PREFACE

This manifesto goes into print at a time when South Africa is in turmoil. Thankfully the reform of apartheid seems irreversible but alrearty we are feeling the labour pains of giving birth to a new and better South Africa. In every sphere of life in South Africa there is a need for Godís people to be redemptively involved. This manifesto is a rallying cry to Godís people for redemptive involvement in the arts. It goes forth with our prayer that God will use it to promote his glory in the arts in South Africa and further afield.

Craig Bartholomew

August 1993

Cover: Porcelain vessel by Tim Van Vuuren.

All those who have been involved in this project would like to express their sincere gratitude to the Rev. Craig Bartholomew, lecturer in Old Testament at George Whitefleld College, Kalk Bay, Cape, and executive member of Christian Worldview Network South Africa, for his role in the production of this manifesto. We also wish to acknowledge the formative help of Professor Calvin Seerveld, senior member in Aesthetics at the Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto, Canarta.

 

Christians and The Arts In South Africa:

A MANIFESTO

This Manifesto is the product of the combined efforts of a group of Christian art educators, art historians, philosophers, theologians, and artists of all disciplines who felt the urgent need to provide direction for those who are concerned that God should be glorified in the arts. Over a period of about four years this group organised a number of conferences to discuss and write this Manifesto.

This document is by no means the final, definitive statement in this area. Nevertheless we present this, our loaves and fishes, in this urgent hour with the prayer that the great lmaginer himself will multiply this vision to his glory in the arts in South Africa and beyond. May Godís people hear his call to labour with diligence and delight in that wonderful area of his vineyard that we call the arts.

 

  1. BACKGROUND TO THIS DOCUMENT
  2. No one would deny that Christianity has been very influential in the history of Western art. Despite this Christians in SOUTH AFRICA have often been reticent to either take the aesthetic dimension of the whole of life seriously or to become meaningfully involved in the arts and media. Almost across the Christian spectrum in SOUTH AFRICA neither the aesthetic dimension nor the arts are taken seriously as legitimate and necesSouth Africary avenues of service for the Lord Christ.

    Some Christians are openly hostile to Christian involvement in the arts outside the institutional church and condemn such involvement as unspiritual. Others have welcomed the use of art within the gathered church but have not taken seriously a costly penetration of the arts outside of the gathered church

    The results of such attitudes of Christians have been and are very costly. To a significant extent the arts have been left under the domain of non-Christians and it is therefore not surprising that they have often developed in a non-Christian direction. Furthermore those Christians called to serve God as artists have often found themselves caught between the pressures of non-Christian developments in the arts world and the rejection of fellow, critical Christians.

    The result: Christians continue to neglect the aesthetic dimension of life and Christian artists are unable to serve God as freely and fully as they might do and we sit in SOUTH AFRICA with an arts world in which Christ is not glorified as he might be. Parartoxically Christians have artopted this position at a time when the influence of the arts upon modern society continues to increase and plays a major role in the development of the new SOUTH AFRICA.

    Our commitment to the Lord Christ makes this a completely untenable situation. This manifesto has arisen out of the urgent need to artdress this situation and the encouraging awareness of a stirring among Christians and Christian artists across our country who sense the need to think about, to work in, and to influence the practice of the arts in such a way that they resound to the glory of God.

    In the past Christian art groups have arisen from time to time and the effect of some of them is still felt. Most of the existing groups are however, primarily concerned with promoting the use of the arts in the gathered church. While we gratefully acknowledge the refreshing influence that this has often had upon the institutional church we see the urgent need for the development of a perspective that will enable a long-term and deep penetration of the world of the arts outside the church door to take place. The aim of this manifesto is to take the preliminary steps in outlining such a perspective in order to facilitate a working together of Godís people to promote his glory in the arts.

     

  3. OUR CONCERN: THE ARTS
  4. While we recognise that all the structures of creation have an aesthetic dimension or aspect to them, we also see that God created the world with art as a potentially distinct sphere of activity. Although the aesthetic aspect of life and the arts have systematically been separated from the rest of life, especially in twentieth century modernism, while we affirm the legitimacy of art as a distinct type of activity we insist that the arts cannot and must not be separated from life. However, because our particular concern is artistic activity in South Africa, it will be necesSouth Africary at times to examine the arts as a definite category.

