, praise, joy, mastery, and triumph. Only in lingering in such a moment and by tasting beauty can one truly arrive at what is conclusively most beautiful—God!
God’s story fills, encircles, consumes, and permeates our stories. His omnipresence and comfort wraps around our fears and turmoil like a blanket. His song over us grips the heart to respond in praise, and it can even cause us to express the tension that we hear between the turmoil of this world and the perfect tonality of heaven.
What concerns me is how current technologies are not capitalizing on the potential of the arts, but are seemingly chasing something altogether opposite. I remember, years ago, when MySpace was one of the premier platforms for artistic expression. It required the artist to put time into songs and creation. Then came Facebook, which requires relatively little creative competency, and the depth of self-expression really requires one to compose something in a status bar. Greater still, Twitter emerged, asking for us to poetically write only 140 characters in our prose. Now, there’s Instagram, a platform that’s eclipsing the other social media sites because it removes words altogether and replaces them only with an image.
As I found myself perusing Instagram the other day, I was oddly unsettled in coming to realize the effects of its Insta-Art layout. As I was thumbing through images, I, too, became prey to mindless consumption of art rather than thoughtful contemplation. I scrolled through people’s art as if it was a product. These are people’s stories. These are people’s passions. These images, like every created thing, reveal the theological object of worship of these artists’ souls. Not only did I hastily race through some people’s expressions of beauty, theological brilliance, and God-centered aims, but in many, who are obviously hurting, I raced over their artistic cries for help!
Alas! Instagram has shaped me with its liturgy! While art is supposed to be a meal, I had dumbed it down in my own soul to nothing more than a fast food burger! Maybe this is what caused C.S. Lewis to utter something to the effect of, “the world doesn’t need smarter people, it needs deeper people.” We don’t need more people consuming facts and gorging at the buffet table of mass-produced art that merely sells a company, promulgates an agenda, or serves only to get “likes” and “views.” We need to meditate. We need to find Christ’s image in art! We need to hear His voice as He cries through the colors, as He reveals His passion in the textures, and as He shouts His love and compassion through the melody.
- Austin Phelps, The Still Hour: Or Communion with God (Minneapolis: Curiosmith, 2011), 61-62.