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Volume 14, Issue 3: Flotsam

Suicide Art

Nathan Wilson

There is a decidedly vicious and amusing, paradox that surrounds atheistic art. It is the trap that is reality, the glass your nose cannot be pressed through. It is the inevitability of God. Artists, whether realists or otherwise, have always represented their philosophy of reality—their impressions, perspectives, demands, hopes, or despairs. The moderns are doing nothing different than the classicists, and the postmoderns are behaving no differently than the transcendentalists. All of them, as men and artists, preach their gospel. All of them simply mirror reality. It is their ideas of the real that differ. All artists preach a gospel and all at some point or another have had witnesses in the congregation yelling affirmations.

So Rembrant and Picasso had two different ideas of the real. They had two different ideas about what exactly this little globe was for. But both men were the same idea. Both were men creating in the image of creation. Their insight and abilities differed, but their tasks were the same. They were both sub-creators, both made in the image of the creative God, both creating microcosm in that capacity.
The joke comes when a man stands up to preach his story of reality and he declares the absence of any God. Pablo, or Jackson Pollock, walk to the pulpit and determine to paint the picture, and tell the story, of a Godless creation. They then create. They want to create the image of an uncreated world. They want to accurately depict artistless art. And of course they fail, and of course they feel the futility in their souls, and of course they admit nothing and paint on into oblivion. The one thing that most certainly cannot be painted is a painterless painting.
This is the suicide of atheistic art. The only consistent atheistic painting is one without an artist. To include an artist is to include God and overthrow the initial paradigm of the piece. So atheistic art does not exist. It may not exist and remain both atheistic and art. To be consistent it must not be.
The world picture that accounts for reality and allows for art is that of orthodox Christianity. It is a picture of God masterfully weaving a narrative through His canvas. It is the painting of every sunset and every budding leaf. It is a created easel, created canvas, and created medium, in the hands of the uncreated Master. This, unfortunately for some, is inescapable. Paint as diligently as they like, they are still painting, and as long as they are painting then there is a painter, and the picture is of God, though it may be a poor one.
But the paradox is not limited to the atheist. Deists, theists, and unorthodox Christians run into just as much trouble. For the openness theist, there may be no deliberate art, no scripted music, no careful detail, no intention. Jackson Pollock may not have successfully painted atheism, but he did do staunch work in openness theology.
As Christians we ought to intentionally imitate our God, mirroring Him in His nature and actions. A good openness painter will spill the paint and wonder where it will run. He will not control his creation as his god does not control his. It may be reasonable for him to put edges on his canvas, but he must not limit what goes on between them. His painting must tell the story of reality, and the artist must not surpass the skill of his god and paint with control, structure, and fulfillment. He must free his painting, his children, and all things beneath him as god does his.
Atheistic art does not exist. It is merely a depressed and unfaithful Christianity always hanging itself and never getting it quite right, forever gagging and kicking and never quite expiring.
Openness art does exist. But its structure is not up to the artist. He must model his god. While the Zeus of openness takes a few shots of nectar and hops on the mechanical bull of creation, his image down here must not show him up through painting a Rembrandt. He too must get liquored and impair his abilities. He can tie a can to a string and swing it through his studio, or a brush to his dog's tail. He can photocopy his face, but he must not take control of his art. He must not take control lest he blaspheme.
When an author writes, or a painter paints, he cannot be separated from his work. It cannot be seen apart from having been created. The image itself may speak of the world, may preach a fragmental or hollow falsehood, but the relationship the artist has to the work can speak as well. The image of God makes an image. How does he make it? Is his a quest for as little control as possible? Does he attempt to remove himself through removing artistry? As has been done, does he present the blinking world with blank or black canvases? Artists can spend a great deal of time trying to make a painting appear out of control. Or they can spend very little time at all. They can try to kill God in their art, but He will not die. At best they lie about Him. At best they claim that He is as incompetent in His art as they are in theirs—the failed atheism of openness.
Down here where we live we can never take full control of our creatures. This is because we are ourselves creatures. We train dogs, but cannot make them. We paint hills but cannot speak them. We do not have full control because we are part of the painting. But we gain control. In Christ we inherit the world and while we will never rule as gods, we will grow in our art. We will grow in dominion, and control. We will grow, but we will never control beauty as God does. We will never achieve that level of artistry.

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