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Definitions of the Arts & the Artist

There are several questions related to the area of artistic expression that might help answer, at least briefly, the question, “Why are artistic specialists…in general so important to and needed by human community and culture; and specifically so important to and needed by the Church as primary worship and ministry leadership

What are the ARTS, generically?

Biblically speaking, and in summary, the arts are in general terms,

… imaginative human expression.

What are the ARTS, technically?

… the imaginative rearrangement of creative human expressions (metaphors, symbols, and signal systems).

what specifically are ‘human signal systems’?

The best help here I’ve found comes from Dr. Don Smith’s good list:

verbal expression
writing
numbers
pictures
things [objects and artifacts]
sound and silence

movement, [motions, expressions, posture]
optics [light, color]
touch
space
time
taste & smell

(p. 146 of Donald K. Smith’s book, Creating Understanding: A Handbook for Christian Communication Across Cultural Landscapes. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992).

Dr. Smith explains how these human signal systems work:

“All human communication occurs through the use of (these) twelve signal systems. . . . (And) as you move down the list, you see decreasing consciousness (but) increasing believability.”

Therefore (to review), note that “art” or “artistic expression” is:

. . . the imaginative and creative rearrangement of these human signal systems, done so by human expression specialists.

Why this definition is “controversial” to some art-thinkers today:

This definition of “artist expression” may be controversial to some scholars and practitioners of biblical theologies of art. First, the modern view of what now is called art or the Arts is a notion very new to human culture, and a very different view than one held by people in Biblical times. One in the Second Millennium BC (the times of Abraham, Moses, and Joshua) would never have the sort of discussion artistic expression accepted as common dialogue in 21st century society.

Second, the question posed by many Church Leaders, “Do artists and artistic expression fit in the Church these days?” is a question that only a Modern Westerner would even think to ask. But it is asked because today the Modern cultures of the world have developed a cultural institution that before the 1800’s had never existed before in world history: the “institution of high art.”

Dr. Nicolas Wolterstorff, respected philosopher, aesthetics professional and educator, lists four different ideas for the way works of art could be defined today: 1) as one of the fine arts; 2) for its aesthetic goodness; 3) as a human artifact; and by others; and, 4) as something produced as an object of aesthetic contemplation. Wolterstorff contends that a combination of two or more of the ideas is what constitutes a work of art.

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