Influenced by: Hans Rookmaaker and a Christian View of Art

Many Christians do not know Hans Rookmaaker but his writings have affected my thinking since my college days. It was through reading Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer that I first heard of Rookmaaker. They thought highly of each other and that is shown in what Schaeffer wrote in the introduction of Rookmaaker’s The Creative Gift, “These essays represent the finest Christian thinking in the area of art and creativity. Until his death recently, Dr. Rookmaaker was known as a scholar of the highest caliber, and as a man of deep Christian commitment.”

Hans Rookmaaker, scholar and a critic of modern art came on the American scene in the 1970s. Photo by Rudi Beima

I recently found out more about Rookmaaker as I read Hans Rookmaaker: A Biography written by Linette Martin in 1979, two years after Rookmaaker’s death. Martin was a worker in the L’Abri community founded by Francis and Edith Schaeffer and in the book gives a glimpse of the life of Rookmaaker and he came to be so influential in helping Christians understand art and how we should view it. Hans Rookmaaker was the son of a Dutch diplomat and grew up knowing the privilege associated with that. But then World War II intervened and Rookmaaker found himself in a concentration camp. There he was able to read a Bible and this made him stop and think and Christianity grabbed him. He also was given A New Critique of Theoretical Thought by Reformed theologian Herman Dooyeweerd which Rookmaaker studied intensely. He discovered in Dooyeweerd a perceptive and challenging mind that resonated with him. Dooyeweerd’s concept of aspects of life: all of life is redeemed and this includes not just the physical, but the social, the aesthetic and every area of one’s life made sense to Rookmaaker and greatly influenced his thinking.

After the war Rookmaaker went back to the Netherlands and married Anky, a friend. In thinking about his life work he decided on Art History as he saw there weren’t many Christians in that field and he wanted to excel in it. He also realized that Christians really didn’t understand art and this mystified him as he thought that Christians above all others should appreciate the aesthetic side of life.  Rookmaaker met Schaeffer at a conference and they both went off and talked for hours and thus started a lifelong friendship. Both were Reformed in their thinking and appreciated the Dooyeweerd model.

Martin gives insights into Rookmaaker, a driven man who was not strong in personal relationships but influenced a generation of students to embrace all of life. Salvation was more than just getting “saved” but meant living your life to the fullest, enjoying the gifts God had given and developing the creativity that each of us has been given. Rookmaaker died in his fifties and his manuscripts are now part of a Wheaton College collection.

My own journey brought both Schaeffer and Rookmaaker to my life during college when I was first introduced to Reformed thinking. I read everything Schaeffer wrote and when I heard about Rookmaaker and I read his Modern Art and the Death of a Culture.  He, like Schaeffer encouraged Christians to appreciate the arts and to incorporate them into everyday life. They both encouraged young people to get into the arts, an area, like many others that Christians had left and thus no longer had a presence.  “Far from retreating into a kind of Christian subculture, leaving the world to its evil, Christians not only can, but must take part in the world’s activity. (The Creative Gift)

I appreciate this Dutch man who has influenced my thinking about the arts, not just the music which I have always been immersed in, but to look more critically at the visual arts, to understand them and appreciate their beauty. Art Needs No Justification, a short book expounding his view of art is found free online here. I use Rookmaaker’s books and ideas in my omnibus class hoping that my students will not only pursue truth and goodness but also reflect beauty. In The Creative Gift, A Letter to a Christian Artist written by Rookmaaker encompasses his view of art. “Art has done its task when it provides the neighbor with things of beauty, a joy forever. Art has direct ties with life, living, joy, the depth of our being human, just by being art… That is so because God, who created the possibility of art and who laid beauty in his creation, is the God of the living and wants man to live. God is the God of Life, the Life-giver.”

Who has influenced your view of art?

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4 Responses to Influenced by: Hans Rookmaaker and a Christian View of Art

  1. Rick Sorenson says:

    I am also someone who was greatly influenced by Hans Roookmaaker. “The Creative Gift” was the first book I read, that he wrote. I remember it was the only book on art in the Christian bookstore. I purchased it when it was released in the 1980s, maybe 1982 if I am remembering correctly, I was 17. Previously, the only other book I read for Christians, was Franky Schaeffer’s “Addicted to Mediocrity.” “The Creative Gift” was not replaced on the Christian bookstores shelf, I got the only copy the store ordered.
    As a 17 year old, his writings shaped my view of how Christians approach art. And, my creative products also finished out my education. I went on to one year of university, with art classes filling the year. Moved away, across the country, and basically just grew up, involved in church as a youth leader and in evangelism explosion and some missions involvement as well. Five years out of school, I went back, but specifically to an art school. I sought to become excellent in my craft.
    I was also influence by Chinese art, and the art evaluations formulated in the 5 century by Hsieh Ho, with the emphasis on a work having “life.” I found the Chinese appreciation standards agree with what I read by the Schaeffers and Rookmaaker.
    Having given a brief bio, I have read a few other Christians writings on art and noticed there has not been much written beyond what these 3 writers have observed and formulated. Almost everything I have read by Christians is quoting the same thoughts or points of Rookmaaker and one Schaeffer or the other. In other words, Christian understanding has not moved much in art’s understanding. I find it a little sad. One the plus side, there is more Christians that understand the arts, are open to the arts than there were in the 1970s and 1980s. This is where I think you are giving a great service to the students you are educating, of helping to expand the Christian audience who understand the arts and how Christians can approach the arts. Also, since you require the students to read these original thinkers writings, it helps them to understand what everyone else references.
    Lastly, I am glad you are teaching a grounded, thought provoking understanding of the wholeness of life.

  2. Janice says:

    Thanks for commenting Rick. I was on vacation and so I am now catching up on comments.

    I do think that Rookmaaker and Schaefer set the standard for my generation. Some of my students also read Philip Ryken’s ‘Art for God’s Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts’ which has some similar views and is short and to the point. I have read some other folks on art and have collected some articles that the students can read which deals with not just visual art but dance, music, etc. I have also looked a little into the philosophy of aesthetics and read Art in Action: Towards a Christian Aesthetic by Nicholas Wolterstorff.

    Thanks for your encouragement.
    Janice
    Janice recently posted..Come On Home by Brady ToopsMy Profile

  3. J.D. van den Hoeve says:

    Hi Janice,

    Have you read Daniel Siedells book ‘God in the Gallery’?

    John

  4. Janice says:

    J. D. I have not read it but I just ordered it. Thanks for the suggestion.
    Janice recently posted..Come On Home by Brady ToopsMy Profile

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