Though Sittler’s writings
on the arts are scattered and short, they are among his most creative
and influential ventures. Though he never developed a “system,”
regarding the arts, one can be pieced together from his writings on the
topic over the years.
There is a
skeletal definition of art in an early Sittler essay: “The Religious
Significance of Bach’s Music.” Here he writes that a human being’s
“artistic productions” are “the reaction of a human being’s spirit
toward, or an attitude of a human being’s spirit before, all Reality.”
The quote can be fleshed out by adding a phrase that appears in many of
his writings: “in the language of the imagination.” For Sittler the
language of the imagination could be words, musical notes, brushstrokes,
dance steps, woven cloth, or stainless steel. That depends on the
language the artist’s imagination speaks.
Sittler’s enthusiasm for the arts drew no
distinction between “popular” and “high” art.
He praised novelist Joseph Conrad, but he
also liked the popular works of Kurt Vonnegut. He loved Bach and
Beethoven — and also jazz. Great art of any sort, he believed, evokes
feelings of awe and reveals God’s truths.
Sittler advocated the use of the visual
arts and fine architecture as expressions of religious belief. He
asserted that poetry and literature are obvious resources for preaching.
In general, he argued that the contemporary church does far too little
to incorporate the arts (other than music) into its worship and
A sample of materials on The Arts
available from the Archives
Reflections on J. S. Bach (Carleton College,
University District Lectureship: Contemporary
Witnesses To Damnation (Seattle), Audiotape (4/6-9/59)