    Historically art has not always existed as a distinct sphere of societal life. The independence of poetry, rhetoric and music was already recognised in the early fifth century. It was only much later that the visual, manual arts were conceived of as a worthy sphere of activity.

    The differentiation process leading to this recognition can be traced from the days when artistry was considered a simple trade or craft skill, to the RenaisSouth Africance and Enlightenment through which art as we know it in high Modernism became autonomous and separated from the rest of life. One positive aspect of this process is the recognition of art as a cultural product with its own character, idiom and requirements. We recognise that negative elements have accompanied this process, namely the practice of an esoteric art reserved for the elite. This has led to the alienation of both the artist from society and society from the arts. As Christians we ought to recognise the legitimate and distinct service of art in our society, but without regarding it as a law to itself.

     

  5. DIAGNOSIS OF THE CHRISTIAN PROBLEM: DUALISM
  6. Many factors have contributed to the situation as outlined in section 1 above. However, it is our conviction that the underlying and fundamental problem is the widespread tendency among Christians in South Africa, and of course in other countries in the world, to think of and interpret the world in an unbiblical fashion. If the model that a person uses to think about and interpret their world can be called their "worldview" then our diagnosis of the problem is that many South African Christians have adopted a dualistic worldview rather than a consistently Christian and biblical one.

    A dualistic worldview is an unbiblical way of dividing up the world. A religious antithesis is seen as lying between the institutional church and other "secular spheres" of activity rather than as running through every area of creation. In church circles dualism is evidenced in the division of activities into spiritual and secular categories, in restricting full-time ministry to the pastoral minister, in restricting mission to evangelism and gathered-church activities, in restricting worship to what Christians do when they gather, and so on.

    The effect of a dualistic worldview upon the way Christians in South Africa think about art has been devastating. Dualism has ensured that art has often been regarded as a thoroughly secular and therefore second-rate activity. Art has often come to be seen as only genuinely Christian when it is utilised for teaching or evangelism. Full time Christian service for Christ in the arts has not been taken seriously and as the arts have increasingly moved in a non-Christian direction many Christians have found even more reason for rejecting them as unspiritual.

     

  7. THE REMEDY: RECOVERY OF A CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW
  8. A remedy for this disease that has wounded so much of our thinking and practice in relation to the arts in South Africa is the recovery of a radically (i.e. rooted) Christian worldview. It is urgent that Christians develop a Christian mind in relation to the arts and that this guide them in their aesthetic and artistic activity.

    Art is an activity of humankind and consequently, like humankind, can only be correctly understood from a divine perspective. We recognise that such a perspective can only become accessible to us through revelation. With the universal church we believe that God has spoken and that in our understanding of man, our world, and art we are therefore potentially delivered from "artistic pluralism". God has spoken in his word for Creation, in Christ, the Logos and in the written Word. The need is, therefore, for us to develop a perspective upon our world and the arts that is informed by Godís revelation in his Word.

    The basic building blocks of a Christian worldview are the common property of the universal church as is evident from a cursory glance at the Apostleís creed. They include belief in God as the creator, in man as creature and image of God, in the whole of creation as fallen, in God as through Christ redeeming the whole of creation. Creation, fall, redemption and final consummation; these are the perspectives within which the details of a Christian approach to art must be developed. Dualism has however often lead to Christians interpreting these basic matters in a narrower way than the Bible intends, and we therefore need to be clear what these building blocks entail.

    Belief in God as creator affirms the essential goodness of all aspects of creation, including the aesthetic and the arts. Indeed the ultimate justification for aesthetic and artistic involvement is that God in his sovereignty has chosen to make a world with this aspect and potential to it. The biblical narratives affirm that the creativity of God himself is reflected in this dimension of his creation. The Genesis creation narratives in particular set God before us as "the great imaginer". This means that a Christian worldview will essentially have a very positive view of creation and will eschew any Gnostic tendency that regards parts of Godís creation as inherently evil.

