Thursday, Sept 29 | 11:10am-12:15pm

KEYNOTE | Room 210 (Instrumental Hall)

C.S. Lewis and the Arts 
Dr. Michael Ward

Though Lewis had interests in music, painting, architecture, and other art forms (see Schakel 2002), he was above all things a literary figure.  He thought deeply about the nature and purpose of writing and reading, and the principles that governed his approach to literature, as expressed in An Experiment in Criticism (1961) and elsewhere, are applicable across the artistic spectrum and remain relevant and helpful.  

My lecture will focus on three aspects of his approach:

A work of art may be considered both as poiema (‘something made’) and as logos (‘something said’), and all due weight must be given to the former in order to prevent art from devolving into mere propaganda.  As Keats said, we dislike works that have a ‘palpable design’ upon us and, paradoxically, artists are more powerful communicators if they respect their audiences enough to allow them to miss the point of the message.

Audiences, then, must keep their side of the bargain and be content to ‘receive’ art and not immediately insist on finding an obvious ‘use’ for it.  Artistic enjoyment has value in itself, quite separate from any economic or political utility that it may possess, and a truly liberal attitude to art requires that we embrace it disinterestedly.

Although the artist’s didactic purpose and the audience’s utilitarianism must be kept in check, Lewis believes firmly that both artists and audiences should have ends in view.  How he understands and defines these creative and receptive ends will be the subject of the third part of my lecture.   

In conclusion we will see that Lewis, though often held to be a formalist, a moralist and a traditionalist, has an approach to art that is remarkably unconventional, exploratory and innovative.  His attitude is a relaxed and tolerant antidote to today’s increasingly politicised and polarised ‘culture wars’.


Described as "the foremost living Lewis scholar” in The Times Literary SupplementMichael Ward is a Fellow of Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford, and Professor of Apologetics at Houston Baptist University, Texas. He is the author of the award-winning and best-selling Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis (Oxford University Press, 2008), co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis (Cambridge University Press, 2010) and presenter of the BBC1 television documentary, The Narnia Code.  On the fiftieth anniversary of Lewis's death, Dr Ward unveiled a permanent national memorial to him in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey; he recently co-edited a book of essays marking that occasion, entitled C.S. Lewis at Poets’ Corner (Wipf & Stock, 2016). Dr Ward read English at Oxford, Theology at Cambridge, and has a PhD in Divinity from St Andrews. His real claim to fame, however, is that he handed a pair of X-ray spectacles to Pierce Brosnan in the James Bond film, 'The World Is Not Enough'. More details  at

Back to Schedule