I finally finished reading Walking On Water by Madeleine L’Engle. There is a lot of material in this little book. The tag line of the book is “Reflections on Faith and Art” it’s a fabulous little book about well, faith and art. To kind of give you a general idea about what the book’s thesis I am going to share the excerpt that is on the back of the book:
” And as I listen to the silence, I learn that my feelings about art and my feelings about the Creator of the Universe are inseparable. To try to talk about art and about Christianity is for me one and the same thing, and it means attempting to share the meaning of my life, what gives it, for me, its tragedy and its glory. It is what makes me respond to the death of an apple tree, the birth of a puppy, northern lights shaking the sky, by writing stories.”
L’Engle was the writer of over some 60 books most notably, A Wrinkle In Time. I have not read that but I intend to. I only became interested in reading Walking On Water because it was referenced and quoted a myriad of times in The Creative Call by Janice Elsheimer.
Let’s dive in.
The first chapter. L’Engle said something beautiful,
“Why is it that I, who have spent my life writing, struggling to be a better artist, and struggling also to be a better Christian, should feel rebellious when I am called a Christian artist? Why should I feel reluctant to think or write about Christian creativity?”
I thought these rhetorical questions showed strongly how to a large extent we Christians have taken the push from society to leave our faith and religion at home. God has been pushed out of our schools and higher institutions. A Christian scientist for example seems to be an impossibility. The arts used to be largely a religious affair. I think of Michelangelo and Da Vinci. They were THE artists of their time and their works are primarily religious in nature. However, as I say that L’Engle claims something in the next chapter that I found interesting. She says that,
“…to serve music, or painting, or words is a religious activity, whether or not the conscious mind is willing to accept that fact. Basically there can be no categories such as “religious” art and “secular” art, because all true art is incarnational, and therefore “religious.”
My first thought when she claimed that was I take issue with it because there is a lot of “Christian” art out there that I do not like. But L’Engle explains this two pages over by saying,
“This confusion comes about because much so-called religious art is in fact bad art, and therefore bad religion.”
That made complete sense to me. Much of the so called “Christian” art that I dislike, I dislike it because I consider it to be very shallow and empty of real religious value. The art has no depth. It is bad religion. L’Engle is saying it is bad art because it is bad religion. Of course, in order to even engage is this type of categorization you have to go along with L’Engle by agreeing that all art is religious. Whether knowingly or unknowingly to the artist all art is a reflection of the Creator. This turns the whole idea of “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” upside down because now, “good” art brings glory to God and has nothing to do with personal preferences or opinions.
I don’t think L’Engle was trying to answer the question “What is art?” but she did. Art is religious. Good art is good religion and vice versa. Agree or disagree? I’m leaning toward agreeing.
Overall: Fantastic book that really gets you thinking and pondering. Worth reading. Must read if you consider yourself to be an artist regardless of religious views.
Part II coming soon!