In “The Integrity of Using Art, Part 1” I suggested that when using art, affirming the integrity of the work is immensely important. Then, in “The Integrity of Using Art, Part 2,” I went on to argue not only that we might use art with integrity, but that failure to do so goes against the very grain of reality.
That said, we must be careful for it’s all too easy for abuse to masquerade as use. We’ve all seen this before, and I suspect that many of my readers are nervous with all this talk of ‘use’ which to their minds can result in nothing but abuse. But we do well to remember that the enemy here is not use, but abuse characterized by impatience and a failure to receive.
Regarding the latter, C.S. Lewis has noted:
The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way. (There is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such a surrender, for until you have surrendered you cannot possibly find out.
We’ll return to Lewis, but for the time being suffice it to say that we need to receive, and that means looking and listening. More recently, David Brown has noted: “Culture needs to return as a Christian concern, but one where as much time is spent listening as in trying to contribute.” And even more recently, Daniel A. Siedell has commented:
What the world does need, and needs desperately, are Christians who embrace our freedom in Christ to such a degree that we can listen to and participate in the art and culture that is at hand. What the world needs are fewer makers, doers, and theorizers and more receivers.
I think that Siedell is right in emphasizing, with Lewis and Brown, the necessity of receiving. That said, I wouldn’t want to put receivers in opposition to the rest for receiving properly might very well lead to making, doing and theorizing. The issue has less to do with not using, and more to do with not using in a particular fashion. As Lewis has noted:
The real objection to that way of enjoying pictures [i.e., using] is that you never get beyond yourself. The picture, so used, can call out of you only what is already there. You do not cross the frontier into that new region which the pictorial art as such has added to the world.
Lewis’ notion of receiving, then, is one in which “we exert our senses and powers according to a pattern invented by the artist” instead of “treat[ing] it [i.e., the work of art] as assistance for our own activities.” Fleshing this out a bit, Brown explains:
“A constant temptation among Christians when looking at art or music is to view their role, when legitimate, as at most illustrative, confirming or deepening faith but never challenging or subverting it. It is therefore hardly surprising that there is so much bad Christian art and music around, if even the more informed among us want to keep their influence in a safe pair of Christian hands, such as Rembrandt or Rouault in art, Bach or Bruckner in music. The more liberal minded, in spreading the net more widely, may believe themselves immune from such criticism, but often the same fault is still there: art seen as merely illustrative of what is already believed on other grounds.”
Brown concludes: “Art and music need to be viewed and heard and valued in their own right.” And so where does this leave us? What if, instead of caving to modern aesthetics which insists on the false self-sufficiency of art for art’s sake, we insist that art points beyond itself, but that we must first look, listen and receive. In so doing, we might just find ourselves in William Desmond’s previously mentioned “between,” the terminus of the “fourfold way,” a border that begs the question of transcendence.
We certainly need receivers, but we also need receivers who, having received, interpret. This is the integrity of using art. I refuse to accept that “[i]n the hands of interpretation, art becomes, at best, merely the visual illustration of an idea best expressed through other means.” That it might be so is certainly the case, but to say that it must be so goes against the grain of reality and denies the possibility of redemption.
Christopher R. Brewer is pursuing a PhD with David Brown and he is exploring the possibility of an imaginative natural theology. Along these lines, he is the founder and director of gospel through shared experience as well as the editor and publisher of Art that Tells the Story.
 C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961), 19.
 David, Brown, God and Enchantment of Place: Reclaiming Human Experience, 2-3.
 Daniel A. Siedell, “Free to Receive.”
 Lewis, 21-22.
 Ibid., 88.
 David Brown, “The Glory of God Revealed in Art and Music: Learning From Pagans,” in Celebrating Creation, ed. M. Chapan (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 2004), 44-45.
 Daniel A. Siedell, “Art and Explanation,” cf. “A Response to Siedell’s ‘Art and Explanation.'”