THE FUTURE OF THE ARTS, PART I
Do you consider yourself an artist? Whether you
do or not, future church leaders will be artists. For art is
destined to become the next "incarnation" of our faith. Here is this
A NEW PROOF OF TRUTH
A new art supersedes old apologetics and brings
new proofs of Truth. It will involve a different excellence and a
new credibility. It will point to a different way of meaning what we
mean and a new way of signifying what is significant.
Allowed and disallowed knowledge are crossing in
ways that excite artists and upset academics. But the artists are
A future theology will be painted, sculpted,
danced, performed, crafted. . . .
ART AND METAPHOR
Metaphor is the seed of all art. Metaphor is a
tiny work of art, a "poem in miniature." No matter its
images—sounds, objects, gestures, stories, or words—metaphor
supports the very structure of all the arts.
We live in a metaphoric world more than a "real"
The postmodern world will prove a perfect haven
for powerful prophetic metaphors.
The widest gap between past and future bears
witness to a new and fearless push toward increasingly radical
We are stumbling blindly and boldly toward
evermore bizarre sources of meaning.
Science will create sensual images that today’s
arts can only begin to suggest. A new "tech-art" will even extend
our senses, like quickened prostheses.
The art forms of the future will alter most of
what we’ve known about the art forms of the past.
Though most "religious" artists are thirty years
behind, art is destined to become the new "incarnation" of our
For more, read further:
The Coin of the Realm
The most significant moment in art is upon us.
With astounding new forms, the arts are becoming the coin of the
realm, the lingua franca of the future. Of course, art—and
language—constantly change. But today’s change proves a singular
What are the forces driving this change?
Any historic shift—like the present shift from
the modern to the postmodern world—stirs new visions and rids old
obstacles. And, such daring constantly breaks barriers. Then, these
broken barriers nurture new arts.
But metaphor mainly drives today’s change.
Metaphor is the prophetic power in the future of language, and the
future of language is the prophetic promise in the future of art.
For, finally, metaphor is the seed of all art.
Of course, our rush toward an oral culture (where
vision exceeds logic) feeds this promise, as well. For art is
endemic to an oral culture.
These are the forces, but what do they mean? What
will we do when we don’t do what we’re doing now? The church must
answer! Most "religious" artists, for example, are already thirty
years behind. What they are doing now is what the secular world was
doing at least thirty years ago.
Old cultural leaders with both feet firmly fixed
in an old cultural world claim "art has nothing to do with meaning"1.
. . that it "asserts nothing"2 . . . that it is finally
"useless."3 Even in the church! "For much of Christian
history, educators and theologians have expressed a deep suspicion
of the arts."4 St. Augustine insisted that truth is
always "disembodied and purely intellectual."5 And the
modern theologian Karl Barth agreed, "Beauty is a risky concept."
Its pleasure "should not, therefore, be associated with the serious
business of religion."6
Of course, we pay lip service to the "sacred"
We have allowed the popular arts to cook the
moods in market-driven churches. We have valued art as decor in the
same way we value wall-to-wall carpeting. And, we have even admired
the "fine arts," though we refuse any notion of their carrying final
meanings. No matter the contrary beliefs, seldom has the modern
world known art as an instrument of Truth.
And with good reason. Art has been forced to
serve the "reality"—the logic and science—of the modern world. And,
beyond a useless, abstract beauty, no other means to "truth" has
been allowed. So, in the absence of sacred aesthetics or a theology
of art, church leaders have long surmised that the arts share a bed
with cheap and empty "sentiment."
As a result, meaning in the arts has long been
lost to logical "sophistication" and artless commercialization.
A New Apologetic
Not anymore. A new art supersedes old apologetics
and brings new proofs of Truth.
In a world where the doctrines of truth and
goodness struggle to survive, beauty and art still connect with
culture. While visionary youth refuse the limited language and pious
paraphrases of the past, they still yearn to know the message of
beauty . . . the meaning in art. And, where modern minds seek
reality through scientific analysis, other minds seek ultimate
reality through sensuous art.
In short, allowed and disallowed knowledge are
crossing in ways that excite artists and upset academics. But the
artists are winning!
