Modern Art and the Rejection of Truth

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Several years ago, I saw an interesting presentation in which an art teacher gave his take on the modern art movement and its relativistic rebellion against classical standards. I couldn’t help but think how this parallels the desire of many today to abandon long-accepted norms found in the Bible.

The presentation began by pointing out how the classical masters of art demanded of themselves the “highest standards of excellence” and aspired to the “highest quality attainable.” Likewise, as Christians, we must demand of ourselves the “highest standards of excellence,” despite our imperfection (Romans 3:23) and need of God’s mercy and grace (Hebrews 4:16). We must be satisfied with nothing less than complete obedience to God’s word (John 14:23; 1 John 5:3) and aspire to the “highest quality attainable” by offering Him fruits of righteousness (Matthew 13:23; John 15:8; Galatians 5:22-23; Colossians 1:10).

A Change in Attitude Towards Art and the Bible

The art professor continued by mentioning how the modern art movement seeks to replace “the profound, the inspiring, and the beautiful” with “the new, the different, and the ugly.” Similarly, while the world seeks to substitute the teachings of the Bible for that which is new, different, and sinful, faithful Christians strive to stem the tide of change by holding fast to God’s word and sharing it with others (2 Timothy 1:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; Mark 16:15-16; 2 Timothy 4:2).

In some modern art exhibits, one can observe abstract works that are praised by many for their “shock value.” Artists of this genre use anything from images of aborted fetuses to excrement in their works. Back in the 1980’s, upon entering the Student Center at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, my eyes were assaulted by an exhibit pornographic charcoal sketches in a glass showcase for all the students to see. This was not simply nudity. The drawings clearly depicted rated-X sexual activities. This unsettling experience taught me that sometimes that which is sinful and repugnant is presented under the guise of “art.”

The art teacher continued by saying that “today the silly, the pointless, and the purely offensive are held up as the best of modern art.” Likewise, in many religious circles, that which was previously regarded as offensive or sinful is now sanctioned and praised as the brilliant revelation of the enlightened.

The Rejection of a Standard in Art and Religion

The art teacher then asked, “How did the thousand year ascent towards artistic perfection and excellence die out? It didn’t. It was pushed out.” Those responsible were regarded as “new modernists.” He then mentions how the impressionists rebelled against the Académie des Beaux-Arts (in Paris) and its demand for classical standards. In the same way, many today rebel against the Bible as God’s standard of faith.

The art teacher went on to say that “the new modernists sowed the seeds of aesthetic relativism: the ‘beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder’ mentality.” In like manner, today many believe that truth is in the eye of the beholder and that absolute truth does not exist.

The art teacher continued, “Today everybody loves the impressionists and, as with most revolutions, the first generation or so produced work of genuine merit. Monet, Renoir, and Degas still maintained elements of discipline, design, and execution. But with each new generation, standards declined until there were no standards. All that was left was personal expression.” Needless to say, the religious world has been heading in this direction for years.

Those Opposed to Such Changes Are Ridiculed

The art teacher then quoted art historian Jakob Rosenberg, who said, that quality in art “is not merely a matter of opinion but to a high degree… objectively traceable.” Commenting on this, the art professor said that “the idea of a universal standard of quality in art is now usually met with strong resistance, if not open ridicule.” In like manner, those who argue in favor of respecting the Bible as God’s “universal standard” in religious matters are ridiculed and ostracized for being “narrow-minded,” “judgmental,” or “self-righteous.”

Lastly, the art teacher said that “without aesthetic standards, we have no way to determine quality or inferiority.” In the same way, without an objective moral standard given to us by Someone greater than ourselves, humanity has no reliable way to determine the difference between right and wrong. Right and wrong are inevitably reduced to what is beautiful or ugly in the eye of the beholder.

–Jerry Falk