When asking ourselves if high standards in art have actually been replaced with mediocrity, we must first address the issue of what constitutes excellence in the arts. Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder?
Raphael The School of Athens, 1509-1511
Perhaps we can best define excellence by the lens in which a piece of art is viewed. Because our goal at The Mark Project is to proclaim the Gospel message through art, we determine that excellence through a biblical worldview. Everything is measured up to our Creator’s standards and viewed in light of Scripture.
So what does Scripture say about art? More than you probably realize.
The very first verse of the Bible states that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1 ESV) This implies that the very first action recorded for us is the act of creation! Because we are created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26), we all have natural creativity in some form. God is Creator and Designer and He has plenty to say about how to bring glory to Him through the arts, which is a topic all by itself that we’ll talk about more another day!
Analysis of art
Once we have defined the worldview, we need to analyze a work of art by holding it up to Scripture. Does that mean every piece of art must have a “Christian” message, Bible story, or Scripture? Certainly not, because here is the important component of analysis: the piece of art must reflect God’s goodness in creation. In other words, does the art reflect the classic design principles He set forth in creation?
In every part of creation we see nine design principles at work: balance, emphasis, movement, pattern, repetition, proportion, rhythm, variety, and unity. Through classical, fine arts training, artists learn to incorporate these principles into their pieces, resulting in a work of art that is both pleasing to the eye, and God-honoring. For example, the Fibonacci spiral reflects the Golden Rule of math and is seen in all of creation. This is an excellent video on the subject: https://youtu.be/iEnR8zupK0A .
By holding up art to design standards, we can observe technique, skill, and subject matter. Renowned artist and illustrator, Robert Florczak, talks about the aesthetic relativism (“beauty is in the eye of the beholder” mentality) of today vs. the classical universal standards prior to the Impressionist movement in this video from Prager-U: https://www.prageru.com/video/why-is-modern-art-so-bad/ . He contends that what we purchase as patrons of the arts, determines what the galleries will sell. Further, he advocates the teaching of classical arts to overcome the mediocrity so prevalent in modern art.
While many artists today strive for excellence in the arts, high standards have actually been replaced by mediocrity. Today’s Instagram artists more closely resemble the untrained, early folk artists who once dotted the American countryside. While some of the art is pleasing to view, most simply reflect the concept of “process” art, never progressing past the stage of abstract colors and shapes. They would be hard-pressed to draw anything realistic. How does “Instagram” art compare to this painting by Raphael during the Renaissance? Something to contemplate.
We can, however, be the impetus to change by meditating on art that is commendable, as exhorted by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (ESV)