Friday, March 26, 2010

#9. Why does the Church hate art?

This is a serious question that I feel awkward even asking within the parameters of a one sided conversation spanning a few short paragraphs. However, in real life it seems I've been asking it about 4 or 5 times a week now for a month or two and so, to be consistent, it only seems natural to post it here. 1st let me try to establish some ideas about what art is and why the creative process matters, whether you consider yourself a creative (by hobby, trade, profession, etc.) or not. Then we'll try to have a conversation about the Church's approach or lack there of.

One of my best friends, Scott Erickson, is the only visual artist [painter] I know of in the world that has a full time job as a Pastor at his church. His job is, literally, to paint. A foreign concept to those of us churchgoers who grew up in modernity. But for students of History, it's easy to understand the principle that Ecclesia Church has adopted as a major value...Art Shapes Culture. For children of the industrial age this means that tv, movies, books & music create lifestyles, relationships, habits, and desires that we then adopt in an almost subconscious fashion. For history, that same methodology was calculated, but it used different variables including music (classical and mathematical), the visual arts, and the literary world (novels, poetry, short stories, and prose). There are a trillion examples to prove the principle. But one of my favorites has to do with American real estate. In the mid 1980's to mid 1990's America created, built, and moved to the suburbs. What Television shows were popular then? Family Ties, Mr. Belvedere, Growing Pains...all sitcoms about families living in the suburbs. In the mid to late 1990's America rediscovered it's love for urban living and the city. What shows were popular then? Seinfeld, Friends, Sex in the City, etc. Art shapes culture.

Now we could have a conversation about the validity of the art we consume in modernity and what's true art and what's manufactured art blah blah blah. No time for that...for the sake of this conversation we must assume that among the mess, true art and an honest approach to the creative process exists. We'll ask a question about pop-art garbage vs. honest creativity another day.

History tells us that in the Renaissance the Church really understood this idea that art is shaping culture. The church LOVED ART. In fact they believed in the creative process and it's importance in our lives SO MUCH that they gave a significant amount of time, energy, training, and money to make sure that they were making better art than everyone else. Think about the top five most influential and famous art pieces of all time. I bet atleast 2 of them were created by one guy...Michelangelo. I also bet that both of them ["David" the sculpture and "Adam" on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.] were payed for by...drumroll please.....the CHURCH! So I am wondering, OFTEN, what kind of art is the church paying for now?

If we can agree that art shapes culture and we can also agree that the Church should be in the business of doing the same...wouldn't it make sense to put creating, and sharing the created, at the top of our list of things to do?

From where I sit it seems like we don't really care much about art, if at all. We don't think about it, value it, pay for it, discuss it. The only thing even close to encouraging art that I can find happening currently in the American church, and it is happening ALOT, is we are sanctioning musicians to be really mediocre cover bands and sing each others songs. WE SPEND ALOT OF MONEY PAYING FOR CREATIVES TO SUFFOCATE THEIR CREATIVITY, PICK UP A NUETRAL COLORED CRAYON, AND COLOR INSIDE THE LINES. It's as if we flipped the call of Christ to be "IN the world, but not OF it." and we have decided to be "OF the world, but not IN it." We have got our own books, music, clothing, cartoons, television, radio, and movies. They all use language that we can understand and generate revenue validating our "OF"ness.

Derek Webb is very articulate on this subject and so I will end with a brilliant quote from a recent interview he did with the good people over at Mockingbird:

"As an artist, my job is to look at the world and tell you what I see. Every artist, regardless of their beliefs, has some way that they look at the world that helps them make sense of what they see. A grid through which they look at the world which makes order out of it. For me that’s following Jesus, for other artists it’s other things. It could be anything, but every artist has that grid. Most Christian art unfortunately is more focused on making art/writing songs about the grid itself. As opposed to writing songs about what you see when you look through the grid. I’m more interested in looking through the grid and telling you what I see."

Why does the church hate art? What's your answer?

"The job of the artist is to wake the viewer up." -Bo Bartlett


  1. Hope you don't mind... I linked this question to FB. I love it.
    I have heard it a million times and still love hearing it.
    Thanks man!

  2. I don't think that all of "The Church" hates art.

    Reformed camps tend to embrace the arts in general, recognizing the creativity and talent that God has graced into both redeemed and unredeemed of the world. Of course, an emphasis is placed on a well-informed spirit of discernment within that appreciation of art, so that God is ultimately glorified by how we engage with such things.

    Mainline liberal denominations have no problem with art. In keeping with their extreme inclusiveness - and their often deadly embrace of all things worldly - they are usually more than willing to jump into the arts without a second thought. Unfortunately, this type of openness can lead to a lack of proper thinking on important subjects and a "church" that has abandoned the Gospel.

    I think you are mostly referring to the fundamentalists, those who often do seem to hate art. I see their view on art as a warped understanding of how influential art is. They recognize the power of art to stir emotion and incorporate ideas - that scares them. The theology of fundamentalists, who are mostly Baptist, looks to keep the secular world and the church world as separate as possible. The idea that the artsy people would enter under the steeple and start challenging the establishment is terrifying for them.

    Rather than divorcing ourselves from art and from the culture of the world we should push into it, as Jesus says "be in it." At the same time we must hunker down in the Word so that our minds will be prepared to see the truths behind the veil lest we "be of it."

    There is much to appreciate in the world of art and its a pity that some in Christendom have become so callous towards creativity.

    PS - I found you thru Cameron Ford.

  3. Musically speaking "the church" is content with whatever radio dictates. And unfortunately we know that radio is geared for middle aged soccer moms with money or it would be good.

    So like everything else "the church" is only about money. When "the church" develops new priorities we will see art thrive.

  4. I can't agree with your main point 100%. Culture shapes art just as much as art shapes culture. There is no cause and effect, simply a correlation.

    And the problem with having the church be the leading edge of new art, or fully embracing people who see the world differently is that not everyone can relate to them. Art is appreciated a while after its made because people step back and compare it to society. That doesn't happen instantaneously, but the church however, should be of now.