    The human being is created in the image of God. The meaning of the "image" has been much debated historically. It seems to us that a fundamental feature of the image in the Genesis narratives is a ministering dominion or royal stewardship. Image bearing for humans involves exercising dominion in such a way that creation reverberates to the glory of God. Thus there is a dynamic to the image; it is as humans live under the reign of God and work in a God-glorifying way that God is seen in his creation most clearly. Godís workmanship is delightfully creative and so creativity is a vital part of that dominion which humans are called to exercise. Certainly creative workmanship is part of the "cultural mandate".

    Humans and creation are fallen. The result of this is that a religious antithesis runs through every sphere of activity in creation, including the institutional church. Sin must not be located in a particular part of creation but involves the realising of the possibility for the structures of creation to be directed in a way that is contrary to the will of God. Thus the institutional church can be directed away from God just as much as the world of the arts, or the economic sphere. The implication of this is that since the fall every sphere of activity has become a battleground in terms of whether it will be directed towards God or away from him. The world of the arts in South Africa is such a battleground. Art as a structure of creation is good and a great gift from God; since the fall however it is often directed in a way that dishonours God and fails to bear his image.

    Christís redemption is aimed at regaining creation. He came to reverse the effect of the curse upon creation and to save humankind as a whole. Redemption, which involves not only restoration but also renewal, embraces every aspect of creation. Godís intention is to have a world in which Godís people live under his reign to his glory and this he achieves through the redemptive work of his Son. Thus Godís redemptive purposes include the world of the arts and manís creative abilities. They too must achieve their goal of "peace".

     

  9. IMPLICATIONS FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD IN SOUTH AFRICA
  10. 5.1 The need to repent of a dualistic approach to the arts.

    It is clear from the previous section that a Christian worldview is poles apart from a dualistic worldview. The latter has been very destructive in its effect upon Christian involvement in the arts as we explained in section 1. We believe that the difference between a dualistic worldview and a Christian worldview must not be blurred and we affirm the need for Christians to change their minds and to bring their thoughts into submission to Christ in this way of viewing his world. Our particular concern in this document is the arts and what follows are what we see as the implications of a Christian worldview for Christian relationship to the arts in South Africa.

    5.2 The need to recognise the aesthetic dimension of life and the arts as a calling from God and for Godís glory.

    There is no room in a Christian worldview for a relegation of the arts to the secular or unspiritual category of activities. The cultural mandate has not been rescinded and Christ has come to restore humans to full humanity. The all-embracing nature of Godís creation and Christís redemption means that just as Christians take family and church life seriously, so too the aesthetic dimension of life needs to be taken seriously. Of course not all Christians work or are called to work in the arts world. However it is vital to be aware that the imaginative and aesthetic aspect of life impinges on all areas of life and that in this often "hidden art" we are also called to delight in and glorify God.

    5.3. The need to recognise involvement in the world of the arts as a legitimate and full-time ministry.

    A common cause for the deprecation of Christian involvement in the arts has been the view that only a limited number of Christians are in full-time ministry. "Ministry" however refers to service and Scripture is clear that every Christian is in the full-time service of the Lord Christ. The only difference in this respect between Christians is where they are called to serve Christ. Amongst the people of God a hierarchy of vocations must be guarded against. In the institutional church the vocation of artist has often been deprecated. Outside the church it has sometimes been exalted above all other vocations. Neither of these positions is acceptable. The vocation of art practitioner and art theoretician stands alongside the economist, the teacher, the carpenter, the pastoral minister and the theologian as a legitimate Christian vocation.

    5.4. The institutional church and the artist.

    In a dualistic worldview Christian service tends to be confined to church activities. But in biblical language "covenant" embraces the whole of life of the people of God and not only, but including, their cultic life. A helpful model for understanding the life of the people of God in this perspective is to see it as having two focal points. The one focal point is the people of God gathered (what is commonly called church) and the other is the people of God scattered into their various spheres of activity in which they are called to serve God. The point to note is that Godís people are to serve him in both focal points and that the two points are to be in continual relationship with each other.

