Jennifer Allen Craft. Placemaking and the Arts: Cultivating the Christian Life. IVP Academic, 2018. See here to purchase the book.
Jennifer Allen Craft has a Ph.D. from the University of St. Andrews and teaches philosophy, theology, and the arts at Point University, which is in West Point, Georgia.
As the title indicates, this book is about how the arts convey and contribute to Christian place-making. Craft distinguishes between a place and mere space. In reading that, I thought about a time when my Mom and her husband moved into a new house. Initially, the house was just space: empty rooms. When my Mom was through decorating it, it became a home, bearing the family’s distinct personality and history. In short, it became a place.
Craft discusses four topics, some of which overlap with each other. The first topic is nature. Nature is beautiful, awe-inspiring, and worth preserving, and humans have a divinely-imparted responsibility to be stewards of it. The second topic is hospitality and homemaking. This concerns homes and churches being hospitable, but it also has larger social justice ramifications, such as the preservation of distinct societies in the face of massive homogenizing interests. The third topic is the divine presence and place: sanctuaries and places of worship, in short. The fourth topic is God’s kingdom. This topic has the strongest social justice element, as it concerns being inspired by beauty or challenged by art and performing ethical action in light of God’s eschatological in-breaking.
The chapters interact with authors, theologians, and the Bible. Craft acknowledges tensions within Scripture: the tensions between home and exile; between Jesus telling people to leave their families and Jesus telling people to go home to their families; between feeling homeless and finding one’s home in God and finding one’s home in home; and between the priestly and Deuteronomic conceptions of the sanctuary. She talks about when desires get misplaced, as the desire for sacred place, when motivated by a desire to be like God, led to the Golden Calf.
And, of course, the work interacts with works of art that Craft believes illustrates these topics. Most of the works are from the twentieth-twenty-first centuries, but there are occasional exceptions. Craft refers to an African-American community that has been making quilts since the time of slavery. She briefly contrasts medieval and modern art on the notion of sacred space.
This book did not get as much into the artists’ backgrounds and beliefs as another book in this series that I read, Modern Art and the Life of a Culture. It did occasionally, though, as Craft honestly acknowledged that some of the artists are skeptical of religion, or may be skeptical yet respectful. She refers to Jacob’s statement in Genesis 28:16 that the LORD was in that place, and he was not aware of it.
I liked the other book that I read in the series, Modern Art and the Life of a Culture, better than this book for a variety of reasons. I thought that Modern Art got more deeply into the artists’ religious beliefs, the complex nature of them, and the different scholarly conceptions of them. I also thought that the Modern Art book discussed more the different positions on art: how art performs a spiritual function. Craft’s book struck me as more homogeneous, and a lot of the points that it hammered over and over seemed rather obvious or conventional: beauty should inspire action! This is an important point, and books should make it, but it is also nice when a book can convey something fresh. Occasionally, Craft’s book had interesting insights, as when she said that Adam, in naming the animals, was giving them a sense of place. Her discussion of the art may interest readers, since she talks about a variety of pieces and thoughtfully details their message and significance, or, more accurately, how they convey the same sorts of themes in their own unique ways.
These are my impressions of the book. Others’ impressions may differ.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.