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Human Flourishing and the Arts

As part of our series on human flourishing, we invited Hector J. Ramírez Martinez to talk with us about the impact and role of arts. Hector Ramírez is an actor who has founded not only the Ars Performing Arts Centre in Madrid, but also The Ars Vitalis Foundation with his wife Lillie. In the context of an interview, he talked with us about the development of their matters of heart which define their works.

After becoming a Christian, Hector Ramírez was heavily involved with the organization Youth With A Mission(YWAM), mainly in terms of evangelism expressed by drama, and theater performed on the streets. After about eleven years, he and his wife had a time of re-orientation, which was followed by the founding of TheAslan Theatre Troup with the purpose of reaching a professional theatre quality, as well as producing theatre plays which would connect with the post-modern mindset in the Western World.

During a sabbatical he took with his wife, Ramírez came to the following realizations: most Western Democracies which had always been characterized by a Judeo-Christian background, had undergone a radical paradigm shift. This new paradigm could be defined as a postmodern, post-Christian paradigm that implies the abolitions of absolutes and moral Christian values. He elaborates that one of the consequences of this new mindset is that the avant-garde artistic movements of the beginning of the 20th century contribute to produce a new aesthetic sensitivity that is not so interested in searching for the transcendent in art, but instead artistic manifestations begin to be seeing a way of self-expression, ideological propaganda, subversion, and entertainment. He argues that art no longer has that moral and didactic quality that contributes to enrich the human spirit, that used to be part of the classical tradition and the Christian worldview. And therefore, he says, we are living in the midst of a process of artistic and moral decadence.

Referring to ancient philosophical tradition with people like Plato, Aristotle, Horace, Vitruvius and others, Ramírez outlines an alternative of how we should view beauty and its purposes. In fact, the Greeks stressed the three transcendentals of truth, goodness, and beauty. They believed that these cosmic values are objective in nature and that someone they reinforce one another when taken into consideration by artists, philosophers, architects, and free thinkers; contributing in a subtle way to build a noble character and harmonious personalities.

Thus, Ramirez argues that following the classical motto of Docere delectando, to teach by entertaining, art can provide spiritual solace as well as diversion and recreation. He also stresses how the observations and reflections made by these philosophers have been proven right by scientists. As an example, he draws upon scientific evidence that children who are exposed to music perform better in other areas in life, especially in the academic context, than those who are not. From this he concludes that arts contribute to make us better human beings.

However, in his many years of work and experience, Ramírez realized that Christian arts ministries are mainly involved in arts for the purpose of evangelism. He argues that this reveals as a misconception of the purpose of arts and even of the character of God. In fact, he emphasizes that beauty is an integral part of God’s character and nature. He refers to the creation of the world which did not only aim for the preservation of life, but rather reflected God’s enjoyment of beauty. In fact, Ramírez outlines that in all of God’s creation there is beauty, structure, harmony, and design. 

This is also why the creation of the world ended in God assessing his work as being “good” (Genesis 1, 31). The Greek word used for “good” was “kalós”, which can be also translated as “well-made”, “free of defects”, “beautiful”, “noble”, “handsome”, and “attractive to the eye”. Thus, God’s creation was not merely useful, but also beautiful. Moreover, Ramírez stressed the first miracle performed by Jesus, which was the transformation from water into wine during a marital celebration. With this miracle, Jesus was pleasing the people’s gustatory senses and encouraged the enjoyment of life. 

Hence, Ramírez concludes that art shall have the purpose of arousing lofty feelings, emotions, and experiences in every human soul, and contribute to ennoble them. Thus, he argues, the idea of turning everything into evangelistic tools may be a misleading one since God is not a utilitarian God. He loves everything he has created and if nature proclaims the glory of God, it does so by being true to itself, not by changes its nature. If a bird decided it would need to begin to sing hymns to glorify God it would be destroying its own very nature, and it would not be of any help. It would rather become a religious freak without realizing that by being what God made it to be, it is already glorifying God. 

As we as human beings were made in God’s image, Ramírez argues that we also carry an artistic sensitivity. Even the first job that was assigned by God to a human, Adam, was a creative, intellectual, and imaginative job: naming the animals (Genesis 2, 19). Bringing together this sensitivity which lays in the human nature, as well as the connectedness of beauty and truth, Hector Ramírez argues that this gift of imagination can bring us in touch with what is beyond the material world: the spiritual world. Thus, Hector concludes that even though Art is not a good tool for preaching, nonetheless, if it is true to its very nature, art can help entice the human heart into the transcendental aspect of life and inspire the search for God. And to forge the bridge back to the shift in paradigm: Arts and the humanities can be great tools to help us find a language in a post-modern world, to reach the hearts and minds of those around us who have not found Jesus as their king and savior so far. 

Lena McNally

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