    Neither of the focal points is our total service for God. When Christians gather they do so in order to meet with God and one another. Central to meeting with God is hearing his Word and this Word is an equipping Word. It alerts us to God and equips us to direct our service of God in his world Godward. Indeed Scripture informs us that the pastor-teacher has been given by God to his people to equip them for "works of service". These works of service are not just involvement in institutional church activities but include service of God in his world. Thus the institutional church should take the vocation of artist seriously as a legitimate avenue of full-time service, and the pastor-teacher needs to be alert to equipping the artist with a kingdom perspective for works of service in the world of the arts. Local churches need to not only help Christians discern the call to the pastoral ministry and the mission field but also those to the economic sector, the political arena and of course the world of the arts. The local church needs to keep the artist alert to her sphere of activity as vocation, as a battle ground and to support her in her following of Christ in this sector of his world.

    5.5. The artist and the institutional church.

    We recognise that to have God as our Father is to have the church as our "mother". Thus, although dualism has often alienated Christian artists from the institutional church, we do not see this as an excuse for opting out of involvement in the church. Christ retains his deep commitment to the church in all its brokenness and the artist is to follow his example. The artist is called to responsible activity and is to work in a way that honours God and is helpful to his neighbour and especially his brothers and sisters in Christ. While the church must be sensitive to the freedom that the artist needs in order to create, in the exercise of his freedom the artist must guard against jeopardising the credibility of the church.

    5.6. The people of God as salt and light in the world of the arts.

    Christ calls his people to preserve and renew all areas of his creation and this includes the arts. We are to be salt and to hold back the rampant decay in the arts in South Africa. This decay has often not been held back because Christians have opted out of the arts. And we are to be light - to make incarnate the redemptive, reconciling and renewing work of Christ in the arts.

    One of the ways in which this is done is through the church taking seriously its role of equipping, referred to above. However Christian artists need to also remember that they are not called to be scattered alone into the artsí world. Within the art world the task of artist is inextricably bound up with the task of fellow-artist, theorist, gallery-owner, curator, viewer etc. and Christians will only be salt as they get involved communally in all these areas. Furthermore the arts are inseparably related to the other spheres of societal life and Christian renewal of the arts will only be effective within a broader Christian cultural movement. Thus we recognise the need for our developing community of Christian artists to be integrally involved with Christian task forces in other cultural areas.

    Neither can non-artists leave it up to the artist alone to redirect the arts. Art is a form of communication and the recipient is deeply involved in that communication. Certainly Christian artists will never succeed in renewing the arts without the support of their brothers and sisters in Christ.

     

  11. IMPLICATIONS FOR THE PRACTICE OF ART

A Christian worldview alerts us to the importance of the practice of art in our society. God has created our world with the joyful possibility of the careful, human crafting of objects, texts and events, characterised by an imaginative, allusive quality and it is important that this possibility is being worked out by those called to and gifted for this task. Art has its own kind of service to neighbours just as do medicine, plumbing or fishing. It is not an optional luxury for a society but is comparable to the minerals or vitamins in oneís food; one can survive without them for a time but it is unwise and ultimately dangerous to do so.

However a Christian worldview also alerts us to the possibility of art being practised in a misdirected way. That is in opposition to Godís intentions for it, and we see signs of this all around in Godís world. Our concern is therefore to direct the practice of art in accordance with Godís intentions. What art under the redemptive reign of Jesus will involve requires the ongoing and concentrated attention of the artistic community.

The result of this split is that today we face the often esoteric art gallery, high priced opera, theatre ticket and public museum filled with objects not intelligible to an ordinary labourer, side by side with a powerful, spirit-captivating, ubiquitous pop art available via film, video, cassette tape and sundry media. Because of the commercialization of artistry this pop art has often lost its challenge as a world one must enter with an educated imagination. Treating art as a consumer commodity has tended to break through the elitist world of the arts by denaturing its special, exquisite service.

Thus if we are to take service of our neighbour seriously then we must aim to overcome the pop art - elitist art divide. Artists will have to hear their calling to bring imaginative insight to their neighbours on one hand, and society at large will have to be helped to recognise the value of being familiar with poetry, dance, story-telling, sculpture, painting etc. as God-ordained, enriching gifts on the other.

