Toward A Christian Aesthetic

Germany between the wars, or the Weimar Republic, is commonly known for conditions that led to the Second World War.  Paris of the twenties is often cited as the hub of artistic activity. When reading Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, I was surprised to hear that the hub of European Art was really in the punished nation of Germany. One particular artistic movement of that era particularly peaked my interest and reminded me of the role of the Church in the world:

Even more remarkable was Germany’s success in the visual arts. In 1918 Walter Gropius became director of the Weimar Arts and Crafts School and began to put into practice his theory of Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art, a term first used by Wagner but applied here, on the analogy  of  medieval cathedral, to the integrated use of painting, architecture, furniture, glass, and metal work, sculpture, jewelry and fabrics.              Paul Johnson, Modern Times, page 113-114

Now to be clear this wasn't a movement to return the Church in Germany to the role it once played in the world of the arts, but to copy what once was. The Church in America today is not known for being an artistic example to the world. We will often settle for renting or buying an old commercial building rather than starting an architecturally minded building project that will take 10-15 years to complete, a short time when compared to the medievals. That’s not to criticize those churches that do rent spaces that weren’t originally intended to be churches. The work done in New York City, and around the country, in these spaces is an excellent example of places that have made wise decisions for the Kingdom. Nevertheless, there is something missing when compared to the Cathedrals of the past. Those people, over generations, built Churches that would last far beyond their lifetime with architecture that proclaims God’s majesty, and then filled it with every type of art in its finest form or Gesamtkunstwerk. The beauty of the priestly garments, the stained glass, music from the choir or instruments, paintings and sculptures were all meant for one purpose, to speak of the God that is worshiped there.

 It seems that every town in Europe has one of the grand Cathedrals, and there once was a time where everyone in that area knew if they wanted to see or hear something beautiful, that’s where they should go. Now, as someone with basically no artistic ability, this seems to leave me conveniently without any responsibility. However, the responsibility of a beautiful church falls on more than those considered artists. Just as in the cathedrals, all those in the church have a responsibility to the building, maintaining, and growth of churches that magnify and proclaim the glory of God.