Cutting edge scientists, for example, appeal to
poetry. Itzhak Bentov describes the universe as "a vibrating,
dancing organism." He says, in fact, "the universe as a whole and we
in particular are not matter, but music."7
And scholars join these forces, when
the novelist becomes a prophet, the
composer a magician, and the historian a bard, a voice
recalling ancient identities.8
Even theologians leave their libraries to mix
with musicians, actors, artists, poets and dancers. Indeed, a future
theology may never appear in text books. It may, instead, be
painted, sculpted, danced, performed, crafted. . . .
Of course, the notion of art "arguing truth"
doesn’t make sense in any excellence of logic. And the "apologetics
of art" shows a silliness beyond all rules of credibility. But we’re
talking about a different excellence and a new credibility. We’re
pointing to a different way of meaning what we mean and a new way of
signifying what is significant.
After all, art delivers meaning in an entirely
different way from logical discourse. The disciplines achieving
perfection in one will not attain results in the other.
Let’s get beyond this silliness.
Instead of fixed ideas or precise points of view,
art requires a nonrational sense for its power—a sense that lies
deeper than "exact" thought. Instead of locking down final "truth,"
art moves with cryptic poignancy, rich ambiguity, and puzzling
paradox. And, instead of one literal answer, art yields meaning from
multiple views and endless patterns.
Instead of cold, objective "truth," art explores
privately felt meanings. Instead of predictable arguments, art
surprises us with the unpredictable. And, instead of step-by-step
conclusions (like lawyers before a jury), art transports us suddenly
to new perspectives.
The Otherwise Unknown
Art proves many vantages in its "knowing."
For art reveals the otherwise unknown. It works
beyond the edge of easy knowing. Indeed, it is the only way we find
God’s creative presence in history.9 For art breaks
through the crust of formal thinking. It sets aside the world of
It is a music you never would have known to
In the art of virtual reality, for example, we
see still another "real" world. For in art we confront the
"ultimately real."10 We see beyond the limits of a
psychological world, for art looks past both subjectivity and
objectivity. And, we see beyond man’s boxed-in isms, for true art is
not the private property of any man’s creed.
We see beyond the warmed-over truth and
reinvented "wheels" of the past, for art reveals the totally new. We
see beyond the illness of culture, for art transcends culture. And
we even see beyond art itself, for art points beyond itself.
Seeing beyond such things, "personal" vision
proves another advantage of "knowing" in the arts. After all, all we
do, we do in order to "feel" its significance. And art serves a
valid vision of this significance. It is both intimate and ultimate.
As it penetrates, permeates and impresses us, it illuminates,
seizes, and motivates us.
It is the reality of "truth felt."
More important, art is a "transforming" knowing.
Far stronger than mere data, it recreates us . . . changes us . . .
and transforms us. Bach, for example, believed music "recreates the
human spirit." Beethoven wrote, "Anyone who understands my music is
saved." The author Doestoevsky insisted, "Beauty will save the
world." And the theologian Tillich claimed a Botticelli painting
changed his whole life.
As the arts drop their old "decor" roles, they
will form the new apologetic, the new proof of Truth. Then,
preachers will become artists—masters of the story. And artists will
become preachers—masters of the prophetic "Word."
A Degenerate Priesthood
Of course, I’m talking about true art, art that
surpasses art—not the abuse or misuse of art.
Art meant only to entertain—seductive, popular,
and indulgent—feeds the flesh more than it feeds the faith. And its
products and producers, with profit margins in mind, exert power
over its customers rather than giving power. On a less harmful
level, the same vendors sell mere "decor" arts—art we can do with or
without. The music in malls and dairy farms, for example, flows
languidly with a passive and timeless reverie. But its manipulated
moods merely "milk" the shoppers as well as the dairy cows.
More "cultured" arts dwell in refined schools
where privileged status and prevailing standards pay homage to the
great heros and triumphs of culture. At these altars, art usually
exists for the sake of art—it points only to itself. We may be
ravished by its beauty, but we remain the same. Or, with more pride,
we say, "Art is about the artist." Art, in other words, glorifies
the artist. Yet, we can’t differ between a craftsman and an anointed
artist, or dazzling skill and a moment of true power.