Christian art will be pregnant with shalom. It will be art overpowered by the richness of creation, deeply in contact with the awful surd of sin, hinting in its very sinews at the joy of certain forgiveness to come for those who endure to the very end. It will be art which will have our modern contemporaries in tears as they are confronted with the abyss that modernism has led us to, and wonder at the security and trust provided by Christ.

In this respect Christian art will be deeply relevant in the sense that it will be providing what is needed. Christian artists need to be historically aware and highly sensitive to the acute needs of our culture. Art may be popular, providing what is wanted, or first-rate but inaccessible, without being relevant. Insteart Christian art has the tall order in our day of probing with exquisite finesse the hurts and hidden charms, the atrocities and wounded glories of peoples lives in our day and context that will command the respect of secular specialists, TV artdicts and Godís own people.

Redemptive art will only be recovered through a community of Christian artists working together to recover a Christian tradition in the arts and making it their own in our context. Especially in the present, with modern art in such an impasse, and with answers being sought in the revival of pagan worldviews, it would be the height of folly for Godís people to continue to try and provide a Christian veneer for secular art traditions. The time is ripe for searching the archives of art history for signs of Christian traditions in the arts and for distilling a fruitful art historical tradition into our blood and then pioneering its contribution in our context.

Such a task can only be a communal one and would require a community network of Iikeminded Christian artists, theoreticians, reviewers etc. in South Africa. Strong links would also need to be forged with fellow labourers in Africa and the rest of the world. Perseverance and commitment will be required. If such a vision is to become incarnate it will not easily do so in one generation; indeed our generation may often have to settle for pioneering, relatively mediocre art in order that future generations may stand on our shoulders. And even then our work will have to undergo continuing reformation as we aspire to be truly the sons and daughters of our Father.

 

  1. IMPLICATIONS FOR THE TRAINING OF ARTISTS
  2. It follows from our understanding of the world of the arts as a distinct societal sphere that service in this sphere will require specialised education. The role of the institutional church is to keep the artist alert to the need to be an artist under the delightful reign of the King, but it would trespass over its boundaries if it were to try to become an art school. Art education is the responsibility of the world of education and of the arts.

    7.1 Any general education should take seriously the place of art in a balanced curriculum. In this respect we note with alarm the effect of "rationalisation" upon general education in South Africa. At a school and university level the arts are being marginalised and the sciences exalted. Science has of course an important and legitimate role but the danger is that pragmatism will lead us to neglect the equal legitimacy of education in the arts, a move that is already and will continue to be destructive. As regards school education, the training of teachers needs to be targeted as of particular importance in ensuring that South African education will provide a balanced and healthy diet. If prospective teachers are not schooled in the arts, then their pupils will certainly not be.

    7.2 Of particular concern to us is tertiary art education. As with all education we recognise as foundational the principle that art education is not neutral. From a Christian perspective art education is discipleship in which the artist is being equipped to follow Christ in a lifetime of service in the arts. Consequently it is vital that the training of the artist be integrally Christian.

    This does not mean that a Christian should never train at a secular institution. However it does mean that the dangers involved here need to be recognised. We have no Christian arts school in South Africa and most of our Christian artists have been trained, and are being trained at secular institutions. The danger of this is that in all sorts of ways, and often unconsciously, we have bought into the spirit of modernity and post/ultra modernity and keep working it out in our service of Christ. It is therefore of utmost importance that when Christians train at secular institutions they be constantly in touch with some kind of parallel Christian community. This will keep both parties alert to the battle areas and help to build positively at the same time. We should constantly guard against the isolation of Christians at secular institutions from the Christian community.

    By merely piggy backing on secular art agendas and covering these with a veneer of Christianity we will never escape the impasse of modern art and if we do, we will simply find ourselves taking on the enchantment of post/ultra modernity. Recovery of a radically Christian tradition within South African art will need something more.

    Consequently we recognise the urgent need for a distinctively Christian art education in South Africa. This, whether in the form of a separate arts school or a university department, would need to be anchored in a Christian philosophy of education and art. It must however be noted that a separate arts school runs the risk of becoming isolated from both the Christian community and society as a whole. The curriculum, content and relational style of teaching would need to be radically Christian while remaining in touch with and constantly challenged by developments in the arts world of South Africa. This is not to suggest that all Christian educators should withdraw from secular institutions but rather that penetration of existing institutions should develop alongside a Christian art education structure. It would also be vital that such an institution be dynamically part of the Christian arts community.

