I’m reading “Beholding the Glory” by Johnathon Begbie. It is a collection of essays on art and incarnational theology. Here are my thoughts on Trevor Hart’s opening essay:

Hart discusses three philosophical views of art.

  • Plato held the view that there existed a realm of perfect, eternal, unchanging forms. Anything that existed in the material world was therefore a corrupted copy of one of these forms. Art, therefore, was a further corruption, being a copy of a copy.
  • R.G. Collingwood (1889-1943) viewed art as a medium for communicating a concept from the artistic imagination of the artist to the imagination of the observer of the art. In his view the physical medium of the art itself is almost a nuisance.
  • Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) developed a view similar to Collingwoods in that the purpose of the physical medium of the art is to affect the observer’s sensibility. The physical art (sound waves, colors, sculpted clay, etc) are of no value in and of themselves – it is the effect that counts.

All of these views favour the non-material world over the material world. The point of Begbie’s book is that the Incarnation – the “enfleshing” of God in the person of Jesus repudiates any such dualistic view. Both physical and spiritual worlds are inseparably combined and both are “good”

How does a dualistic view of art affect how we worship? I think the view of worship as a hyper-spiritual escape from the physical world results from this error in thinking. Our worship must be incarnational – embracing both the physical and spiritual worlds together – in song, action, word, bread and wine.