Defining the Terms of Beauty and Goodness in a Sin Cursed World

by Robbie Mackintosh

Amongst Christian artists there is a lot of talk about beauty and goodness and how we should reflect these God-given realities in our work. But how do we define the boundaries and scope of these realities? Within the context of the lost and fallen world, how do we emphasize the beauty and goodness of our Lord and the world around us without ignoring the realities of suffering and evil around us? Is it part of the same story? Or, are we to focus exclusively on what immediately seems, perhaps even on a rather superficial level, what is beautiful and good?

Jeu de massacre (slaughter), Georges Rouault 1905
Catholic artist Rouault was known to explore the ugly themes of man’s injustice and cruelty in his work.
Peace at last, Robert del Naja, 2007
Del Naja though a secular street-based artist seems to capture dark human realities whilst hinting at a spiritual dimension, perhaps a redemptive aspect.

REDEMPTIVE REALITY

The truth is that there is more to the story of humanity, the Gospel, and the part we play in the grand meta-narrative which God is weaving throughout history. Man has fallen into sin – an ugly event. Not to mention the colossal consequences of that original sin which are still affecting us today. We are caught up in a story which in one aspect is a history of sin; so where does that leave us as we seek to contextualize our message of hope into contemporary artworks? 

Maybe the best place for us to go would be the central theme of the gospel message – the cross – and what we present to people when we are sharing the Gospel. Firstly, we are all lost sinners desperately lost and dead in our sins. Secondly, we need a saviour! God sent his son Jesus to die in our place to save us from our sins and ultimately redeem us from the consequences. And thirdly, as believers who have received this gift of eternal life, Jesus will come back again to judge and put right all wrongs. 

The Gospel is a story of tragedy, rescue, and redemption, the dark shadows offsetting the light. Besides the ugliness of sin in the first place, Christ’s cross was the most brutal as well as the most beautiful act that ever took place in all history. Thus, this act is our ultimate reference point.

ONE KEY: CHRIST AND CULTURE

Reliable, Robbie Mackintosh, 2021, oil paint, spray paint, marker and collage

Christian art historian Hans Rookmaaker often argued that most Christians are afraid of and negative about culture. What is culture? According to Rookmaaker it is simply man’s activity within God-given constructs. We have the liberty as Christians to explore, observe, and “go into things” – to do a little exploration and hold on to the good. This is a privilege and responsibility. We are accountable for it.

A bit afraid of getting dirty and infected by the world around us, we tend to err on the safe side rather than take the loving risk of seeking to understand where another person is coming from. We look at and decry the symptoms rather than seek to bring in Christ and prescribe the cure.

Obviously, we see in parts of Christianity a tendency to adopt the things of this world in order to somehow make the Gospel more palatable to those in the world. But this is not what we are talking about here. We must use our liberty wisely, carefully, and skillfully within context, knowing that we have this great responsibility.

If we cannot understand our neighbours’ concerns, then how can we create a healthy dialogue with them and show them the relevance of Christ to their lives. This is one of the main aspects of approach which I feel I have been led to in my own work and it seems now leading to a fruitful engagement with others who do not have a Christian faith. What is your experience, how has God led you creatively?


Robbie Mackintosh is a street-based, broadly expressive painter and mixed media artist from Scotland who seeks to communicate the gospel within the context of culture near to him – such as hip-hop, rock music and skateboarding.  He spends much of his spare time making instrumental hip-hop music and enjoys the fluid inspiration music brings to his art.

Follow him on Instagram at @robmacart


2 Responses to Defining the Terms of Beauty and Goodness in a Sin Cursed World

  1. Thanks for addressing this, Robbie. I’ve felt too that there’s been a bit of an avoidance of the dark context into which “truth, beauty, and goodness” falls.

    Lots to think about as I find my feet as an artist. I’m still very new (more focused on the technical side at the moment), but my hope is that God will eventually weave strands of the full message into my work.

    • Thanks Chris, im glad it was helpful. Id thoroughly recommend Francis Schaeffers little book ‘art and the bible’ (if your not aware of it already) as the very best starting point. Also the labri ideas library should be very helpful when you’re ready:

      https://www.labriideaslibrary.org/

      All the best in your pursuit!