Tuesday, May 8, 2012

5 Basic Assumptions of a Christian Art Teacher


Christian responses to Arts has been ranging from ambiguous, extreme rejection, wild acceptance, constrained and many more variations that are not well thought nor in some cases even remotely accountable to the Biblical Faith that we hold.In many cases, such inadequate responses were constructed with similar weaknesses, unwillingness to think of philosophical underlying currents of any responses to Arts today. By rejecting to any deeper examination and constructing responses and debates purely at pragmatic phenomenon many such responses only manage to create more ambiguity, contradiction, and detrimental to Faith. How would an examination of philosophical undercurrents look like? well this model below is one of those effort to examine what are the fundamental distinction in philosophical structure that a Christian Art Education must developed, in effort to be consistent and not contradicting the basic structure of Christian Faith. These 5 Basic Assumptions below were constructed as part of a research in Theological Aesthetics, taken primarily from  Protestant tradition.

1. REJECT The Concept of Autonomy: Autonomous Reasoning

I think that one of the most basic assumptions that resulted in incoherent expression of Biblical faith in Arts is to begin in any given point with the notion that human reasoning or emotional expression is capable of neutrality to the point that it may gave what can be considered as truth through its reasoning and emotional/experience based deductions. This is related to Biblical concept of Sin; a condition of total depravity that has polluted any reasoning or emotional faculties as such these can never be reliable acting independently from God’s sovereign Grace. From which we must not see any discipline, including Art, in its institutionalized freedom of expression to be the starting point, that any assumed neutrality or independency that Art claimed in every aspect of its articulations must be rejected. We gave Arts greater autonomy than any other structures in our society as we accepted the autonomy that Art claimed to be equal to, or at least not to be subordinated by God’s revelation.  

2. SUPPORT The Concept of Beauty: relationship between Truth-Beauty-Goodness

Investigating the concept of beauty and the Christian Teacher’s opinion regarding aesthetics may provide indication to what extend the candidate understood the correlation between his/her Faith (and Theology), his/her philosophical beliefs in Arts as separate sphere, and his/her ethical and moral commitment. I discover in my readings that substantial indication that these three realms do not corresponded consistently to each other (which can be problematic) can be tested in the way Beauty is defined. To return to the absolute starting point of Biblical Christianity is to begun with who God is both before creation (ontological) and who God is in relation to Creation (Historical) based upon His revelation. As such any absolute truth in regarding to the conception of beauty must, as anything that exist, begin in God’s Essence. When we discussed God’s essence we immediately confronted that in God, the inseparable consistency between Truth-Beauty-Goodness is absolute. Never was, is, or will in any given time or space, any beauty is to be perceived outside to what is consistent to Truth and Goodness and vice versa.

3. To focus Arts and Aesthetics not as an independent and/or alternative access to ultimate reality and independent construction of human beliefs but as partial response in analogy to the ultimate reality and in articulating such belief.

How would a Christian Teacher respond to the notion of Universality of Arts, and how Arts is considered independent? I agree with Abraham Kuyper on this, that Arts should be accepted as Common Grace. I would like to quote my previous investigation about this: “As it should be accepted as common grace, it can only be situated under the same starting point of understanding reality, not autonomous in terms of human reasoning towards ultimate reality, but an independent sphere free from symbolism of religion. “What does this statement above means? The teacher should be able to balance between enslavement of Art under a narrowed religious symbolism or agendas (it can be in form of rejection to anything that is considered secularized forms or themes in Art), and granting Art to dictate conceptual/ philosophical constructs what is the definition of reality, truth, beauty etc. So I believe we examine and learn how Art is a response and articulation of every human belief, including how the antithesis remain between a starting point that is purely human reasoning, experiencing, emotional in origin,  and Christianity’s starting point that is God’s revelation.

