the admired/despised/loved/hated/prophet/false prophet/messiah/antichrist rob bell sat down with patrol magazine for a conversation about faith and art. as always, bell has some deeply insightful and introspective commentary concerning these issues (particularly the brief discussion of the needlessly controversial sculpture my sweet lord by new york artist cosimo cavallaro). you can read it in its entirety here, but here’s a segment that i thought was particularly salient:
I would begin with the understanding that God has left the world unfinished, and so, in Genesis chapter 1, this creation poem is about trees that are created to have the ability to create more trees. So, to me an authentic spirituality begins with the premise that we co-create the world with God. The world is not done, and that all of action is essentially rooted in creativity. Any way in which you contribute to the ongoing creation of the world you are in fact, in some form or another being creative and so then I think the question from there becomes “what is art?”And I would argue that art is simply the creating within the particular medium, free of any utilitarianism. So a business person creates for the purpose of making profit, a product, providing goods and services. Art, specifically like the fine arts, music, sculpture, dance, spoken word, is the manifestation of that creativity in a form that is free from any pragmatic needs. So this painting just exists, beauty is its highest goal, as opposed to food that actually feeds us. A degree of art and creativity is in food, but it has a larger function. To which song is just a song. It may convey truth, it may have lyrics that are rooted in some particular world-view a person is trying to further express.I think we must have art because it reminds us that God is not always a pragmatist. Because our world wants to turn us into slaves, everything is about how hard you work so you can create something so you can buy something so you can make something, so you’re back in Egypt. That’s the defining story of the Bible: people who are enslaved in Egypt, and their whole use is that they are a machine and they’re used by pharaoh to build stuff. So to me we need the artist to remind ourselves that God is not always a pragmatist. I love this passage in Job where God is like, “HAVE YOU CONSIDERED THE STORK?” It’s beautiful poetry about a God who gets off on things just cause they are and that to me is central to any sort of living, breathing spirituality is going to be plenty of room for things that don’t have any purpose other than their own beauty, design and order.