08 July 2014

In Pursuit of Better Art

Doug Giles:

If Christians are going to rail against Hollywood, I suggest getting into the fray and besting ‘em at their own game; or don’t bitch when they put out gay cowboy movies or when they morph Moses into some ganja smoking Rastafarian or something.
Is the church’s answer to LA’s lunacy the Left Behind movies? Or the ubiquitous and underfunded Jesus flicks that always have him looking like an angst-addled Jared Leto? Nothing like trying to beat something with nothing, Church.
Which leads me to dig the knife further and ask the church the tough question of why haven’t we championed serious involvement in the arts by our congregants, versus just hissing from the lattices of our stained glass windows? I have actually heard pastors condemn those who wanted to pursue a career in Hollywood and yet, I can’t think of a more needy place for serious and excellent Christian involvement than the arts.
It’s actually quite astonishing how much ground Christians have conceded to the godless materialists in the artistic realm.  It used to be that the church would commission art; now it’s hostile to artists.  It is certainly true that artists these days have a rather atheistic bent.  Consequently, their attempts at art can be glossy—pretty, even—but often lack the depth of true beauty.  Sometimes, the end results are pure propaganda.  Even so, it would behoove the church to seriously encourage and develop the artistic spirit in its people once again.

To this end, there are a couple of things that must happen.  First, the church needs to start treating art as media for sacred expression and treating artists with respect and status.  Second, the church needs to do its best to encourage those with artistic aspirations to develop their craft.  Third, the church needs to find a way to ensure the distribution of new Christian art.

While it is easy to feel betrayed by modern artists, or to fall into internecine squabbling over the  hermeneutical validity of, say, Christian pop music, it’s downright foolish to act as if art no longer matters since Christians are not in control of it.  The church must nonetheless begin to show respect for art and artists alike, and encourage artists to produce works of true beauty.

Additionally, the church must work on developing a framework for the craftsmanship of art.  Art is certainly a craft, and has certain standards.  Writers need to know how to be disciplined at writing, at developing characters, at composing prose, at plotting, at dialogue, and so forth.  Merely have a good moral isn’t enough; can the author show the moral to the readers with it seeming ham-fisted?  Can the writer present the moral without readers getting bored before they get to it?

Musicians need to know music theory.  They need to know the rules of composition.  They need to know how to play their chosen instrument.  Songwriters need to know how to craft songs, how to use imagery, how to make rhymes and weave meter through their lyrics.  Can they create a melody with lasting beauty that listeners don’t soon forget?  Can they lead listeners to a beautiful truth?

Every art has its craft, and craftsmanship is not intrinsic; it must be taught.  There must be room for experimentation and failure as well; it’s part of the learning process.  Not every attempt at a book turns out a classic, nor does every attempt at a song turn out a hit. Not every painting is a masterpiece.

Furthermore, it’s important to not get all bent out of shape if art does not conform to the saccharine standards of evangelical Christians.  The Bible itself is far from being a book of happily-ever-afters.  Many of God’s favorite people lied, committed adultery, murdered, were killed, and lived in misery.  The real-life experiences of many Christians are often like this.  Murderers come to Christ; adulterers repent of their sins; etc.  If Christians are to produce art, it must be real.  And reality is often bitter and repulsive.  If art is to be good, it must be honest for lies are from the devil.  And an honest look at this fallen world is not going to be pretty, which is what makes the story of redemption so beautiful to behold.

Finally, it is important to share this art with the world.  Lamps are not meant to sit under a basket, they are supposed to illuminate.  The gatekeepers of this world hate God and his children.  They despise life and beauty, and will fight anyone who attempts to spread the glory of God and the light of life to the world.  The reason why the gatekeepers kicked Vox out of the SFWA was ultimately because he created a work of art that showed just how depraved their materialist worldview is, and how utterly devoid of creativity and beauty their works truly are.  To be brief, the gatekeepers are not our allies.

To some extent, Christians can ally themselves with mercenaries (like Amazon, e.g.) but ultimately Christians will need to develop their own distribution networks.  This will require a good grasp of technology and business.  Artists are generally not good at either, which is why even some of the most famous artists end up dying broke and alone.  Christians who are good at either business or take should be encouraged to get into the art distribution market.

There is much work to be done in the realm of encouraging and promoting Christian art.  Christians need to refrain from stigmatizing art and artists (though they should stigmatize art that is Bad; not because it is art but because it is Bad), and they need to know how to recognize what is wholesome and produce art that is Good.  Then they can begin to criticize art in earnest.