My sister, who does not see herself as creative, was an Art history major. I was the world’s worst English major–can’t spell (thank God for spell-check), was trained from birth in grammar so am passable but doubt I could diagram a complex sentence, am poorly read, and am still confused about footnotes and end notes and bibliographies–but I like to write. My husband who is currently a watercolorists and trained as a scenic and lighting designer never saw a play before he met me (at around 23). Most of the people I would call artists (painters, sculptors, drawers, photographers, musicians, theater and film people, designers, graphic artists) would not self identify as Christians. Most of the Christians I know would not self identify as artists or even artistic/creative. In fact, many of them would raise an eyebrow at those of us who do.
We live in a crazy mixed-up world. Those most closely connected to the Creator unable or unwilling to embrace art while those farthest away (at least by most evangelical standards) using art and pursuing creativity with gusto. Much of the art labeled Christian is sadly seen by the rest of the world as sub-standard–uninteresting, poorly executed, or too didactic. Meanwhile, Christians (especially with more traditional bents) often discount non-Christian art as worldly and unworthy without bothering to learn from it. Honestly, I doubt I am telling any of you something you do not already know. So what’s the point?
Personally, I believe creativity is part of everyone’s DNA. yours. Mine. The heathen’s down the street. Your creativity may come out in how you dress or how you organize your desk and closets. Maybe you are a truly amazing cook or can really throw a party, complete with color coordinated place settings and party favors. Perhaps the margins in your history notebooks are full of caricatures and doodles or you are a wood carver by trade. It does not have to be painting or sculpture to be creative and you do not have to get paid, for it to be of value. At the same time, though all art is creative not all creative expression is art.
Some may think the distinction between creative expression and art is a line which does not need to be drawn. What I would say to those voices is–Please understand, I am not judging a person’s skill level with that statement. A person’s ability to render may be flawless but if there is no point, no push, no “about” it remains just a nice picture (someone’s creative expression), not art. At the same time, one’s skill may need training but if the piece clearly makes a statement, an argument if you will, that statement distinguishes it as art. Please also understand I am not trying to make a value judgment. Pretty pictures have value. They make a contribution. Our world is a better place because of their beauty. If anything deserves our critical eye, it is art.
Ideas expressed badly are not bad ideas, necessarily. They are bad expressions. And, here in lies my frustration with “Christian art” as well as Christian “art critics”. We do God no favors when we neglect our craft in favor of legalistic messages. We do God no favors when we so limit our definitions of what we are willing to call Christian that we cannot expect our “art” to appeal to anyone outside our own circle. We complain about how Hollywood portrays Christians yet our behavior and attitudes (even as they relate to art) give Hollywood plenty of food for fodder.
I would no more call most of what comes out of Hollywood art than I would call what comes out of the above art. Most of what Hollywood puts forth simply mirrors what it sees in the world. A lot of it is crafted well but little of it makes much of a statement. All of which is understandable; Hollywood is in the movie making business. Profit (as in money) is its bottom line. But Christian art ought not have the same focus as Hollywood craft.
Christian art ought to be about ideas. We need the freedom (from the Christian art critics) to reflect the world as it is by exploring what is good in unexpected places and by exposing what isn’t. We also need to figure out how to point our viewers to a better way without beating them over their heads with the Law. Craft and meaning are what make us artists. Both are in our DNA.
This post is part of the Synchroblog. Here are some of the other contributors:
- Bethany Stedman – How God Creates
- EmmaNadine – Creativity and Christianity
- Bill Sahlman – Created, Continued Creativity
- Heidi Renee – Synchroblog Creativity and Christianity
- Annie Bullock – Old Things are New
- John O’Keefe – What is Half of 11
- Kathy Escobar – open.
- Tim Nichols – Artist-Priests in God’s Poetic World
- Maurice Broaddus – The Artist and the Church
- Jeremy Meyers – Creativity First Christian Act
- Steve Dehner – The Divine Projectionist
- Ellen Haroutunian – Creativity and Christianity: It Matters
- Tammy Carter – His Instrument His Song
- Steve Hayes – Creativity and Worship
- Marta’s Mathoms – Mythos and Create-ivity as a Spiritual Act
- Peter Walker – Creativity and Christianity?
- William Lecorchick – Heaven and Hell
- Jacob Boelman – God’s Magicians