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