Book Review Arts 105 - 001

Background

The book spans across several decades, never putting strong emphasis on a specific one. The only focal points are or involve historical people and the organizations that have dealt with certain categories of art and the befits towards the church. The art forms are of specific groups that each represent their own unique styles and tastes. The main art forms that are covered include: theatre, music, dance, and even visual arts.

Body

Theater seems to be the first major art style Smith covers. During the social reform of the 1900s the American pageantry movement distributed theatrical reenactments of national history, but would be the stepping stone for church drama during the century. One form of drama that enhanced the education art in church was the Department of Fine Arts in Religious Education. Although the course focused on areas such as poetry and drama, its central goal was to instruct leadership skills necessary for directors in religious education and associations. It seems this section begins with the initial start of the churches adopting modern theatre for personifying the gospel. After which, there’s mention of denominations coming together because of this theatrical movement helping to strengthen plays that would later become major hits.
Music stands out as, possibly, the greatest and longest form of art style used by the church. Most notably are the singing schools that have been used throughout country and history. “Dating back to early eighteenth century New England, singing schools were meant to reform church music, worship services, and educate churchgoers.” (Smith) Later, southern United States adopted singing schools and later redesigned them into what is now known as shape note schools. The initial start of this chapter deals with the schools and education of music in the church; however, the section abruptly switches over to southern gospel music and influence. This chapter seems to be the first that offers strong emphasis on the musical artist of this genre.
Another artistic form that has experienced a revival with the church is dance. The greatest of this revival occurred during 1960s in certain ministry groups as Shekinah Dance Troupe, offering both planned and spontaneous dance expressions. It appears the book only covers the organizations that are affiliated with Christian dance. While the men and women who created each organization are mentioned, the focus is on the launch dates of these programs and their coarse over time. Further, this section personifies mainly the groups and a few of the most notable acts.
The visual arts have become the most modern genera. According to the book this field is one experiencing the most innovation. Some of the styles that first used visual art included architecture of churches. Then more modern forms associated with the media and entertainment began to take over. People such as Frank Beard and Al Hartly were some the few early artist of the twentieth century who worked as illustrators and comic book artist. This allowed them to introduce scripture in the form of Christian comics, Al produced 60 of these and selling over 40 million. “Jesus not only helped others practically but spiritually, through the art of storytelling.” (Mann) Further shifts featured the use of computers starting in the late 80’s, but by 2000 the internet whose initial development for government applications became available for church utilization in evangelism. While this chapter would appear out of context, the focus is completely linear. The beginning of the chapter is of the longstanding style architecture but as anyone would infer the style transfers from one medium to the next modern form, ending with computers of the digital age.

Evaluation

The book’s organization, although well formatted, seems rather intricate. The art styles appear to begin with the usual form used in church, but not the oldest form. Rather, the chapters that cover each individual style appear inconstant within a chronological sense. Some of the material at beginning of the book seemed distinct at first, but apparently was reused again in later chapters, almost as if for the first time again. The main intention is not about the church history or the art differentiation, but the organizations and individuals who used art to communicate Christianity to the world. Many to nearly all the organizations seem to be enacted around the revival of the 20th century. Continually, the entire paperback offers a seemingly endless supply of characters with a brief history of their life, career and contribution towards the church in artist education. It seemed to rather drag on when covering the preponderance of these organizations, and there appeared to be limited distinction between many of these group’s contributions and exertion. However, after their brief origin their main contribution towards the church, therefore art expression towards the world, is mentioned. As noted by Steve Turner in the early days of the church, “Christians were so distinguished by their lack of overtly religious art that the pagans derided them. How could this be a real religion capable of stirring worship and devotion if it didn’t have any physical representations to bow down before?” (Turner) This question raises a great point, as followers of Christ we are to go forth with the gospel and deliver it to all the world in all forms. So, Turner’s question is clearly satisfied by Smith’s numerous examples of individuals who brought scripture into every art form capable of massive stirring worship and devotion.

Bibliography

Mann, Douglas C. The Art of Helping Others: How Artists can Serve God and Love the World. InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2014.

Smith, Anthony T. A Creative Church: The Arts and a Century of Renewal. Kendall Hunt, Dubuque, IA, 2015.

Turner, Steve. Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts. InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2001;2009;.

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