if BEAUTIFUL ART is the BEST ART- what are funny art, serious art or social commentary art FOR?
Updated: Feb 2
Mainstream thinking about an artist in Eastern culture is that one has inherent value only IF he or she expresses beauty.
But WAIT! most of my work is not considered beautiful. It may be comical or (to use a horribly overused term- “whimsical”) it can be serious, thought provoking, sarcastic, etc.
So…does my work have value to the majority of people in my culture? Possibly not.
Does it have value in God’s perspective? We will explore that question in this chapter along with other questions.
One of the problems with the idea that...' art has value because of beauty'
that is only ONE of the major PURPOSES
of art throughout ALL time!!!!!
These PURPOSES of art are summed up as Theories and they have these titles which I will explain one by one.
The MIMETIC theory of art (think MIME)
and we'll go all the way back to Plato for this one) states that the purpose of art is simply to record what is seen in reality. When I think of this theory I imagine landscape realistic paintings, still life paintings, realistic portraiture or the school of photorealism.
The PRAGMATIC theory of art (which my work often fits into) states that the purpose of art is to teach or inspire the viewer in some concept or idea. This type of art can be found in church murals, illustrations, ‘propaganda’ posters, etc. Pragmatic authors desire for their works to bring abut social reform (think Charles Dickens). Charles Dickens and social Reform in England. Many documentary film makers would fit into this category. The communist poster below fits into that category.
The ROMANTIC theory of art asserts that the reason for art is to move people emotionally. Many of the work of the Romantic Landscape painters of the late 1990’s aspired to this idea (think -the Pre-Raphaelites.)
La Belle Dame Sans Merci by Sir Frank Dicksee
“It might be said that if the reality of mimetic art lies in the material and social world, and the truth of pragmatic art lies in the moral, ethical and spiritual realms, then emotionalist theories take as their universe the inner landscape of the individual’s emotions and feelings.” (quote: Richard L. Anderson, pg. 211). The Romantic movement began in the late eighteenth century. I’d say that in current culture, rock concerts, recorded background music in elevators, even television, dancing and movies stir up emotion in the participant and could be included in this theory of art.
The FORMALIST Theory of art. This is the latest philosophy or theory of art and is a reaction against the other forms of art. A formalist will often paint abstractly (and so throw off the ties of imitation of anything in nature.. This philosophy also considers pragmatic art to be “preachy”.It diverges from the emotionalists in certain ways as well in asserting that “art is for arts sake” not to conjure up an emotional response. Formalist deny that art has any purpose but that of making the art.
White on White, 1918. Museum of Modern Art, New York. photo by J. Howe
MODERN ART fits into this category- and is such a conundrum for most - I will recommend a book for those who want to laugh at and understand the ‘rook’ that modern art is- I recommend The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe.
Here are snippets from a review by KIRKUS REVIEW (an internet site)
“Wolfe's premise is simple: since WW II modern art has been characterized by the primacy of Theory. .....
The essential principal which has informed contemporary art, says Wolfe, is flatness. Three-dimensional effects are pre-modern; in fact they've been around since the Renaissance. Ugh!
How to preserve "the integrity of the picture plane" and the disputes it engendered among the culturati were worthy of the how-many-angels-can-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin debates of medieval scholasticism. Tout le monde, that is to say, a handful of collectors, curators and critics, had a field day.
The public (the public?) was left light years behind, gawking.
...his very just observation that contemporary art has, by and sadly large, been smugly elitist, its market and its value defined by a small clique.
Why is my work ‘dissed’ by Christians BUT not by the gen X young people?
Like I said, the mainstream thinking about an artist in Eastern culture is that an artist has inherent value in that he or she expresses beauty. To most non- pondering Christians this value is paramount in that it BEAUTY ALONE suggests to them- reverence for God by admiring the beauty of His creation.
So- what is an artist such as myself to do? Where does my work fit in- to the Christian art ‘scene” (maybe it does not)….?
But I ask you- does my work honor God even though most of my work may not be considered particularly beautiful? What if it challenges peoples perspectives on God and Christ? What if it makes them re-think their prejudices against Christians? Is there VALUE in those factors?
She Only Called Him When She Needed Him by Kata Billups
The painting below- for instance is one of my most controversial
it shows Jesus vomiting. one needs to take the time to understand my motivations and the context of the narrative before judging. The narrative shows Jesus vomiting because little children are ganging up to attack a homeless man.
The above painting is ‘tough’ but most of my work is principally comical or (to use a horribly overused term- “whimsical” like the painting directly BELOW). It can also be considered serious, thought provoking, sarcastic, challenging, complicated, but rarely beautiful.
elvis went with priscilla to help her pick out lingerie
but he was repulsed by the 'catty' shop girls in victoria's secret by Kata Billups
Does my work have value to the majority of people in my culture? Maybe not. BUT does it move certain sectors of people? ABSOLUTELY! If you want proof- check out the records of my sales (over 10 thousand sales to people across the globe and many celebrity collectors to boot!)
