One of the many things I like about living in the city is the ubiquitous presence of public art. There are giant baby heads behind the MFA and a giant pear on Columbia Road next to the KFC©. There are the ducks in the Public Garden and Mayor Kevin White at Faneuil Hall. There is even a mural painted on the gas tank next to the expressway. The other day, as we were driving past the Ashmont T station, my youngest asked where the sleeping moon statue was before it was at the station and why it was there. I said, to the first question, that it was commissioned for the station and, to the second question, that there doesn’t have to be a reason.
That is the wonderful thing about art, isn’t it? It doesn’t have to have a reason for being, it doesn’t have to tell a story and it doesn’t have to have a function to be appreciated. I may not understand what makes for great art (case in point, the Oscar©-winning movie Birdman) and conversely great art doesn’t need to be always understood. Statues can be erected simply to add something beautiful to the landscape; poems can be written simply to add something beautiful for the ear. Art does not need a reason.
Sometimes I wonder if the Church has lost many of her artists. Are there things – songs, dances, poems, sculptures and feasts – that people of faith have ceased to produce because of the false logic that they do nothing to advance the gospel? Is a sunset diminished because it is spiritually unnecessary? Is the roar of the ocean diminished because it does not speak words that lead to salvation? Is the choreography of a double-play diminished because it is secular amusement? Is there a place for art in the Kingdom of God?
God is an artist. He created the universe from the formless and void. He is described as a potter and an author. He enables us to experience colors and textures. His word designed varieties of flora and fauna the greatest human minds could never fully comprehend. Without a doubt, some things we see and hear are given to us by God simply because they are beautiful. In the extravagance of God, the weeds have greater sartorial splendor than the richest of kings:
“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” Luke 12:27 (NIV)
Not everything needs to have a function. Every gathering need not include a Bible study. Every handshake need not include the transferring of a gospel tract. Sometimes some things are simply meant to be beautiful and to point us to the God who first expressed true beauty to us. I don’t want to live in a place where art is purely functional; I desire that some art be superfluous and whimsical. I desire that there be a place in the Church for that kind of art, too. After all, some of God’s greatest masterpieces can be found within its walls.