Over the course of the past four months I’ve been addressing “The Integrity of Using Art.” In this, my fourth and final post in the series (cf. Parts 1, 2 and 3), I’d like to return to a comment made by Jim Watkins in response to my first post. He comments:
I tend to think of “integrity” as “otherness.” It is all the ways that the work of art pushes beyond my attempts to use it for my own purposes, and so to use a work of art responsibly (to respect its “integrity”) means to recognize that this work of art is not ready made for my own purposes. What do you think of this more expanded way of thinking about “integrity”?
More fully, he explains:
I am fully on board with the idea that theologians should engage with the arts in a genuine dialogue. While I think you’re right that this is the more important point, there is still the issue of how one holds this dialogue, or, to put it another way, how one respects the integrity of the other.
In an effort to respond to these questions I will draw upon two books, both by George Pattison: Art, Modernity and Faith, 2nd ed. (SCM Press, 1998), and The End of Theology – And the Task of Thinking About God (SCM Press, 1998).
To begin, it seems that we should acknowledge the situation that Pattison describes in the opening chapter of the latter; namely, that theology is no longer Queen of the Sciences, but a “fellow-worker.” He explains:
Western theology has reached a critical phase in its history. Assailed from without and subverted from within, the once proud Queen of the Sciences now finds herself having to eke out a living at the margins of academic life, foraging amongst the uncultivated borderlands of other disciplines.
Here, I simply wish to point out why it is that we’re having this conversation. Ever since Kant we’ve been wrestling with our apparent inability to say much of anything about the really real. Acknowledging “the failure of ontology,” Pattison notes: “The really real, then, is itself no longer a single entity, but the best result of the best research to date across a multiplicity of fronts.” Interdisciplinarity is the name of the game and dialogue a requisite skill, and this is the case whether you’re with Pattison or the previously mentioned Desmond (i.e., on metaphysics/ontology).
In any case, the “using” that I’ve been describing over the course of these four posts assumes this sort of framework, i.e., a dialogue that “is less concerned by … abstract considerations than by the thought that truth is always truth spoken or expressed by someone.” That said, I’d like to address Jim’s question from a different angle.
Over the course of the past six or seven years I’ve gotten to know a number of artists, mostly through my efforts at Calvary Baptist Church, Grand Rapids, MI. And so when I think about the integrity of using art or the nature of the dialogue, it’s no abstract consideration. It’s personal. “The Other” has a name: Julie, Rick, Alfonse …
These and other friends have welcomed me into their lives and studios, and the dialogue that began there continues. And through this dialogue, I “become a thousand men [or women] and yet remain myself…. I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”
How does one respect the integrity of art as other? Clearly, there’s quite a bit that could be said, but suffice it to say that putting a face and a name with what would otherwise be an abstract consideration is a great place to begin the conversation.
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.
 Pattison, The End of Theology – And the Task of Thinking About God, p. 2.
 Ibid., p. 1.
 Ibid., pp. 19ff. That this is the general consensus is certainly the case. Even so, I would, with Desmond, wish to question this conclusion.
 Ibid., p. 29; cf. Pattison, Art, Modernity and Faith, p. 9.
 Pattison, The End of Theology – And the Task of Thinking About God, p. 45.
 C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961), 141.