Art and Honesty

photo-1453806839674-d1a9087ca1edRecently, Fuller Studio released a short film titled THE PSALMS, a thoughtful and engaging conversation between U2’s Bono and theologian Eugene Peterson. In this short but beautiful exchange of mutual passions, they discuss art and poetry, David and the Psalms, God and truth. Bono explains, “Why do we need art? Why do we need the lyric poetry of the Psalms? Because the only way we can approach God is if we’re honest. Through metaphor, through symbol. So art becomes essential, not decorative.”

Obviously, I resonate deeply with Bono’s words, as many of you do. I believe that one of the reasons why U2 has been so popular and so musically influential over the last few decades is because they really strive toward poetic honesty in their lyrics. And I also believe that is why Peterson’s rendering of the Bible, The Message, is so popular as well. Both strive toward an artistic but accessible honesty that reverberates deeply within us.

I’ve discussed the importance of truth and excellence in art before. Here are a few of my previous blog posts on the subject, and I encourage you to click through them if you’re interested.

Something Worth Saying: Excellence In The Arts Excellence as a form of honesty
Literally. Or Not.  Metaphor (vs. literal) as a deeper means of expressing truth
Losing My Hallelujah Truth and poetry in a song
Deconstructing Christian Drama When art becomes propaganda
Being IN The World  The subversive nature of the arts

There’s a common thread behind these blog posts that I’d like to reiterate with you all. And it has to do with what really makes great art, whether you are a writer, musician, dancer, sculptor, filmmaker. It should pervade the very meraki of our being as artists of faith.

At the heart of excellence is a profound respect for the nature of our art forms. And this has implications. When we create a character in a novel or a play, we need to understand that the character is not a human being. That character is a metaphor for human nature. And as such, he or she must be complex, enigmatic, conflicted, and ultimately ruined and in need of redemption. When we create a landscape in a painting or in a computer graphic, we need to understand that the landscape is not truly a part of our world, but is a metaphor for creation. And as such, it must reflect both beauty, for that is the shadow of God’s glory, and imperfection, for that is the curse from which we must be rescued. When we write a song, we need to understand that the lyrics are not an exposition of the Bible, but more so, a form of poetry.  And as such, we must be skillful in simile, metaphor, alliteration, and other forms of speech. In this way, we don’t just tell people about the love of God, but we also reflect God in the beauty of the prose of our lyrics. And this same respect for our art extends to our choreography, our filmmaking, our our painting, our fine arts, our craftsmanship.

Bono and Peterson remind us again that the nature of art is to delve deeply into what it is to be human, and express that humanity with great skill and great honesty. It is there, in that raw and sacred place of truth, that we can then tell the stories of our redemption.

So here’s an exercise for artists of faith that you can do right now. Find your favorite Psalm(s) and re-read it (preferably the Message version). Read it aloud, slowly and in it’s entirety (not just your favorite sections). Read the Psalm as if it were a poem or the lyric of a song. Read it as if an actual person were expressing the deep longings of his heart. And as you do, immerse yourself into the metaphor, into the emotion, into the heart of the Psalm that exists beyond the words.

[Photo Credit: Philip Swinburn, Unsplash.]

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