Middle English allegorie, from Latin allegoria, from Greek allēgoria, from allēgorein to speak figuratively, from allos other + -ēgorein to speak publicly, from agora assembly
“Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it.” Flannery O’Connor
“Scripture tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our mind, not the removing of our mind.” Steve Thompson
The Rabbis of old pursued scripture in a fourfold manner, approaching the text as though mining precious gems. First, they examined the surface; the simple or literal meaning, called Peshat. Then they considered the suggested meaning, the Remaz. The third level, Derush, was arrived at by deductive reasoning. Finally, the allegorical, Sod, was explored. The first letter of the four levels, PRDS, are the consonants in the word Paradise. If the four layers could be plumbed, it was believed that the joy of paradise would fill the soul.
As I pondered this I remembered four questions, based on the writings of Francis Schaeffer and others, I have students consider when viewing art:
1. What do I see? (Literal level)
2. What is the artist trying to say? (Suggested meaning)
3. Does the medium match the message? (Deductive reasoning)
The 4th question may be the most challenging, for it is this question that reveals the artist’s nature. Francis Schaeffer posed the question in this way-
Is the work valid?
Question 4 speaks to truth and honesty, i.e., ‘Is the artist being true to his nature and worldview or has the artist found a way to market an ability? I am not sure what the term ‘Christian artist’ means but I do have a concept of what it means to be a Christian who is an artist. It means that, as an image bearer who identifies with Christ, when I approach a canvas or digital palette, I have a responsibility to the good, the true and the beautiful. Flannery O’Connor said it this way-
“St. Thomas called art ‘Reason in making’. As grace and nature have been separated, so imagination and reason have been separated, and this always means an end to art. The artist uses his reason to discover an answering reason in everything he sees. For him, to be reasonable is to find, in the object, in the situation, in the sequence, the spirit which makes it itself. This is not an easy or simple thing to do. It is to intrude upon the timeless, and that is only done by the violence of a single-minded respect for the truth.”