The Christian Worldview of Art

“The kind of world God made is a model of what artists should strive to make and what all people should delight in.”
“Art for art’s sake!”

Christian schools usually have problems teaching young people about art because often the schools have not developed a clear idea of where to draw the line (pun intended), philosophically and practically. The two quotes above illustrate two of the most frequent battle cries from opposing sides in the philosophy-of-art war. The second quote has its roots in the Enlightenment period in Europe. After man became “the measure of all things” in the Renaissance, it was a small step to all that man does or makes becoming autonomous from any Higher authority at all. It might seem like a no-brainer, by looking at those quotes above, to figure out which side Christian schools should support. Unfortunately, it is not. Unlike math or science, art is so… well, subjective. Or so we have been conditioned to believe.

Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 10:31 teach us that nothing we do is out of God’s sovereignty; all we do should be to His glory. Art is certainly no exception then. Okay, most Christian schools would agree. “But how does that help us teach third graders art?” Why isn’t giving them a sheet of white construction paper and a handful of crayons and telling them to “draw something” sufficient? Because we wouldn’t do that with anything else we teach them! “Here, kid, this is called a book. Sit down and read it! And don’t ask me pesky questions like what those black marks on the page are.”

When the LORD talks about art in His Word, it is always in the context of skilled craftsmen, or those gifted in design work (see the tabernacle construction account in Leviticus). In Philippians 4:8, we are commanded to dwell on things of beauty and integrity. Therefore, art can and should be taught to young children initially in the form of basic skills – using the whole page, correctly holding the pencil and brush, studying and practicing perspective, mixing colors, and other universal artistic elements. Many times teachers want to allow the children to be “creative,” but in Scripture and in the classical method, it is understood that children naturally learn through imitation, copying the acts of their elders. At Agathos, we seek to systematically train the elementary students in the requisite skills for art and complete art projects that combine skills, practice with copying from another picture, still life or design.

One of the goals here is that eventually students can imitate paintings done by established masters, such as Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Monet, or even Wyeth, or Rockwell, to name just a few. Giving them the tools of learning in art will also help them to discern why other artists like Picasso and Matisse are not held up as worthy copying because of their obvious fractured worldview and disregard for truth or beauty as defined by Scripture and creation. After these students learn the basic skills and imitate masters (as young apprentice artists have done for centuries in Europe), they are far better prepared to construct their own, unique renderings.

Art, just like English, math, and history, is a discipline that can and should be mastered by the average student. In a Christian setting, there is even less excuse than in a pagan setting for doing a poor job instructing students in art. After all, by imitating and relishing the Creation through art, we show tangible praise for what our Father has done. What a great lesson to teach children!

Practical Elements

Students in the elementary participate in a weekly art class. In this class they are exposed to a wide variety of mediums and methods from sculpting to water color painting. When appropriate, this art instruction is integrated with other subjects that are being studied concurrently.

The foundation of the elementary art program is imitation. Instead of instruction which emphasizes encouraging the students to “express themselves” on the canvas, we seek to provide a content-laden curriculum which focuses on the teaching and development of specific skills related to various aspects of art. This is in direct opposition to the modernist myth of children’s art being treated as a genre unto itself. We believe that for children to develop into good artists they need mature, trained guidance and an opportunity to imitate, practice and explore within a controlled fundamental situation. Students are required to select, evaluate and imitate a number of different projects throughout the year.

In the lower elementary the instruction begins with teacher-directed sensory exploration and learned appreciation in the context of a God-centered love for the variety of creation as seen in color, smell, light, taste and texture. Special attention is given to teaching correct posture and hand position, formation and identification of geometric shapes, and spacial relationships such as perspective and using the entire sheet of paper.

As students mature, the program addresses teaching the names and major works of the artistic masters. The students are taught to recognize similarities and differences between artists through evaluating the works themselves and then sorting appropriately. At the same time they continue to imitate a variety of works while seeking to master the concepts of proportion, shading, depth, color, contour, balance, and positive and negative space.

Goals for All Grades

  1. We seek to teach all our students the basic fundamentals of drawing to enable them to create adequate renderings.
  2. We seek to encourage the students to appreciate and imitate the beauty of the creation in their own work.
  3. We seek to introduce the students to masters’ works.
  4. We seek to equip the students to knowledgeably use a variety of art media.

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