Again, I ask: Does it have value in God’s perspective?
Being a “Westerner” we have talked about the Western Philosophies of art in this article. As I said, researchers and Art Historians have isolated at least four major traditional philosophies (or theories) art in our culture. I suggest a book entitled Calliope’s Sisters (A Comparative Study of Philosophies of Art) by Richard L. Anderson for in depth research on this topic.
I assert that simply using beauty as the benchmark for judging all art is a big mistake. One disqualifies a much broader range of artistic experience by setting beauty as the pinnacle for viewing art. Although the inclusion of beauty may be found in all of the theories it is central to only a couple. We all have backgrounds through which we filter our experience. I ask you to look though a new filter as you read and learn.
I ask you to consider the work of Kathe Kollowitz
She sketched the horror and pain in the faces of victims of The Nazis in Germany. She was a dedicated Christian artist. To my knowledge, she never captured an image which could be considered beautiful. Yet her art had tremendous impact on the way people thought at the time.
Ever since I began making my own art in junior high school- I’ve been driven to tell stories with my work. Stories about life. Stories which expunge the tough issues from my own life onto a canvas.. When I was a teenager I painted about homeless people, about women as toys and sex objects, about the masks we all wear, about being trapped in a bad drug trip.
KATA in 1975. when I first became a Christian
This is the way God built me. I take little joy in painting a beautiful landscape (although I have done it- and have pleased the clients in doing so…) I do enjoy painting and sketching the human figure however, God also “built me” to have a keen awareness of people.
As my work progresses I still yearn challenge people to see the world from a different perspective. My Jesus art is arguably the most controversial because is doing exactly that.
Some Christians find it uncomfortable to have a long standing representation of their Jesus challenged. They live in a Thomas Kinkade world where there is no death or sadness- only happy smiley people and little cottages with sparkley lights on in the windows and glistening snow on the ground.
painting by Thomas Kinkade
But they need to understand that I am not challenging that image to destroy it but to refresh it. Jesus talked about putting new wine into new wine skins. This younger generation has an entirely different experience than we have had- and a correspondingly different visual and verbal language. The new wine is the same “old truth” but it is truth for a new time and new people.
The Resurrection of Christ by
I often think about how during the time of Bosch there were plagues and famines and infant mortality. Death lurked around every corner.
And so his new wine was “here is heaven- here is hell- choose now because this may be your last day”. That message is outdated for now.. Life spans are much longer, people rarely die as infants in the Western world. So that message translates as fear and pressuring people into heaven by threatening hell. It repulses people. And yet a few hundred years ago it was the “good news”! How can that be? It’s a simple answer.
These are two different time periods and the people of each generation are the ones who will define what is the central need for them as the good news (gospel)
Today I assert it is belonging. Belonging is a central element of the good news that is felt in the heart of every human being as our civilization becomes increasingly splintered apart. I also assert that healing has always been central to the good news of every era and it is being revised in our time. Hospitals are necessary and keep many people alive. But hospitals are also increasingly failing the many wounded and ill people of the world. Only a supernatural God has the answer for an incurable disease. So the message (and the supernatural power of God to bring the message to reality) that God heals the incurable aids or cancer victim is truly a gospel needed for this time.
picture by Kata- taken in a Charlotte N.C. all with a live black model wearing a white Jesus mask (with some photoshopping) TITLE: Jesus Reaching out with Empathy to a Young Gay Man in the Store Window- not knowing it was a giant poster
Unless we (as artists) can first feel the pain and anxiety , the fear and dreams of the younger generations we will never be able to communicate to them in relevant manners. Our work will be “old school”. It will be passed by as if it were written in a foreign language. How much attention do we give to a book written in a language which is strange to us? That is how the young people see the art of their elder’s generation.
Incessant Madness by Jay Olson (a Christian artist in the Los Angeles area)
I write quite about the sub culture of the Christian bookstore and Christian coffee shops. The ultimate symbol of old wine skins is the hand painted rock in many Christian bookstores which says “God is my rock”. "God is my rock" - rocks ! This archaic imagery says it all. It tells me that my generation of Christian artists (for the most part) has little to offer by way of talent, invention, and real intercourse and discussion with today’s culture.
As a PS I include an e-mail from a Christian ‘dissenter to my work” (name with-held) HE found my art “un-goldly’ and states his reasoning- to which I respond….
MY DISSENTER: “I liken making art to making conversation. What is the purpose of my communication?
KJV 2 Corinthians 13:10 Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction.
There are two alternatives mentioned here: building up and tearing down.”
MY RESPONSE to MY DISSENTER: “this is a common conception but I don't think it's the whole story. have you read Francis Schaeffer? he writes about how Kathe Kolowitz who sketched the horrors of nazi Germany. She was a Christian and her drawings woke many people up. that was her calling. She did not want to tear down. Neither did Paul when he spoke of his killing of Christians. and yet he took time to speak of it and it is in God's Word, right? within the right context (of LOVE) we are FREE to paint or draw according to our calling and gifts.”