Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
These words have inspired a lot of bad art. False art. When taken outside of the Gospel context, they have made artists (and I include myself here) look beyond the cross, beyond Jesus, for that which is beautiful.
Perhaps it is because the TRUE image of Christ on the cross is nothing if not an image of total human depravity. A picture of humanity’s failure to be true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. It was not a victory, it was a defeat. A tragedy of incomparable proportions.
When I read the words of Charles Bukowski, one of my favorite poets, I am reminded of what we are incapable of:
there’s no chance
we are all trapped
by a singular
nobody ever finds
the city dumps fill
the junkyards fill
the madhouses fill
the hospitals fill
the graveyards fill
(Excerpt from ‘alone with everybody’ by Charles Bukowski)
Artists like Bukowski or Anne Sexton or Elliot Smith were INFLICTED by the failure of humanity. It’s an understatement to say that their inability to be anything but transparent in this regard was a burden to them.
When depravity is denied, art becomes a pathetic commercial for a belief system. Another word for this is Propaganda. (Admittedly, I have a huge obsession with some propaganda, but we’ll get to that at a later date). But when depravity is realized there is “transparency” in the craft. And it is through this transparency, this mirror of our depravity, that Grace allows the truth, nobility, righteousness, purity, excellence and praiseworthiness of Christ to be revealed.
Ultimately, in Christian art or non-Christian art, the victory of the resurrection is diluted in the denial of depravity.