These arts, pulled lose from deeper and truer
origins, wander the moral landscape with no conviction. And—sooner
or later—they prove helpless against the demonic. Much of today’s
art, for example, flaunts a stylish pessimism or an angry cynicism.
Some say, "In our postmodern era, the artists have become a
Woe unto those who . . . have lyre and
harp, tambourine and flute . . . but they do not regard the
deeds of the Lord.12
Still, art can speak Truth.
To begin, we live in a symbolic world. Always,
"The fundamental gestures of existence bear a symbolic potential."13
And in that potential, all events "surpass their appearance."14
In other words, we live in a metaphoric world more than a "real"
Our metaphoric world is a linguistic world of
"unspoken" realities and nonverbal modes. Hidden under supposedly
arbitrary words lurk the stories of our culture in all their glory
and vainglory. And, concealed behind the lie of modern "objectivity"
hide the events of Truth in all their closure and disclosure.
In this hidden world, language is possible only
with metaphor. If we lose the referential power of metaphor—the
ability to represent hidden realities—we have lost truth, culture,
and life itself. We have also lost art, for metaphor and art are
identical twins. Metaphor is a tiny work of art, a "poem in
miniature."15 No matter its images—sounds, objects,
gestures, stories, or words—metaphor supports the very structure of
all the arts.
So we can say, then, art also "speaks." It
reveals, discloses, testifies. The early church knew this. The whole
drama of salvation was played out in visual images. Pope Gregory the
Great said, "Images are for unlettered beholders what scripture is
for the reader." And a later church council affirmed,
"What the gospel tells us by words, the icon proclaims by colors."16
In the same way, a future proof of truth
increases the role of our senses, emotions, and feelings, for you
cannot have metaphor without them. So a new credibility will demand
new standards of honesty and excellence in perceiving truth through
Art, then, destines to become a new "incarnation"
of our faith. The great poet Goethe warned that art is "no mere
amusement to charm the idle or relax the careworn." Instead, it is
the "sister of religion."17 And Albert Schweitzer echoed,
"All true and deeply felt music, whether sacred or profane, journeys
to heights where art and religion can always meet."18
So life, language, metaphor, art, and emotion . .
. they all speak Truth. And the language of the future will know
Starting a "Clean Slate"
But the promises of the past require radically
different arts for the future. And the art forms of the future alter
most of what we’ve known about the art forms of the past. True,
postmodern trends may resemble passing fads, but we hear a rumbling
in these trends that echos historic changes. Indeed, it presages the
shaking of a whole new paradigm for the arts.
Surprisingly, this should not surprise. Art
simply resonates to deep changes in our culture . . . to the way we
think . . . to our grasp of reality. And, as we move away from a
white, European, "enlightened," male-dominated culture, we also
discover wrong ideas about the arts.
As a result, we feel a growing unease with the
old definitions, strict recipes, and logical limits of art. We sense
a widening distance with a one-size-fits-all, "thinking-man’s"
musing. And, we question the produced, programmed, and professional
arts of an out-of-step elderly elite.
Even arts for the masses catch our questions.
More and more we distrust the canned, commercial arts neutered of
all that prevents sales to the widest possible market. So we are,
indeed, redefining the "mass" in "mass markets."
In this new decade of a new century, the arts are
starting with a "clean slate."
Again, metaphor has always been basic to art. And
the paradox between the "unknown" and the "known" has always been
basic to metaphor. But now, the widest gap between past and future
bears witness to a new and fearless push toward paradox . . . toward
a radical metaphor.
Today, for example, we show a voracious appetite
for juxtaposition, enigma, collage, and just plain hodgepodge. We
have suddenly redoubled our ability to combine diverse things in
impossible ways. And we have brazenly inflated our affinity for
comparing the incomparable . . . for placing side by side the
We all take part in this "extreme" game. And, in
doing so, all of us question the old orders of veracity while
stumbling blindly and boldly toward evermore bizarre sources of
And, as we could expect, bizarre metaphors show
up in a world of "multi-everything" arts. Multimedia, multimodal,
multicultural, multisensory, multifaceted, multilayered. . . .
