THE FUTURE OF THE ARTS, PART II
Better get rid of your old ideas about "sacred"
arts. Everything is up for grabs. And wonderfully so, for this is
the most exciting moment in the history of both art and the Church.
(A full article follows the brief summary below.)
A NEW ART:
Art is leaping outside itself as it scrambles for
new roles and new meanings.
We’ve known the metaphoric tensions within art,
but the postmodern world is revealing strange new metaphoric
tensions between the arts and things outside the arts.
We are learning that the arts are not sequestered
studies (where, for example, music schools study only music). And,
we are learning that the arts are not sensory specific (where, for
example, we assume to "hear" music only with our ear).
NEW METAPHORS OF ART:
Artists are boldly risking new metaphoric
tensions between past traditions and postmodern transitions, "high"
art and "low" art, professional art and popular art . . . between
the "local" and the "global," the significant and the insignificant,
the essential and the trivial . . . between reality and unreality,
truth and fiction, sacred and secular. . . .
TECHNOLOGY AND ART:
Information-space holds the great metaphoric
tension of our era. Digital technology, for example, runs exact
parallels with art. Both the "infosphere" and art are intuitive
systems ruled by invisible forces—forces made sensuous. Indeed,
tech/art may prove the primary symbol of the coming age.
ART AND LIFE:
We are breaking the barriers between art and life
itself. What we once called "art" is showing up incognito in life
itself—anywhere, any time, and in any form. In these powerfully
mysterious tensions between real life and hidden art, we are
learning that art does not take place in a vacuum.
THE NEW RULES OF ART:
In the wildness of these new metaphors and the
desperate need for a new credibility, Scripture provides the radical
orthodoxy for our time. Contrary to our Greek culture, the ancient
Hebrews may be the only ones who understood the true role and
purpose of art.
(Read the complete article below for further
Turning Inside Out
Art is leaping outside itself. Like a molting
animal, it is jumping out of its own skin.
We’ve long known the metaphoric tensions within
art. We’ve heard a melody, for instance, that goes against its own
direction . . . or a harmony that goes against its own tonality. And
we’ve even heard the metaphoric tensions between melody, harmony,
rhythm, texture, and timbre.
These rules offer the necessary proofs within
art. But breakthroughs in great art always birth from breaking
rules. So, once again—in a bold response to divine inspiration—the
metaphors in art are breaking their own rules. And—in a driven need
to understand—the definitions of art are scrambling for new
Other than utter mystery, art always emerges from
metaphor. That is, it is nothing more than the inspired tension
between the "known" and the "unknown," and the transcendent events
that birth from that tension. The metaphors in art, of course, occur
on several levels at once. Yet, shockingly, history now reveals
strange new levels of metaphor. Or, more to the point, it reveals
strange new metaphoric tensions between art and things outside art.
So, we could say art is turning "inside out."
Though the "immutable" in art remains the same, the "mutable" is
leaping free of old skins. Here are examples:
In this "new age" . . . in this "postmodern"
world . . . in this refusal of the past, we see—at the same time!—a
strange metaphoric tension between the old and the new, between past
traditions and postmodern transitions, between ancient styles and
Contrary to opinion, today’s youth, for
example, hold no aversion to old things: Ancient Celtic
music has become "cool" among New Agers. Medieval chant has
gone "platinum" on the Billboard Charts.1 And
Johann Sebastian Bach has achieved cult status in Japan.2
The youth love these things. But they detest dead metaphors.
In other words, they dislike the missing tensions between
the "known" and the "unknown"—that is, between the old and
So we hear youthful believers singing old hymns
with new words, or performing sacred art in New Age settings. We see
them stylishly dressed in the mismated garb of former decades. And
we see their Internet sites adopting freely from preceding
traditions—art and architecture, the cinema and the novel. In fact,
"The interplay between past and future forms drives (their) creative
process more than it impedes it."3
In this interplay, popular culture also sees a
coming together of "high" and "low" art, elite and universal art,
professional and popular art. In other words, we see a coming
together of objective "distance" and personal immediacy. In fact,
the refusal to place "high" art above "popular" art actually defines
Finally, then, we see the interplay of the
"local" and the "global." As example, the success of "screens"—TV
screens, movie screens, computer screens—offers totally new spatial
metaphors. On these screens, "here" and "there" challenge each other
in ongoing dialogues, leading to juxtapositions of the local and the
distant, the myopic and the ethnic.
