Sometimes we need a Rothko...

All artwork is guided by an artist’s worldview and how he/she views reality. Cultural activity is never separate from faith. This is true for those who do not acknowledge God just as much as those who do. The idea of secular vs. sacred does not hold true, because everything belongs to God and there is nothing that exists outside of Him. However, a division between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of God does exist. An artist’s work is colored by his viewpoint of this world and many artists have gone to different extremes. Does an artist only see the realm of darkness or does he go completely in the other direction to the realm of mysticism where only spiritual matters hold value to him? As an artist who is a Christian I see the division between the two kingdoms and know it is only grace that can hold them both in the same hand. Therefore, I am to write music that displays both realms. God created this world and He is interested in it, therefore it has value. However, at the fall, man brought sin into this world and everything was subject to corruption.  This is still God’s world and none of this is outside of His control. There is despair, but there is also hope.  Reality is best displayed when both of these truths are present. However, is there ever a time when we need only one aspect of reality exposed? Do we sometimes need a dark and subjective work, like one by Rothko or Pollock? While neither of those artists held the Christian worldview, can Christians learn something about creating art from them? In other words, can artists who are Christians create works that emphasize only the dark reality of life and leave out the truth of hope?

Abstract art requires a person to discover meaning from inside of him.  The problem with this is that nothing good exists inside of us apart from God.  What if the only thing a person feels inside is emptiness? How will he gain anything good or hopeful from the work? It seems selfish of an artist to not offer anything to the viewer/listener and leave him to find his own meaning. A work like Rothko’s is completely subjective, as it is his emotion put on a canvas. It does not display any objective reality outside of him.  He can only acknowledge the truth he feels inside, because that is his worldview. But here is my next question: During times of deep sadness in a friend’s life, is it not often best to simply weep with him and offer no outside words of truth? Could that truth actually inflict more pain at that moment? Though these times are rare and often require much discernment, they do occur and art can acknowledge this.

Sometimes life’s hardships can overwhelm a person. Life often feels chaotic as works by Pollock display. And yes, God does hold all the chaos of reality in His hand and can bring order to it. Yes, hope and grace still exist in the chaos, but Pollock does not offer that hope to the viewer.  Sometimes life can feel hopeless and a person can find himself in darkness. Many of Rothko’s work tell his story of darkness without hope. But sometimes, isn’t that all we need? Perhaps in rare moments it is best to simply offer empathy without the answers of hope.  Perhaps those works where the artist felt empty and hopeless inside offer another story of pain to the viewer and that is a comfort in itself. Maybe there are some moments in life when you simply need a Rothko…

Maybe. I'm still uncertain.

         Red Maroons, Mark Rothko.  Taken at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

         Red Maroons, Mark Rothko.  Taken at the Cleveland Museum of Art.