Meanings on top of meanings, moods on top of moods, modes on top of
modes. . . .
Like a hall of mirrors, they demand our attention
on several levels at once.
"Techno worship," for example, blurs the borders
between music, poetry, dance, drama, visual art, the event itself,
and all the senses . . . all at the same time! Given enough
bandwidth, digital science can simultaneously engage all of our
senses. And it can do this in ways to which the older arts can only
hint. As example, crossing quickly from one sense to the other, we
move beyond the old notion that the arts are sensory specific—that
"music is for the ear," "visual art is for the eye," and so on.
This "multi-everything" world—this ambiguity of
polyphony—will only increase the depth of the message. It will prove
a perfect haven for powerful prophetic metaphors.
Losing Our Timeline
As if it were possible, future arts will also bow
before a new time and space.
The "timeline" arts—arts that take place over
time (like music)—were heavily shaped by the linear, serial logic of
the Enlightenment. Classical symphonies, for example, took a musical
"idea," then developed it over a timeline. That idea had to "go
somewhere." It had to "do something." It had to show a logical
exposition, development, and conclusion. And, the dramatic interplay
between carefully sequenced moods birthed the musical classics of
Yet today, many listeners want more than
clock-like events hooked together like "beads on a string." Their
druthers should be obvious: As thoughts lose their logical sequence,
the performing arts lose their "timeline." These arts begin to work
more in "realtime," focusing on the moment itself. They become, in
other words, more "vertical" and less "horizontal."
Today’s pop culture reflects these transient,
"realtime" moments. Recent books, for example, present endless
incoherent and isolated episodes. Leading theaters stage random
streams of consciousness. And, even the illusion of films merely
pastes together fragments of filed-away film clips.
In music, these event-character "moments" more
and more take on the quality of immobile "paintings." These moments
differ from the music of the past where moods followed each other
like ducks in a row. Today, for example, a whole gamut of moods—like
struggle, assurance, and celebration—can pile onto each instant, the
way paintings present complete pictures at each glance.
Or, listen to the realtime, "ambient" music of
today’s youth. Their "chilling out" music presents contemplative
"soundscapes," the way an older painting presents romantic
"landscapes." These soundscapes, however, "stand still" more by
endlessly repeated patterns than by simultaneous moods. Such
contemplation surfaces from a going-nowhere, mood music made of
short, cyclical, and simple, chantlike phrases.
Similar examples include Taize music19
and New Age music.
By classical standards, many label this music a
poverty-stricken creativity. Yet, those who contemplate these sounds
say the sheer simplicity never gets boring. Instead, it grows ever
deeper, forming something within that was not there before. These
endlessly recurring sounds give listeners the chance to become
completely "lost" in the music.
Yes, these sounds open the door to something. The
question is what? We should recall that the spiritual realm has a
fork in the road.
In summary, we are moving toward a new time and
space in the arts. But, between now and then, the performing arts
will hold the metaphoric tensions between both minutes and moments,
form and freedom, progress and pattern, going somewhere and going
nowhere. . . .
Where all this ends? Nobody knows.
History boldly rejects still another idea about
the arts. We have ended the notion that art exists only for itself .
. . that it parades excellence only for its own sake. Recent
history, for example, reveals less regard for the restricted arts of
the cultural elite—the "educated" arts . . . the "mind" arts.
We are savoring a distaste for mere "good taste."
So we move, at the same time, toward a more
"personal" art—toward the importance of all participants, their
secret pleasure, their firsthand experience. After all, art was
never meant to be separated from life. In addition, today’s need for
ratings and sales in the marketplace demands an inclusive audience
rather than an elite few.
Music for a larger audience, however, doesn’t
require a loss of depth or profundity. It simply demands a
revivified directness . . . a specific message to a specific person
at a specific time.
We see this in-your-face directness in the
"alternative worship" arts of today’s youth. Intimate and honest,
these arts exude a risk-taking, freewheeling worship. Their
"hip-hop" ecstasies grow from a life style of rap, break dancing,
and graffiti. And their "rave" raptures grow into a euphoric
marathon of all-night dancing.