In further examples, we hear strange mixtures of
musical instruments—bagpipes with dulcimers, dulcimers with
accordions, accordions with sitars. . . . We hear odd comparisons of
musical styles—"reggae" music, with blues, calypso, rock-n-roll, and
protest vying for their own voice in the same art form.
Like Alice in Wonderland, these far-out metaphors
are getting "curiouser and curiouser."
Perhaps, modern minds can accept the tensions
between old and new, high and low, global and local. After all,
these opposites reflect routine realities. But few old-school minds
are ready to blur the lines between life and death, the significant
and the insignificant, the essential and the trivial. Yet, today’s
media—whether reporting reality or unreality—regularly blur the
lines between murder and amusement, global annihilation and video
games, the risk of everything and the risk of nothing.
After all, reporting one death or 500 deaths
differs little to newscasters. Both figures roll off the tongue
In the same slurred reality, the sacred and the
secular lie side by side like Siamese twins. You can’t tell one from
So the arts, too, are drawing a metaphoric
likeness between truth and fiction, and these images are proving
more real than reality itself. Indeed, the distinctions between
truth and fiction have almost disappeared. It’s as if we’re living
in flight simulators, and we can’t tell the difference between
"virtual" and "real." As a result, spy novels and science fiction
stories pass more than the time of day. Who can tell truth from
fiction anymore? And films capture us in totally rigged worlds. But
whose credulity can stand such tests these days?
In short, the arts are giving their epic
illusions something they’re not. And in this created reality, seraph
and snake live side by side. So art becomes either our salvation or
our destruction. Either way, but little between.
Jamming in Cyberspace
Art also leaves the cozy confines of its past in
a new interface with technology. This interface, though, is not mere
"tech support"—the handy volume control on your remote, as example.
Instead, the tension in tech/art births entirely new metaphors,
entirely new arts.
Already, most pop music is "machine" music. It
totally entangles itself in technology. Synthesizers and sequencers
boldly replace natural sounds, as example. And often, their other
world atmospheres make mere moods where traditional music once made
manners. Of course, today’s computer enhanced multimedia already
holds the creative tensions between technical and artistic skills.
Even church artists peek through this door. Those
with bolder visions have graduated from over-the-hill sound support
to become audio technicians and graphic artists with synthesizers,
video displays, and computerized lighting. And, though now an
anomaly, we will soon acclaim these pioneers as Christian techno
Already, virtual reality remains the domain of
tech-artists—sensitive cybergeeks who create novel artistic
metaphors with their digital videos, graphics, holographs, and
games. Indeed, "Videogames and computer games bring music, art, and
narrative together into one of the highest aesthetic forms of
This interface between technology and art should
not surprise us. Like all the arts, the "infosphere" holds the
tension between the "known" and the "unknown." It is a half
unveiling, half vanishing act. Like all arts, rituals, and symbols,
it represents something "not there," something beyond itself,
something unseen. In short, both technology and art are intuitive
systems ruled by invisible forces—forces made sensuous.
So digital technology runs exact parallels with
art. And no wonder. The term "technology" derives from the Greek
which means "the study of art."5 And, today, digital
technology has finally fulfilled that prophecy. It has become an art
form in itself.6 Indeed, tech/art may prove the primary
symbol of the coming age.
Still, we glimpse this new medium in only its
infant years. The future will hold an entirely different story. On
its quickened superhighways, the digital world will increasingly
immerse us in simultaneous senses. In so doing, it will blur the
borderlines between our senses, our arts, and all the metaphors
beyond our arts.
And it will burn with the deepest of beauties.
Though we’re unready, computers will soon become
virtual artists. Then, human musicians will routinely jam with
computers. But, finally, these same computers will bypass humans to
seek their own fame.7
Through this new interface between technology and
art, everything will change. The harmonic overtones produced by
these astonishing new metaphors will alter our arts, our appetites,
our senses, and our society.
