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Art for God’s Sake?

Hard to believe, but I’m starting my second calendar year as a full-time student. And as a non-artist with an art major, it’s been an interesting ride that only promises to become even MORE interesting as time goes on :)

Registration was this week, and even tho classes do not begin until Tuesday, I’ve already picked up some of my required reading for the semester. One of the books, a short one called Art for God’s Sake, caught my attention and I started reading it. The author wants to make a case for the church to embrace the arts… but even in the first few pages, I’ve seen a few things that have raised some red flags for me.

Red Flag #1: Truth or Emotion? The book opens with the author’s account of a visiting an exhibit in NY many years ago, something which obviously impressed and had a great positive impact on him. He goes on to say that art has a place in expressing both beauty and truths about God. The cover art for the book shows a piece by that same artist, called “Trinity.” But that work, which consists of three vertical bands of color in an elongated flag-like configuration, doesn’t seem to communicate anything of significance about doctrine of the Trinity. It’s a simple piece that is distinguished more by how it was made than its actual content. The colors are created from different mineral pigments — natural substances (like gold). But no matter what side of the Trinity/Oneness debate you fall on, the artist’s use of distinct substances in the color bands would seem to contradict even the most basic understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. So while the work is undoubtedly the artist’s sincere expression, it doesn’t really communicate truth, let alone any facts in the strictest sense. Art, in my experience, is generally less about communicating truth and more about communicating emotion.

Red Flag #2: Self-proclaimed Calling? The author cites an article in a student newspaper. The student asserts that her artistic talent is a calling from God… but she became “sick of her peers’ indifference to her calling.” The author clearly sees this as a case of a poor, persecuted, and unrecognized artist. Unfortunately, there’s a fine line between “reveling in your calling” and just plain being full of yourself… and artistic personalities often come off as the latter to those who do not share their enthusiasm. My primary issue here is that “calling” is a subjective thing. Just because you *feel* called to something, that doesn’t *make* you called! And by extension, just because you *feel* called, that doesn’t obligate others to recognize and/or support you. What would churches be like if everyone who felt called to preach was given free access to the pulpit? Asserting that you are called to something, and then bellyaching because no one else recognizes it… that’s not a hallmark of maturity. Even those who are truly called often experience long waiting periods and seasons of discouragement. IMHO, that’s what weeds out the truly called from the “so-called.”

Red Flags #3 & 4: Subjective standards? Superior Attitude? The author talks about how Christians seems willing to settle for second-class artistic expression… specifically, “Sometimes what we produce can be described only as kitsch — tacky artwork of poor quality that appeals to low tastes. The average Christian bookstore is full of the stuff, as the real artists will tell us, if only we will listen.” I don’t like a lot of the stuff that I see in Christian bookstores, but let’s face it: much of this is a case of supply and demand. For reasons that I don’t understand, certain things that have no appeal to me have great appeal to other people. And this is true not just for the Christian market: a quick survey of TV commercials or the aisles of your local WalMart should be more than enough to confirm that. Tastes are subjective. Labeling one group’s tastes as “low” is subjective at best and offensive or prideful at worst.

And that’s just from the first couple of mini-chapters.

Art is not theology. It isn’t doctrine. It isn’t immutable. Art can be a very valuable tool, and that’s how I choose to see it. I want to use art — specifically, the digital arts — to advance the vision and ministry of the church. It seems like others might prefer to use the church to advance the arts in general… or their art in particular.

Yeah, It’s going to be an interesting semester for sure :)

One Response to “Art for God’s Sake?”

  • Buddy Martin says:

    Jenni,

    Loved this entry. It is well written and straight to the point. Don’t know which ‘Red Flag’ I liked the best but #2 would likely be my pick. (They are all good.)

    Thanks sis.

    Always your aggravating buddy in Christ,

    Buddy