Author and Yale Professor Discusses Relationship of Justice and Art
To listen to Dr. Wolterstorff's lectures, visit the Brehm Center on iTunes U.
Fuller’s Brehm Center celebrated the inauguration of the Brehm Lectures, a new series of conversations on the intersection between worship, theology, and the arts, on Tuesday, November 3. A well-attended lecture and dialogue on the topic “Just Art: The Place of Arts in the Ethical Formation of Christian Disciples” featured Nicholas Wolterstorff, prolific author and Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology Emeritus at Yale University, and artist-scholar Marcia McFee.
In his lecture entitled “What Has Art to Do with Justice?” Wolterstorff argued against the notion of art’s inherent salvific power, calling this view held by many to be “patently false.” He used historical contradictions—such as art-collecting Nazi officers and beautiful ancient architecture built on the backs of slaves—as examples. “We will discover nothing if we remain at the ethereal level,” Wolterstorff stated, adding, “We must get down into the trenches.”
Wolterstorff proposed that attentiveness to the way art functions may “energize our striving for justice.” He described how art evokes compassion, noting that memorial art “keeps alive the memory of outrageous acts of injustice.” Further, the artistic value of singing Psalms in the liturgy of our worship services “shapes us into becoming lovers of justice.”
Expanding the topic of justice and human rights, Wolsterstorff stated, “People in service organizations sometimes fall into the trap of thinking a human is just a food-eater, a clothes-wearer, and a house-dweller.” Arguing that being human is more than meeting basic human needs, he pointed out the injustice of living in “aesthetic squalor.”
“Living in aesthetic decency is not a luxury, it is a moral right,” Wolsterstorff powerfully concluded. “Justice requires it.”
Marcia McFee, author, worship designer and leader, and artist, followed with a lecture on the dynamics of worship leadership. She echoed Wolsterstorff’s talk by pointing out that the visual and emotional connection experienced in worship opens us to be conduits of compassion.