    Education for artistry is communal and requires input from a diversity of theoreticians and practitioners. Integral Christian activity is needed in all these areas. Just in the area of textbooks alone, there is the need for the vacuum of distinctively Christian works to be filled. We need a body of Christian experts to give rise to a body of theoretical material that can provide a solid base from which to disciple the emerging generations. The relevance of Christian academic theory needs to be recovered and made incarnate in our context.

    7.3. Accessibility of the sort of discipleship we envisage needs urgent attention. Soaring costs make education increasingly inaccessible. Within our context we must find sacrificial ways of making training available to those who are gifted and called.

    7.4. Training must also be for artistic service in our African context. Apartheid has deeply effected education in South Africa and in the past so-called Christian educational structures have not escaped the deartly effect of this ideology. Ideological hijacking of art education, in whatever form, needs to be guarded against.

    Art education will have to be high on our agenda if we are serious about Christian influence in the arts. This generation will have to do something of a holding operation while we get foundational structures in place which future generations can build upon.

     

  3. IMPLICATIONS FOR ART IN SOUTH AFRICA
  4. Since art is always human service of God, it always takes place in history and in a particular context. We are therefore called to serve Christ in the context of the changing South Africa which is at the confluence of two powerful rivers of change; that of the emerging South Africa and the development of a world, global village. Our service in the arts must take place within this context.

    8.1. We recognise the need to disentangle ourselves from the pervasive effects of apartheid ideology upon the world of the arts in South Africa. Apartheid has been a dominant ideology in South Africa and has deeply effected the practice of art and art education, and has often gotten in the way of genuine service of our neighbours through the ministry of art. Christians were by no means exempt from these effects and often went along uncritically with apartheid dominated structures. We repent and call our brothers and sisters to do likewise where necessary, of such uncritical alignment with what were often non-Christian practices. We also recognise that the arts often became polarised at the other extreme as well where they became servants of the liberation movements. Such ideological captivity was in danger of turning art into propaganda. From all sides our background in the arts in South Africa alerts us to the need to work for a genuinely Christian understanding and practice of the arts that is also genuinely South African.

    8.2 It is vital that we affirm the importance and value of art in a post-liberation South Africa. The danger of a pragmatism which equates development with advanced technology alone must be strongly opposed.

    8.3 Our developing Christian artistic community must be radically Christian and genuinely South African. Christian artists must begin finding each other as fellow labourers across the divides that have plagued our history if an accessible, healing arts tradition is to emerge. A Christian arts school would need to prepare artists for service of all Christians in South Africa and cannot just be a reproduction of Western models.

    Artists will need to take the world of their neighbours seriously in order to serve such neighbours artistically. We recognise the tragedy of the fact that Christian artistic service has been divided along racial lines, thereby often favouring those who already have an excess of power in developing artistic wealth. This has also artificially prevented the cross-pollination of different cultures. Considering the tremendous artistic wealth available in the cultural diversity of South Africa, this was a tragedy. People from all backgrounds in South Africa have been aesthetically impoverished as a result. However the oppressed have undoubtedly been more impoverished than the oppressors and in the emerging South Africa it is vital that we as a community wrestle with the question of the identity of our neighbour in South Africa.

    8.4 Developments of the arts is not easy in an African context. Economic realities alone make the development of some forms like film very difficult. We recognise that we need to be realistic in these regards and that it may be wise to build on indigenous strengths.

     

  5. COVENANT

We recognise that if the situation outlined in section 1 is to change then there is much to be done. Valuable as this manifesto may be it will be useless if its call does not become incarnate in our lives. Consequently we call on all who share this vision to join us in this covenant as we commit ourselves together to serving the King in the arts.

 

 

 

In the light of this our manifesto, we enter into a solemn covenant with God and each other to pray, to plan, and to work to be salt and light in the practice of the arts in South Africa until they begin to resound to Godís glory. We call upon our brothers and sisters in Christ to join our efforts in this area. May God help us by his grace and for his glory. Amen!