Four Standards of Judging a Work of Art

Yesterday I shared Francis Schaeffer’s 7 perspectives in which Christians should consider art. Today I want to share his 5th perspective at more length. In this perspective, Schaeffer discusses how a Christian should judge a work of art.  I believe this to be a profitable discussion in light the desperate need among Christians to interact intelligently and sensitively with culture and art. Once again, please take a look at Francis Schaeffer’s book, Art and the Bible. It is well worth your time.  


What kind of judgment does one apply, then, to a work of art? I believe that there are four basic standards:

1. Technical excellence

I will discuss technical excellence in relationship to painting because it is easy to point out through this medium what I mean. Here one considers the use of color, form, balance, the texture of the paint, the handling of lines, the unity of the canvas and so forth. In each of these there can be varying degrees of technical excellence. By recognizing technical excellence as an aspect of an art work, we are often able to say that while we do not agree with such and such an artist’s world view, he is nonetheless a great artist.

We are not being true to the artist as a man if we consider his art work junk simply because we differ with his outlook on life. Christian schools, Christian parents and Christian pastors often have turned off young people at just this point. Because the schools, the pastors and the parents did not make a distinction between technical excellence and content, the whole of much great art has been rejected by scorn or ridicule. Instead, if the artist’s technical excellence is high, he is to be praised for this, even if we differ with his world view. Man must be treated fairly as man.

2. Validity

Validity is the second criterion. By validity I mean whether an artist is honest to himself and to his world view or whether he makes his art only for money or for the sake of being accepted.

To bring it down to earth, let’s see what happens in the art form of preaching. There is many a pastor who does not have validity. Some preach for material gain and others in order to be accepted by their congregation. It is so easy to play to the audience, to adjust what one says or the way one says it to produce the kind of effect which will be most beneficial to the preacher himself. And when one sees the issue in relationship to the gospel, the force of the dishonesty is especially obvious.

3. Intellectual content, the world view which comes through

The third criterion for the judgment of a work of art is its content, that which reflects the world view of the artist.

The artist’s world view is not to be free from the judgment of the Word of God.

We should realize that if something untrue or immoral is stated in great art it can be far more destructive and devastating than if it is expressed in poor art or prosaic statement.

But the greater the artistic expression, the more important it is to consciously bring it and its world view under the judgment of Christ and the Bible.

It is possible for a non-Christian writer or painter to write and paint according to a Christian world view even though he himself is not a Christian.

4. The integration of content and vehicle

The fourth criterion for judging a work of art involves how well the artist has suited the vehicle to the message. For those art works which are truly great, there is a correlation between the style and the content. The greatest art fits the vehicle that is being used to the world view that is being presented.

All quotes from Francis A. Schaeffer. Art and the Bible (pgs.62- 69). Kindle Edition.


One response to “Four Standards of Judging a Work of Art

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s