This is the art of our earliest origins.
No wonder. The agelong quest for the secret
intimacy between beauty and meaning has turned suddenly into a
headlong rush toward senses and emotions. As a result, pop culture
citizens are now ardent collectors of felt meanings and emotional
And, we haven’t yet seen the final fruit! For
science will revision our senses. It will create sensual images that
today’s arts can only begin to suggest. The freedom to probe a
"biological" art—grounded in feelings and emotions—will find new and
amazing sensory expressions. In fact, a new "tech-art" will even
extend our senses, like quickened prostheses.20
And it will provide more depth than any previous
Another seismic change in the arts bursts from
the new "interface culture." It brings a tidal wave shift from
passive spectators in the arts to active players in the arts. And it
reveals itself to us through Cyberspace, which, again, "reveals
itself to us only through . . . interface design."21
This interface design "is the great symbolic
accomplishment of our era."22 Cyberspace, after all, is
an immensely disordered realm ruled by invisible forces. It requires
the sensuous gestures—the "interface"—of icons, links, and metaphors
to imagine this infinity and to restore a feeling of order. And
these symbols run exactly parallel to the sense-making interface in
both religion and art.
In short, the Internet "interface" is art:
(The Internet) is now
emerging—chrysalis-style—as a genuine art form . . . as
complex and vital as the novel or the cathedral or the
cinema . . . (it is) perhaps the art form of (this) century.23
That’s the reason digital gurus often resemble
priests and prophets. For they are the "artisans" of an interface
culture. And that’s the reason all postmodern citizens are born to
prophesy. For the new world of interface requires indigenous,
interactive, Internet arts—warts and all.
When I think about the gap between raw
information and its numinous life on the screen . . . the
whole sensation has a strangely religious feel to it.24
© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt
1. The British philosopher Harold Osborne, editor
of the British Journal of Aesthetics, quoted in Religious
Aesthetics: A Theological Study of Making and Meaning by Frank
Burch Brown (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press,
1989) p. 26.
2. R. G. Collingwood, quoted in Louis Dupré,
Symbols of the Sacred (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000) pp. 72,
3. Paul Valery, quoted in Nicholas Wolterstorff,
Art in Action: Toward a Christian Aesthetic (Grand Rapids,
Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980) p. 3.
4. Frank Burch Brown, "Characteristics of Art and
the Character of Theological Education," Theological Education,
Volume XXXI, Number 1, Autumn 1994, p. 7.
6. Patrick Sherry, Spirit and Beauty: An
Introduction to Theological Aesthetics (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
7. Itzhak Bentov, in his book Stalking the Wild Pendulum,
8. William Irwin Thompson, The Time Falling
Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality, and the Origins of
Culture (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981) p. 4.
9. We find this idea in Plato, Aristotle, Dante,
Spenser, Handel, Haydn, Kant, Jaspers, Ricoeur, Whitehead, Dewey,
Heidegger, and countless other artists and thinkers.
10. Louis Dupré,
Symbols of the Sacred (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000) p. 71.
11. Thompson, p. 248.
12. Isaiah 5:11, 12; AMP.
pp. 122, 123.
15. Lewis Edwin Hahn, Editor, The Philosophy
of Paul Ricoeur (Chicago: Open Court, 1995) p. 281.
16. The Eighth Ecumenical Council, discussed at
the above web site.
17. Arianna Stassinopoulos. After Reason
(New York: Stein and Day, 1978), p. 157.
19. Taize is a village in France with an
ecumenical community gathering. Their simple, chant-like meditative
music, mostly written by the monk Jacques Berthier, appeals
especially to international youth.
20. Derrick de Kerckhove, The Skin of Culture
(Toronto: Somerville House Publishing, 1995) p. 86.
21. Steven Johnson, Interface Culture: How New
Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate (New
York: Basic Books, 1997) p 19.
22. Johnson, pp 212-215.
23. Johnson, pp 212-215, 238-242.
24. Johnson, pp 212-215.