This year marked the tenth anniversary of ArtPrize in Grand Rapids. ArtPrize is an international art competition that takes place over 19 days every other fall. More than $500,000 in prizes are awarded. In 2018, there were over 1,260 works created by artists from 41 states and 40 countries displayed in over 165 venues throughout the city. With over 500,000 visitors, it is the most attended public art event in the world. ArtPrize was launched by Grand Rapids native and entrepreneur Rick Devos in 2009. But no one could have anticipated the overwhelming response. Restaurants ran out of food. Hotels ran out of rooms. When Brooklyn artist Ran Ortner won that first public vote, peopled lined up for several city blocks to see his large-scale painting of ocean waves.
The churches I have been a part of have generally not placed a high value on aesthetics. We are Bible people. We focus on substance – not appearances. We find our identity in our doctrinal orthodoxy. We take pride in our commitment to morality. And we value frugality. Art seems extravagant and superfluous. But what if art and beauty is not a diversion from the gospel but actually a critical aspect of the gospel? What if beauty was the door to effective gospel ministry? What if beauty is what catches people’s attention and gives weight to our words?
Peter urged the church to “live such good lives among the pagans, that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). This particular word “good” calls us beyond mere morality. Our lives and our works should be pleasing, inspiring, noble, winsome, eye-catching, fine, excellent, and beautiful. Paul urged believers to live quiet lives – lives that were free of angry disputing. He wanted them to live in a way that would be attractive to outsiders (1 Thessalonians 4:12).
We, like these first century believers, are encountering an increasingly skeptical and jaded culture. But the beauty of the church can disarm this antagonism. They might not agree with our message but they should be inspired by our generosity and our love. We are to be God’s masterpiece that draws in the world and gives them a glimpse of life as it was meant to be lived (Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)).
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/5052637731