Suspension of Disbelief: How Art Works

ML Slide 1“Imagine the beauty of a starry night sky.  It stretches out before you like a velvet blanket, shimmering with lights like diamonds. [Photo 1.] Truly, it is a beautiful and remarkable thing, and simply through it’s existence, it breathes a hallelujah to God. Well, we’ve talked a lot previously about beauty and truth, and how beauty was created by God to give Him pleasure and glory, and how God also integrated something deep inside our souls, some mysterious aesthetic that responds to beauty.  God designed beauty, defined beauty, and then designed us to respond to beauty.  Because of this, we respond to things that are beautiful, like a compass that always points north.  So the vast and dark beauty of a starry midnight sky exists to display God’s glory.  And we respond to it and are drawn to it.  It is uniquely and universally human to do so.

ML Slide 2“Now someone can take a photograph of that starry night sky. [Photo 2.] And we all know that the photograph of that night sky is not the night sky. It is only a piece of photo paper, or an image on a computer screen. But if it is photographed well, then the photo hints of the sky, and displays its beauty and majesty interpreted through the eyes of the person who took that photo, through the eyes of the artist. So we suspend our disbelief that this is simply a digital image, and enter into an experience of that night sky through the photograph. And what happens then is called ART. Because we suspend our disbelief, we can see the photo also with the same eyes that saw the night sky—as a beautiful and remarkable thing.

Starry Night“So in it’s own way, the photo of the night sky also hints at the glory of God in the same way as the sky itself. But you see, the same can be true for a painting of a midnight sky as well.  [Photo 3.] We disregard the fact that it is simply pigments and swirls scrawled on a canvas, and we see it as something more. What we do is enter into the beauty of the night sky as interpreted by the painter. It hints of the sky, of the beauty, and of God’s majesty.  And we are moved by it.

“I think we all know this painting, “Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh. I’ve read that the swirls are there to signify that God is not a static God, but He is active and moving through the universe. And it is beautifully portrayed in this painting.

Twinkle Twinkle“Now here’s the thing. This is also true if I write a song about the night sky, or a poem about the night sky, or a story about the night sky. [Photo 4.] In their own and unique ways, these acts of artistry are all human expressions, all artistic interpretations, of God’s creation. Our artwork is an extension of God’s artwork. And so you could say that artmaking is an echo of sorts of the original creation. This is how art can display truth and beauty and ultimately hint at God’s Glory.”

This is an excerpt from my recent speech at the 2013 Intersections: Faith and the Arts Conference.  To freestream or download the audio of this entire 30-minute talk, please hit the Oak Hills Media link here.  You’ll be directed to a webpage where you just hit the play button.  Enjoy!

3 thoughts on “Suspension of Disbelief: How Art Works

    1. Hi Anna. Actually, the contention that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is a form of aesthetic subjectivism, and my personal belief is that it is not consistent with the idea that beauty and truth are related and objective. Lots I could say, but you might read this blog post to get more thoughts on this: Bottom line is that I don’t think beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but our individualized and highly opinionated experiences to beauty are.

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