Monday, May 5, 2014

C. S. Lewis and the Arts

C. S. Lewis and the Arts : Creativity in the Shadowlands, edited by Rod Miller. Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2013. 149 pages. ISBN 978-0-9785097-7-4

Just when we thought nothing else could be written by Lewis, multiple books have been published the last few years. Many of these have come out because in 2013 marked 50 years since the death of Lewis. Many think that there are elements of Lewis that has not been explored yet. There can be a strong case for looking at the Arts through the eyes of C. S. Lewis since he was an English professor and a publisher over 50 books.

C. S. Lewis and the Arts is a collection of essays from some of the leading Lewis interpreters: David C. Downing, Don King, Jerry Root, Peter J. Schakel, Will Vaus and others. These essays "explore various aspects of Lewis's thinking in regards to art, beauty, creativity, and their value for humans" (xiii). The authors to not always agree with each other. However, the authors engage each other's ideas and these disagreements give a fuller picture of Lewis and the arts. The essayists not only Lewis thought about themes in the arts, but also add their own thoughts and current understanding about these topics. The reader not only learns what Lewis thought but ways to look at the arts from a Christian perspective.

In the first essay Downing critiques "Lewis's aesthetic theories in the Abolition of Man." He thinks that Lewis's aesthetic are "most persuasive when he views varied experiences of beauty less as embodiments of neo-platonic principle than a glimpses of a person" (6). In addition, he thinks Lewis's defense of the natural law is stronger than his defense of an objective theory of beauty in the Abolition of Man. 

Bruce Herman compares Lewis with two other authors in his essay: George Steiner and Hans Georg Gadamer. He attempts to show where Lewis is in agreement with these two authors. He analyses An Experiment in Criticism in his essay. Herman focuses on showing hospitality to the author of the text and the importance of submission to the text. Scott Key discusses the "moral aesthetic" of Perelandra. He seeks to provide an understanding of beauty. How do we judge beauty is a major concern. Don King looks at the poetry of Lewis. King tells us that Lewis major ambition was to be a poet, but ended up being a prose writer. He thinks, however, we cannot understand Lewis without understanding how he had a poetic imagination and continued to write poetry his whole life.

Rod Miller asks the question on what value does the art serve. He looks at Lewis's attempts to try to answer this question. Lewis says in Learning in War-Time, "He [the practitioner of the arts] must ask himself how it is right, or even psychologically possible, for creatures who are every moment advancing either to heaven or hell, to spend any fraction of the little time allowed them in this world on such comparative trivialities as literature or art, mathematics or biology. If human culture can stand up to that, it can stand up to anything" (47). This sermon by Lewis was addressed to college students who were also Air Force cadets in World War II. How can we pursue our studies at a time of war? Lewis gave many answers in this sermon and other works. Miller does not seem to be completely satisfied with Lewis's answers. In addition, he has a problem with art for art's sake. He thinks there is a higher purpose. He concludes: "As Christian consumers of cultural products we have the freedom to choose those lower works for mere aesthetic pleasure or those of a higher nature that inspire us rightly, increase our devotion, knowledge, wisdom, and love. Christian duty, however, compels us to mirror in the world as much Truth, goodness, and Beauty as we know . . ." (58). I do not think Lewis really disagrees with him. Lewis would probably seek a middle position between the rejection of art, a utilitarian view of art, and idolizing art.

Jerry Roots seeks to defend the objectivity of art in his essay. He argues that Lewis was an objectivist and argued that there were ways to evaluate art. He disagrees with Downing that the the argument for the objectivity of art is not successful in the Abolition of Man. He also describes the debate between Lewis and Tillyward documented in The Personal Heresy. 

Other essays discusses the problems of literary criticism. One of the complaints is that it prevents the reader from seeing the text the author has written. In addition, it looks at ways to determine the good reader. Schakel loos at how Lewis uses music and dance as metaphors in his writings. Another essay discusses the purpose of art. The author makes the following assertion: "My astonishing claim is this : Most of evangelical Christianity for the last hundred years (and longer) has gotten art and culture all wrong, but, as per usual, C. S. Lewis gets it right. We don't know what culture is for, we don't know what is art for, and we keep asking the wrong people: theologians" (115). He thinks the right people to ask would be practitioners in the arts. This seems to be a valid point. One goes to a plumber if they are having problems with the drainage pipes.  The last essay gives an overview of Lewis and the arts. He provides what advice he believe Lewis would give Christian writers today.

C. S. Lewis and the Arts is a welcome addition to the Lewis canon. The reader will learn both what Lewis thought and how to view the arts today through a Christian perspective. It is recommended for all readers who are interested in Christianity and the arts.

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