"Information-space is the great symbolic
accomplishment of our era."8
Another metaphor growing "outside" the arts
proves those pedagogues "inside" the arts forever wrong. Doctrinaire
dogmatists restrict their arts to "inside" disciplines—"Music is for
music schools," "Visual art is for art schools," and so on. In the
same way, they limit "music to the ear," "visual art to the eye". .
On the contrary, we are learning that the arts
are not sequestered studies. And, they are not sensory specific.
Metaphor not only proves the primary model within
each art. It also proves the basic model between the arts. All the
arts, in other words, speak one language—whether within or between.
And that language is metaphor. Someday, advanced skills in metaphor
will surely replace the turned-in disciplines of the traditional
We need only remember when the texture of music
felt "thin" to our intuitive "touch." Or, we need only recall when
music’s tone color appeared "dark" to our inner eyes. And, we need
only recollect when its melody savored "sweet" to our innate taste.
This crossing from one sense to another is "synesthesia." And, its
conveyance may prove our most vital metaphoric link.
So the power in music is not music at all! For in
the final analysis, the message is not the medium. Instead, the
message is something beyond the medium—something common to all the
arts, yet beyond the arts.
Just consider, that the well-schooled "medium of
music"—or "theory of music"—has nothing to do with the other arts.
As a result, our music faculties have little to do with other
faculties. And, our music schools have little reason to engage other
schools. History will have the last laugh, though. Someday, for
example, a degree in music may seem rather quaint.
We have long searched for the powerful interface
between the arts. First, we called it "opera," then "musical
theater," then "motion pictures," then "multimedia." Soon, we will
call it "virtual reality," or maybe even "prophetic metaphor."
"All art, I firmly believe, will one day
disappear. But the artist will remain, and life itself will become
not ‘an art,’ but art."9
Again, art moves beyond "art." In a stunning, yet
defining, moment, we are breaking the barriers between art and life
itself. And, in this new known/unknown tension, we may find the most
profound metaphor of our time. What we once called "art" is showing
up incognito in life itself—anywhere, any time, and in any form.
There was a time when art was essential to all of
life. Inseparable from all of life, it bestowed meaning on all of
life. It was not something we did in order to be religious,
cultured, or "elevated." Today, for example, we call prehistoric
cave paintings "art," but the artists would have called them "life."
Our "sophistication," in other words, carries the
burden of mistaken ideas. We have limited art to one area of our
existence. Like good curators, we have locked music, art, dance,
drama, and poetry in their own "museums." John Cage was right: "When
we separate music from life what we get is art."10
Or, just the reverse, "‘Walking in Jesus’
footsteps’ excludes the arts."
As a result, "great art" occurs only in
auditoriums, museums, or books . . . only at time-appointed moments
. . . only among the talented . . . only with accepted rules . . .
and only with suitable divisions of race, culture, and class. And
here’s the upshot for the arts: We separate the skilled from the
unskilled, the "significant" from the "insignificant," the refined
from the unrefined, the "beautiful" from the "ugly," and all the
other "likes" from the "dislikes" of the disreputable Gnostics and
But, restricting all the imposing "masterpieces"
to their own, zoned corner of greatness will never make up for our
separating them from life.
After all, art is life! "Metaphor sets up a model
for existence in its entirety."11 Indeed, the sensations,
signs, and signals of metaphor flood all of our realities.
Everything "points." Everything "speaks." The simple, common,
humble, familiar, and unadorned harbor epiphanies that can catch on
fire at any moment. Ordinary events, dreams, nature, and intuitions
speak wonders that can serve as an address in any instant.
If we see things "trivial," the triviality is in
us. Existence, after all, implies feelings, and feelings imply
So "Let’s investigate the possibility that life
imitates art rather than the other way around."12 Let’s
consider that "The artist is not a special kind of man, but every
man is a special kind of artist."13 Let’s look into the
powerfully mysterious tensions between real life and hidden art.
Though brushed aside by the cultural elite, we
see early signs of these possibilities in the life styles of rap,
break dancing, and graffiti. We see glimpses of the future in those
popular arts which boldly dialogue over current morality and living
issues. And we see a warning shot across our bow as film makers
become the new preachers.
