The Faithful Artist

A Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts

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Cameron J. Anderson
Studies in Theology and the Arts
  • Downers Grove, IL: 
    IVP Academic
    , November
     2016.
     283 pages.
     $26.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780830850648.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Religious faith, rather than supposedly providing certainty, is risky. This is what Cameron Anderson discovered about himself as a committed believer within a conservative evangelical Christian community and as an artist. In his first college art course, he was confronted and affronted by Willem de Kooning’s, oil on canvas Women II (1952), and his romantic illusions about art were shattered. In The Faithful Artist: A Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts, Anderson describes how, without warning, he encountered the reality of an artistic and cultural aesthetic of oppositional outrage and unbounded resistance. This legacy of Modernism has decreed that, for the most part, artists abjure any putatively durable tradition of commitment—even nominal—to the divine, refuse to join the history of the creators of the steepled towers and vaulted ceilings of former times, or dare to decorate hallowed sanctuaries with devotional images and biblical scenes in ornate places of worship. Times had changed. Until the Reformation, artists were commissioned by the Western Catholic Church. Now there were new masters. Mother Church has been replaced by the executive class of corporate Anglo-America, whose purchases decorate boardrooms and the corridors of office suites, by government endowed—some almost “secularly religious”—galleries and museums, and by the patronage of wealthy aesthetes, whose furnished homes disclose their discriminating and elevated sensibilities.

In contrast to that earlier world, the contemporary art world is, if not hostile to, then certainly without sympathy for, confessional religious doctrines that may constrict the free creative spirit, which must be unleashed “to blow where it wills.” The confounded and disconsolate young man could have walked away.

However, Anderson was, and still is, an artist; and he was, and still is, a Christian believer. But he had received no encouragement or even grudging support from his fellow believers during his earlier years. Rather, an iconoclastic climate prevailed within the bleak, whitewashed Protestant tabernacles in which he worshipped. And yet there, in those gatherings of the “saved” and those seeking salvation, vision had been internalized: vision was visualized hearing; it was a form of inward “seeing” that was evoked by the words read in the Bible and conjured up by the spoken words of a preacher man. The Mosaic Commandments banned images; the faithful conformed. But, crucially, as Anderson noted, they still saw—they still imaged—although, subsequently, it was with the eyes of their imaginations. 

In eight chapters, Anderson establishes an argument for the place of art within this evangelical America. Initially, and not unlike the Catholic scholar, Richard Viladesau (a rather surprising omission from The Faithful Artist because Anderson is refreshingly open to other Christian traditions), he contests the notion that words—biblical words and pulpit rhetoric—are un-imaged. On the contrary, because they are imaged, they evoke sensory engagement and reject any gnostic dualism or bodiless human souls. And because of this holistic Christian anthropology of body and soul, so the human person too is a creator, a material, creative, imaging, and thinking being who is able to fashion the clay of the earth into sculptures, the pigments of nature into colored figures, and manufactured fabric into woven tapestries, all of which, if these are Christian representations, must point away from the artist—rightly, for Anderson, an important virtue of the believing artist—and to that which represents humanity’s transcendent promise.

Thus, when revisiting the iconoclastic controversy of the 8th century, rather than summarily dismissing the iconophiles as heretics, the argument recasts the evangelical preacher as painter. In his challenge to fellow evangelicals, Anderson is aided by a visit to an exhibition of a contemporary commissioned hand-written and illuminated Bible. He suggests that such texts may provide a locus for Catholic and Protestant to meet, so as to embark upon a wider conversation about creative art—both its contribution to, and its dangers for, their respective ecclesial communities.

Even if Anderson reaches for biblical warrants too summarily, his religious faith commits him to beauty and its recovery—not a Kantian detached sublimity as a replacement for beauty as form, or the triviality of bourgeois acquisitiveness to possess the new or the fashionable. Rather, Anderson stands within a Protestant tradition in which the revelatory God comports a—or, perhaps, the—beauty to which Anderson as the believer is compelled to turn. In this pursuit, he defends the role of Christian artists in their ascetic duty to portray the truth of the human condition, and also, for him, to point to that without which there would be no human, no responding artistry. 

In one sense this book is testimony of a perseverant man who discovered in himself a dual calling: to be a committed Christian believer and an artist. These two demands asked the questions that he has endeavored to answer in this book. Not merely: How may one be a “faithful artist”? But also: How may one speak to a religious community—to his own community—about fashioning art that witnesses to faith, when the community does not possess a history of, little sensitivity to, or awareness of, art and the “sacramental” (already a rather alien word), creative, life enhancing, and enriching contribution that he believes it offers?

Quite possibly, Cameron Anderson has provided a substantially serious reply precisely because he has remained a “faithful artist,” but not simply because he is an “artist” who is “faithful” to his religious convictions. Rather, it is apparent that he continues to pursue his own life of faith creatively by continuing to paint a self-portrait that bears witness to and depicts his Christian beliefs in—as he would say—the “certainty” that this painting of himself will be completed for, and not by, him on the other side of eternity.
 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Frank England is Honorary Research Associate at the University of Cape Town and Lecturer at the College of the Transfiguration in Grahamstown, South Africa.

Date of Review: 
July 29, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Cameron J. Anderson is an artist and the Executive Director of Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA). Prior to joining CIVA, he served on the staff of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for thirty years, most recently as the national director for graduate and faculty ministries. He lectures frequently on the arts, media, advertising, and contemporary culture, and he coedited, with Sandra Bowden, Faith and Vision: Twenty-five Years of Christians in the Visual Arts.

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