Why is the publication of these writings so important? What does
Rookmaaker's legacy have to offer us in the new millennium?
First, his books and essays stand as a monument to the importance of
rigorous Christian art-historical scholarship. For many years Professor of
Art History at the Free University of Amsterdam, Rookmaaker was a
fastidious scholar. Today, when a postmodern fascination with all things
'aesthetic' and 'spiritual' can easily engender scholarly carelessness and
an ignorance of specific artworks, Roomaaker reminds us that Christian
commitment must never be used to avoid the kind of precise,
intellectual engagement which is so evident in his written words, a
painstaking attentiveness to the details of particular pieces of art, and to
the particularities of society and culture in which they are embedded.
Second, we are reminded of the importance of breadth as well as depth.
Rookmaaker's interests ranged far beyond the visual arts. He had a
fascinated interest, for instance, in music (especially the spirituals
and jazz), and in broader cultural concerns (youth culture, scientific
discovery, and much more). In an age of increasing specialization and
blinkered vision, Rookmaaker shows us that it is quite possible to be a
specialist and to be alert to the links between these specialisms and
much wider issues. Third, Rookmaaker sets the arts in the midst of a rich
and full-blooded Christian world view. For him it was not good enough
to claim that the arts are important for the Christian, and then justify
this with a few verses carelessly plucked from Scripture. We need to
demonstrate carefully what place the arts have in the grand and sweeping
purposes of God for history, and it was to Rookmaaker's immense
credit that for thousands he made this breathtakingly clear. In a climate
when the contribution of a distinctively Christian perspective on the arts
is so often ruthlessly marginalized, often to the point of extinction,
Rookmaaker's voice is one we sorely need to hear. Fourth, nourished by
the Dutch Neo-Calvinist philosophy of Dooyeweerd and his followers,
Rookmaaker provides a vision of the arts that does justice both to their
irreducible integrity and to their interrelatedness with other aspects of
God's world. Western post modernity relishes in the 'aestheticization' of
culture, sometimes to the point that the aesthetic threatens to swallow
up everything else in a wash of images. In his own day Rookmaaker
saw that a proper refusal to isolate or downplay the arts must not be
countered by a Neo-Romantic exaltation of the aesthetic. He knew there
was another much more fruitful option, implicit in the Christian faith.
We need to find it and celebrate it more than ever today.
It is a wonderful thought that this man's rare wisdom, which so
radically changed the lives of those who knew him, can now find its way
to a wider audience in the pages that follow. Rookmaaker's is a timely
wisdom, and it will inspire thousands for decades to come.