Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Christian Art

Those of you who know me have probably heard before (too many times) my rants against much of what passes as Christian art today. There are all kinds of issues surrounding my feelings:
  • Those who worship the Creator ought to be the most creative, and avoid copying the broader culture's art. And they DEFINITELY should not produce bad art.
  • Christian propaganda art--art that exists to proselytize--should at best be rare. (I really want to say it shouldn't exist at all, but that's probably just an overreaction to the really bad Christian propaganda art out there.) Certainly art should point to God, truth, redemption, etc. But it should do so in a way that speaks softly to the soul, not bludgeons someone over the head. And it DEFINITELY should not be bad art.

  • There really isn't such a definitive category as Christian art. What makes a book or a song Christian? How is a painting or a sculpture Christian? Do they have to mention Jesus? Do they have to overtly point to God or some biblical truth? Some people seem to think that a movie is not a Christian movie unless it has some blatant invitation to respond to the gospel, as if the Holy Spirit cannot work in subtle tones (see the second point above). There is really only good art, mediocre art, and bad art. And Christians should DEFINITELY not be making bad art.

  • The American church needs to find a way to produce more artists, and provide for those whose art engages our worship and enhances our connection to God. Then we need to kill the whole "safe and fun for the whole family" Christian music subculture and challenge those artists who are truly musically gifted and called to be salt and light in the broader music industry.

Let me close with this extended quote from Thomas Merton in No Man is an Island:

There is only one reason why this [art helps with spiritual formation] is completely true: art is not an end in itself. It introduces the soul into a higher spiritual order, which it expresses and in some sense explains. Music and art and poetry attune the soul to God because they induce a kind of contact with the Creator and Ruler of the Universe. The genius of the artist finds its way by the affinity of creative sympathy, or conaturality, into the living law that rules the universe. This law is nothing but the secret gravitation that draws all things to God as to their center. Since all true art lays bare the action of this same law in the depths of our own nature, it makes us alive to the tremendous mystery of being, in which we ourselves, together with all other living and existing things, come forth from the depths of God and return again to Him. An art that does not produce something of this is not worthy of its name.


pablo said...

I like it! I hope that as a musician I will play and write music that is not copying someone else's style. Everyone is influenced by others, of course; even the most creative artists point to their influences. The difference with those who do it right is that they mix their influences with their creativity, to the point that their work is called "fresh" and "exciting." I'm working on mine but it is not yet there. Thanks man.

Arnie Adkison said...

There's no question that all of us are shaped by our experiences and our like/dislikes, and that as artists a certain amount of imitation is going to be there whether we want it to be or not. I will forever like 80s music, and I'm sure it influences any musical art I create. But when I play the guitar and sing, it's my childhood country roots that come out, even though I don't particularly care for country and haven't listened to it consistently for 30 years.

I know you'll be there!

Menachem Wecker said...

Thanks. I have posted my response to your comment on my blog, and I'd also call your attention, if you like Merton, to a piece I did on him for the Catholic Herald. (http://www.catholicherald.com/articles/06articles/book-merton.htm)

I'd love to keep the conversation going, if you'd care to respond on my blog or by email.

Anonymous said...

I read your comments on art, along with numerous others. The general consensus is that art made by Christians is in a sad state today. I'm not sure I agree. We have good art being produced by Christians and terrible art as well...just like the secular or non believing world. They have their good and bad art.

There will always be a majority of people claiming to be artists that put out very poor work, be it music, dance, or the visual arts, no matter what world view they hold.

The problem for Christian artists as I see it, especially for visual art, is getting the work seen. As a Christian and a visual artist, I have very few options available to exhibit my work. Secular galleries won't touch me, and neither will the more traditional "Christian" galleries.

There are a lot of artists who are Christians out there that are creating strong work, they're just having a hard time getting noticed.


Arnie Adkison said...


I happen to agree with you. There is a lot of great art out there, and much of it from followers of Jesus. What my post was about was what might be better termed Pop-Christian art, or what I (yes, perjoratively) call "propoganda art." If I can say it in a nutshell, what I think is that the average pew-sitting Christian (and here I admit I'm limited in experience with a ton in my own Baptist tradition, but I have spent some time in various other Evangelical churches) does not appreciate art, does not know that Christians are good artists in much of anything except music. In particular, books and movies (Left Behind, The Prayer of Jabez, etc.) that are popular among the average Evangelicals tend to be less about art and more about spreading propoganda. I'm not necessarily opposed to Christian propoganda, just don't call it art. Along with Christian sub-culture music, it's really in the entertainment genre.

You are right--I can't imagine the difficulty in getting art that has overt Christian symbols even in the creative ways you have done them to be displayed in the typical art museum. But I would sure encourage you to continue trying. Continue to let the creativity of the Creator work through you. And let's agree to figure out ways to encourage all believers to start caring about art of the best kind.