When will we learn? Art does not take place in a
We, too, must be living examples of this new art,
this new metaphor. Of course, there is no transcendence, no art,
without risk. So we must risk the "unknown" with the "known," the
awe with the ordinary, the mystery with the mundane, the numinous
with the natural, the intuitive with the intellect. For everything
"known" that glides across God’s face must take on the qualities of
A New Orthodoxy
Now that the arts have been "let out of school,"
what credibility can we give to their new metaphors? In the wildness
of all these "unknowns," what have we to stand on?
Strangely enough, Scripture provides the new
orthodoxy—the new credibility.
Yet, many doubt Scripture has anything to say
about the arts. Even believers admit the ancient Hebrews showed
little interest in the arts. After all, "Israel left no monumental
works of sculpture, art, or architecture to be placed alongside the
cultural remains of other ancient civilizations."14
In short, the Greeks had it, the Hebrews didn’t.
Some critics go further: "The Hebrew God doesn’t
want any arts!" "Scripture warns," they say, "not to make a
‘likeness of anything’." Of course, this command refers only to
worshiping ‘graven images’.15 In the same instant God
made this command, He also demanded a tabernacle requiring all the
Contrary to our Greek culture, the ancient
Hebrews were the only ones who really understood the true role and
purpose of art. And we’ve missed it: "It amazes me that no attempt
has ever been made to draw out the esthetic verity (the artistic
truth) of the Gospel."16 If we really believe Scripture
reveals all truth, shouldn’t Scripture reveal artistic truth among
And that truth begins with God as an
artist—"the first author of beauty."17 His
aesthetic beauty and His power are one.18 Even
Creation, itself, expressed the joy of an artist.19
In turn, God created man in His image20 and
"wrought great glory by (artists) through his great power
from the beginning."21
In other words, we were created to create.
No one questions the literary beauty of the
Bible. And informed students should admit the architectural splendor
of Solomon’s temple, though ruined later by the Romans. We must also
allow that much of the Old Testament was sung, and that frequent
mention of drama, dance, and visual art confirms an active artistic
But that’s not the main point.
Hebrew "art" was not just "art." And Hebrew
"words" were not just "words." To them, the "Word" was a living,
aesthetic experience. They even talked of "dancing" with it! And,
discovering wisdom, they would claim, "She (wisdom) came to me in
her beauty."23 Or at gatherings, they reminded, "Pour not
out words where there is a musician!"24
In other words, all of their life was inspired
metaphor. Secular art, in fact, was even part of worship . . . and
even part of Scripture! (The Song of Solomon remains a striking
instance.) And, their daily meditations moved through the
arts—through a "tale," a "riddle," a "song," a "lute," a "lyre". . .
. . . because God spoke to them through damah
or prophetic metaphor.25 Damah, in truth, was
their art! And it remains a perfect model of art today. More
important, it reflects the form art should take when it jumps out of
the box we’ve put it in. They believed anything born of the Spirit,
then shared with others, was damah. So music, dance, drama,
poetry, and visual art were all the same. And prophecy, metaphor,
art, meditation, faith, and inspiration were all the same as well.
We may not always recognize these inspirations as
"art," but they represent ultimate models of art. And, in Hebrew
culture, they happened any way, any moment, and in any space. They
occurred in endless multiples of form, time, and place.
We have found the radical orthodoxy for our time!
Poets and Prophets
Do we need role models?
If so, damah was also the language of the
Hebrew prophets.26 In other words, prophecy was also
Hebrew art. When Jehoshaphat asked Elisha to prophesy, he said,
"First bring me a musician."27 When David appointed
prophets, he ordained musicians (288 of them!).28 In
fact, prophecy and art were so closely linked that Ezekiel
complained when his listeners considered him "just another
This dual role did not surprise early cultures.
"Poet" and "prophet," for example, were the same word in Latin. And,
in the New Testament, Paul even called a pagan poet a "prophet."30
The early Hebrews would say, "If you achieve something in art beyond
the reach of mere human invention, then surely it comes from God."31
So, in damah, prophets were artists of
analogy and affinity, creators of comparison and contrast, virtuosos
of similarity and similitude. They held the tensions between images,
gestures, stories, puns, songs, sounds, and senses. In short, they
spoke the language of prophetic metaphor.