The distinction between autonomous reasoning and independent sphere is clear. Independent sphere is a freedom based on acknowledgment of Common Grace; a common unity that made each particularity possible to be known by itself, inseparable from its relationship with the other, but such unity is not based upon human construction or achieved through any autonomous reasoning or experience. Sphere-sovereignty in arts should then be understood as an extension in understanding of God’s sovereignty, that if Calvinism insisted in no other possible beginning point but an Absolute Person of God, then it resulted in two consequences, first, it is inconsistent to upheld one sphere dominion on all others without denying the existence of common grace and the sovereignty and centrality of the absolute person of God above all spheres. Thus it is also at the same time inconsistent to hold a position of any spheres or realms autonomy, or any possibility of secularization. Following this principle above any political or ecclesiastical control which subjected all spheres into constraints created in the context of fallen human knowledge, even in religious institutions, cannot escape the possibility of distortion. Even more, the subjection of all under one that is not absolute tends to eliminate antithetical arguments that are needed to sustain it.  
So I believe that Christian Education should acknowledge of Art as an instrument of religious (of articulation of belief and knowledge of reality) potential, and having universal implications, but denying its claim as an autonomous agent of reaching noumenal reality. This should be the main principle from where any Art Form must be considered; never can it be that Art Principles of contemplation, reality, morality, ethics, freedom and whatever ideas it generated be free to undermine Biblical revelation. But it must not repositioned arts and aesthetics under the tutelage of the Church as practiced in the exclusivity or superiority of religious symbolism, but acknowledging its position as common ground from which the sense of divinity that is embedded within man may be articulated as part of the process of knowing, responding and confirming. 

What it means by this is that any effort to take Art’s capacity to express human belief universally and narrowed it down to merely an instrument of simplified Christian expression would result in Art that is not truthfully representing reality that the student must faced. Art must be taught as it corresponded with reality, including the existence of its uses, purposes, ideas, forms that may be incompatible to Christianity. What must be a goal is to find the right representation that enable students to dismantle and learn from various articulations of human beliefs through Art and reach a point of conclusion at the same point where it begun, in the Absolute Person of God.

4.       4. Art and Aesthetics simultaneously presents objective reality and able to transcends ANALOGICALLY to metaphysical reality.

This is one of the postmodern characteristics, if Christianity’s absolute starting point is the Absolute Person of God revealed in the Scripture, then I believe in consequence Christianity must reject Postmodern characterized rejection to Objective Beauty and Objective reality. 

Situated in the context of aesthetic discussion of objective and subjective beauty.  Kuyper’s position in aesthetics insist that beauty have an objective reality, opposing the notion of Kantian idealism that extend the artistic role of going beyond imitating nature or mimesis but a freedom of creating a new reality (beauty is in the eye of beholder? Art for Art’s sake? Artist as Creator of something new? These are only several statements that can be traced back to the fundamental assumption of Art’s autonomy and its equality or even ultimate access to reality). If we try to understand art not as mimesis but as creation, as we can understand it in Idealism, we must also understand the logical conclusion of giving arts and aesthetics the ability to create autonomously.

5.      5. SUPPORT Art and Aesthetics as common grace and maintain Art’s sphere sovereignty as instrument of worldview which is held in tension with epistemological antithesis

When we claim that Art and Aesthetics is a universal expression of belief, and that it serves as articulation of such beliefs, it can be understood that it can not be anything but religious in nature. As consequence the fundamental differences of Christian Art Education must not be determined at its forms and practices, but at the starting point from which every belief that is articulated through Art was built upon. This is fundamentally an Epistemological Antithesis. An Exegesis of Romans 1 would clearly put us in this antithesis of Knowledge. Kuyper insisted in his argument regarding the impossibility of art and aesthetics to be absolutely independent from any religious principle. In the whole argument presented in Calvinism and Art, and in the context of common grace and sphere-sovereignty, Kuyper was shifting the antithesis presented in the challenge of Romanism, Idealism and Romanticism from the realm of evidential and religious phenomena to the question of epistemological antithesis.

We can see that Christian Education today mostly also dealt with Art at the realm of evidential and religious phenomena, although some has realized that it is a matter of knowledge and worldview construction. What Kuyper did in his lecture on Calvinism was to propose a different perspective to romanticism interpretation to the historical phenomena, and to demonstrate how this significant differentiation is resulted from epistemological difference. I believe this is where Art Education must begin.

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