Jennifer Allen Craft’s Placemaking and the Arts: Cultivating the Christian Life is one of those books that lives at an intersection of topics one might not normally see as connected. Craft pulls together insights from the Bible and Christian theology on the concepts of place and embodiment with her extensive knowledge of the arts to draw readers’ attention to how our theology of place may be developed and grown.
After a brief introduction, Jennifer Allen Craft provides working definitions of place and art. Place is not merely physical; it involves social relationships, networks of people, and one’s mental states as well. Moreover, space is distinguished from place in that the former is a kind of universal denotation while the latter is particular (8-9). The reason to deal with place as Christians is because it helps answer who we are and why we are here–really here in a sense as embodied creations of God. Art is notoriously difficult to define, and Craft opts for a somewhat general definition, with a few qualifications: art, for her, “will be generally referring to some practice or object of the fine arts…” though she also includes craft, folk art, and other “making” practices (21). Art is important because it helps humans define themselves and relations to others.
Craft argues that the arts can help us to cultivate responsible relationships with the natural world. Integrating nature into our imagination helps us see it as valuable and calls us to protect it. Humans as the image of God can be seen as co-creators rather than simply those exercising conquest of the earth. We participate, through art, in creation and the natural world.
Art can also help in the processes of homemaking and hospitality, each aspects of place that allow us to form our own space. Craft notes the ways that people have created false dichotomies or devalued the arts as well as ways we can correct those misunderstandings. The arts can enter into church as well, leading to worship and the sense of community. Interaction with art can also help stir a sense of wonder at the majesty of God’s creation. The arts can also help Christians see the Kingdom of God on earth and the shaping of that Kingdom in the here and now.
The book is peppered throughout with images, both black-and-white and (in a set of plates in the middle) in color. These help illustrate Craft’s points more vividly and allow the reader to reflect directly upon the themes of the book.
Placemaking and the Arts is a fascinating look at the unity of two themes that aren’t often explored in conjunction. On a higher level, it is a call to Christians to be co-creators with God and to see the impact of the arts on every aspect of our lives.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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