The majority of the prophetic books in the Bible
are lyric oracles or poetic songs. The Psalms, for example, were
originally sung. And Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea all had ministries
of drama.32 This marriage of spirit and art continued in
the New Testament, as well. Paul, for example, encouraged "spiritual
songs" which were spontaneous and divinely inspired.
Of course, Jesus’ entire ministry was metaphor.
Spirit became flesh and pointed out of the power to which it
pointed. This God/man said, "Anyone who has seen Me has seen the
Father." And His redemptive analogy took common, ordinary
things—good seed . . . sour dough . . . something buried in a field
. . . a dealer of pearls . . . a fishnet . . . the owner of an
estate . . . a wedding banquet—and infused them with power and
He was seldom far from street theater.
The rediscovery of these ancient truths brings
incredible revelations for today. No doubt, insular art is moving
outside itself and inside our self. No doubt, inspired art is
turning into the most powerful single force creating the future. And
no doubt, bold artists are becoming the unspoken prophets of our
So if we recapture the damah of prophetic
metaphor, we will finally understand the intended role of the arts .
. . the language of the postmodern world . . . and maybe our only
hope for the future.
Then, we will finally understand what it means to
be created in the image of a Creator God. We will finally know the
imperative to "call those things that be not as though they were."33
And we will finally bring deserved honor to the ancient Hebrews
where even the simplest act of breaking bread released eternal
"The artists of our era are not so much describing
the world as creating a new one." (William Irwin Thompson)
© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt
(See also "The Future of the Arts," Part I.)
1. In 1994, the Benedictine Monks of Santo
Domingo De Silos released an album called Chant. The entire
recording is chanting. The album went platinum on the Billboard
2. Uwe Siemon-Netto, "The Gospel According to
J.S. Bach." Civilization: The Magazine of the Library of Congress
(Feb/Mar 2000) pp. 45-49.
3. Steven Johnson, Interface Culture: How New
Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate (New
York: Basic Books, 1997) pp. 18, 19 (my parentheses).
4. Leonard Sweet, SoulTsunami: Sink or Swim in
the New Millennium Culture," (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999)
5. Ray Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual
Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (New York:
Viking, 1999) p. 16.
6. Johnson, pp. 238-242.
7. Kurzweil, pp. 223, 278, 279.
8. Johnson, pp. 212-215.
9. Brewster Ghiselin, The Creative Process
(New York: Mentor Books, 1955) pp. 181, 182.
10. Nicholas Wolterstorff, Art in Action:
Toward a Christian Aesthetic (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B.
Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980) p. 55.
11. Louis Dupré,
Symbols of the Sacred (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000) p. 99.
12. Robert Burdette Sweet, "Creatures of the
Metaphor," The Humanist, Vol 55, p. 26, Nov. 1995.
13. Ananda Coomaraswamy, quoted in Roger
Hazelton, Theology of Art (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1967)
14. Richard C. Leonard, "The Literary Arts"
The Complete Library of Christian Worship, Robert E. Webber,
Editor, Vol 1, p. 222.
15. Exodus 20:4, 5; Leviticus 26:1.
16. Andre’ Gide, quoted in Hazelton, p. 113.
17. Wisdom XIII.3, the Apocrypha.
18. Biblical "glory," for example, means both
power and beauty. See also Psalm 32:7, 118:14, 90:17; AMP.
19. Proverbs 8:27-30, Job 38:7; Ge 1:1, SEP; Eph
20. Genesis 1:27, AMP.
21. Ecclesiasticus XLIV.1-7, Apocrypha.
22. Exodus 15:20 and Ezekiel 4:1-3 serve as
23. Sirach 51:13, 14 The New American Bible.
24. Ecclesiasticus XXXV.4, Apocrypha.
25. Hosea 12:10.
26. Hosea 12:10.
27. II Kings 3:11-16, AMP.
28. I Chronicles 25:1, 7; II Chronicles 29:30.
29. Ezekiel 32:33, AMP.
30. Titus 1:12.
31. C. H. Peisker, "Prophet," The New
International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 1986 ed.,
32. I Kings II:29-32, Jeremiah 13:1-9, 27:1-7;
Ezekial 4:1-3, 5:1-4.
33. Romans 4:17, KJ.