Bavinck on Art

Dear Reader,

As a part of my series in search of a reformed theology of education, I have been trying to read all I can on the topic by reformed writers. I recently picked up a selection of essays by Herman Bavinck entitled Essays on Religion, Science, and Society (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008). I was a little intimidated to dive into Bavinck but am pleasantly surprised to find that, though I can’t understand everything he says (a lot of it has to do with not knowing the people he is talking about),  for the most part his writing is pretty accessible.

There are some great essays in this volume and I will certainly get to the ones that deal directly with education. Today I’d like to look at “Of Beauty and Aesthetics.” What follows is my narration of Bavinck’s article. As such it has fewer direct quotes and page numbers.

To understand art, we must understand beauty. Beauty precedes art. We know this because there is beauty in nature which predates art. But beyond this, beauty exists apart from Creation with God Himself. Bavinck equates Beauty (capital “B”) with God’s glory. We often think of beauty as a sensory thing, because we appreciate art or nature through our senses (sight, hearing, etc.). But animals have these senses and they have no appreciation for beauty. So we know that there is something more to it. There is a spiritual aspect to beauty.  

In this beauty is like truth and goodness, other things which animals, amoral creatures that they are, cannot grasp. In fact, these three, though distinct, are related in that they all proceed from and are defined by the Godhead. As God is Truth (John 14:6) and as His character defines what is Good (Mark 10:18), so His glory is the definition of Beauty. The beauty that we see in nature is a reflection of this Beauty. It is meant to point us beyond this world to its Creator. 

They say art imitates nature and to some extent this is true. But it is also more than a derivative of a derivative. The connection between art and the beauty of nature comes from their common source (again, in God’s Beauty).  

The ability to create art is a gift from God (Exod. 36:1-2) and while we all have it to some extent, it is different in each of us. Some are certainly more gifted than others. 

Art is different from science or craft in that its ultimate purpose is not utilitarian. It exists for its own sake. 

Modern approaches to art tend to focus on the material, on what we can experiment with. They talk about the artist — his social and historical situation, for example. And they talk about psychology — how we perceive art and how it affects us. We can analyze what elements of a painting affect us and make us call it beautiful. We can devise lists of criteria having to do with colors and lines and what makes one piece “beautiful” and another not. Bavinck acknowledges that there is some value in all this. It is worth doing, but it is not and should not be the whole of our study of art because it ignores the very real, spiritual element.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Bavinck on the value and purpose of beauty in our world:

“Beauty thus discloses us to ourselves and also grants us another, new glimpse into nature and humanity. It deepens, broadens, enriches our inner life, and it lifts us for a moment above the dreary, sinful, sad reality; beauty also brings cleansing, liberation, revival to our burdened and dejected hearts . . .

“Beauty is the harmony that still shines through the chaos in the world . . .it is prophecy and guarantee that this world is not destined for ruin but for glory — a glory for which there is a longing deep in every human heart.” (p. 259)

Nebby

 

3 responses to this post.

  1. […] Bavinck’s Essays on Religion, Science, and Society (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008; see here and here). Today it is time to get to my main topic: Bavinck on […]

    Reply

  2. […] God is the source of all wisdom, truth, goodness, and beauty. (John 14:6; Gaebelein on Truth; Bavinck on Art; Frank […]

    Reply

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