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Art and Christmas

Read time: 4 minutes.

Art and Christmas

[quote] At Christmas [/quote] we are reminded of the sublime paintings of the nativity as we put up our Christmas cards or see cheerfully posted images on Twitter/X or other media, as well as the more kitsch offerings of popular fancy! We may encounter art in museums when on holiday. We might have been put off ‘fine art’ by being dragged around galleries as children. We may have seen astonished headlines of the latest price paid for some coloured canvas, or the incomprehensible winner of the Turner prize ‘explained’ in highly confected language.

We also see its material cousin Architecture, from brutalist angular tower-blocks to classical pillars and gothic curves. It’s often the latter, at human scale but hinting at something greater, that is the most attractive and habitable.

What do we think God makes of all this? What’s a biblical response?


‘“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.’ Ex 20:4

Meanwhile, of course that’s exactly what was going on – in the shape of a golden calf. It’s not the representation but what you do with it. It cannot come between man and God. Plato apparently felt that all art was suspicious as it could fool you into believing something that was not true, not a true ‘form’. Art has been used in this way as propaganda – the Swastika, designed by Hitler to project power and Teutonic destiny. Wagner echoed this with pagan myths. Soviet art pretended that man under the State was the ultimate reality.

In Brave New World, God is deemed not to exist so ‘love of nature serves no practical purpose in the modern society: "Primroses and landscapes, he pointed out, have one grave defect: they are gratuitous. A love of nature keeps no factories busy. It was decided to abolish the love of nature, at any rate among the lower classes."’

Without God to worship (indeed we must seek to eradicate the evidence of his loving touch) the factory idol comes first and the enslavement of people – really the instinct to control all, as a god.


Much modern art presumes that the individual is the ultimate reality. So an artist can just declare something is profound and meaningful because they did it and demand that it is revered (and deserves a huge price tag). They even explain the thing in order to try to conjure up significance.

have to explain


It’s not just ‘modern’ art that can be like an idol, plenty of Renaissance biblical characters look like they are in Greek dramas with grand gestures, cherubs and pink limbs, also hiding God’s richer reality.

Visiting Hove’s ‘Museum of Creativity’ is depressing on all these points from the blatant gender propaganda to the banal explanations. But like a hidden gem, somehow escaping the curator’s cull is a small framed picture of A Rest on the Flight into Egypt. This is full of human sympathy, frailty, beauty and emotion. A picture of the real Creator’s loving hand of protection over us, while we endure in a world too similar to Herod’s vindictive malevolence. Though we seem so fragile, God’s providence is sure and his love secure.

I contacted the museum and Lucy (Acting Curator of Decorative and Fine Art) helpfully confirmed the artist as the Flemish Pieter van der Borght c.1618 – a detail:

rest on the flight to egypt - detail


As well as vision, skill, techne in Greek, is needed to create the work. This labour is an integral part of the creativity God has given us.

Somehow, the constraints of following creation-truth shape the finished work into beauty. So work is not just refining how to draw, sculpt, compose or write, but how to wrestle to see the Creator and creation as they really are.

Handel wrote Messiah over an intense 24 days. After composing the Hallelujah chorus, he is quoted as saying, "I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself."

Christians are rediscovering that following natural patterns in their daily work gives better results. A successful product designer said: ‘Through my work I most seek to represent God’s nature and character as the Creator’. This is also true in the best software: the more the programming language or operating system is fluent in helping good work to be done - creativity and techne - the better the outcome.


Killing the culture...

The Puritans are often scorned for their attempts to ban Mince Pies (wouldn't work in our house) – but like other reformers they were seeking to ‘put Christ back into Christmas’ when festivities drowned out faith. 

Today secular activists also want to ban things but for the opposite reason – they want to remove even the cultural memory of Christmas. So in the US and now the UK, it's ‘happy holidays’, supposedly so as not to offend other religions - but other religious festivals don't get the same treatment and anyway no one was offended! Christmas trees are cut (from the budget) in Hastings or are made to look ridiculous: spindly or leaning over (though Crouch End buck the trend). M&S had a TV advert casting scorn over the festivities (to general protest and rather self-defeating). This is part of the urge to destroy shared community, character and history as well as Christianity.


...and recovering it

But there are works that capture the eternal realities:

difficult journey

Fritz von Uhde’s A Difficult Journey 1890 (Wikimedia Commons) sympathetically records Joseph and a pregnant Mary walking a muddy road to ‘Bethlehem’ in this poor German village. Joseph, a craftsman, carries his saw.


The Chosen is a long-form TV series of Jesus. This depiction of his birth is human-scale and rather moving:

part 1 The Shepherdpart 2 The Messengers
chosen cmas
chosen cmas 2

True beauty

true beauty sort of seduces you toward the good, it pulls you deeper into reality’ Ken Lowry.

The nativity is an audacious miracle – God en-fleshed, super-real, so different to the hollow, derivative, mimicking ‘magic’ of man.

Rembrandt is one of my favourite painters for his humble, honouring presentation of people. Here is his Adoration Of The Shepherds (1646)  

adoraion of shepherds


The strongest light, as ever, comes from Him.