My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

27 January 2006

Wow. Great comments on that last post. I was glad that you caught the problems with the Francis Bacon quote (and Bacon himself). If you haven't read the comments, check them out and get going with your artistic, argumentative-self.

Here's another question/thought - do artists have more of a responsibility than others to make their work "Christian"? This leads to the question, What exactly is Christian art? Do we ever talk about Christian plumbing? Or Christian carpentry? Maybe we should...but what makes something "Christian" as opposed to...well, as opposed to what? I don't buy into the secular/sacred distinction because nothing lawful is beyond Christ's reign or beyond the possibility of glorifying God. This is partly why I like Steve Turner's idea so much: let's be Christians, men and women who love Christ, are passionate about righteousness and holiness and Bible reading and worship and all that good stuff. Then, let's be artists, or doctors, or mothers, or whatever is lawful and good. Tacking on a Christian veneer to art - say, putting Bible verses on all our pictures - makes art as much "Christian" as putting a fish emblem on your car makes your driving Christian.

On the other hand, it still seems that artists (and pastors, I think) have much more opportunity to lead people into sin than, say, plumbers do. A plumber may do some plumbing with a bad attitude, or without believing in the Kingship of Christ, but that doesn't make me stumble in sin. But if an artist uses all the tools at his/her disposal to either convince me of something that isn't true or lead me into sin, does that artist share some culpability for that? So, while the possibility of glorifying Christ exists in all professions, I believe we ought to be honest and tell the artists among us that they bear a special responsibility in Christ's Kingdom.

Always more questions, but these things are so important for us to talk about and wrestle with.


Last year our youth came back pretty from the high school winter conference pretty jazzed about Pastor York's lectures, which were themed on the life of Athanasius. Several reported on this "list" of how to decide what to do and what not to do. Please read it and think about it. It bears greatly on this topic of our involvement with the arts.


Becca said...

I really love the list that Pastor York gave us last year. Thanks for posting the link.

It's true that everything we do needs to represent the God we serve. Art just has that much more of an impact on the soul. For whatever reason something made for the purpose of communicating something to another person has that much more of an impression on that person. Our work reflects we are as people. The quality of our labor says "I have something to say, this is who I am, this is how I live. This is what I believe."

An artist's whole job is to "tell the world" what they think about life. That's why they create. Unlike the plumber who is "telling the world" but at the same time fixing something.

Ok, so I guess I am saying that the reason art has that much more of an impact on the world (and therefore artist need to be that much more careful) is because the quality and the way in which they do their work is the only reason they have work at all. They have something to tell us, and they must be very careful in what they say.

Though, I agree, we all must be careful.

Hi Jared.


Sam DeSocio said...

"It still seems that artists (and pastors, I think) have much more opportunity to lead people into sin"

You are definitely right, I think it has to do with a vocation being centered around communication. Pastor, with the grace of God, communicate the Words of God. Artists communicate, but those who have not let Christ take the reigns of Life often communicate sinful thoughts or emotions. That seems to be where the challenge lays.
That being said -- It seems that Christians should encourage their artistic brothers and sisters to do as much as they can in the world of the arts, to make Christ known to this specific art culture.

JBlogger said...

Please Note: I don't want to be misunderstood. In case I'm not clear, in the comments below, I am NOT promoting a thoughtless, wholesale consumption of Hollywood-ized sex and violence. Nor am I suggesting that young or immature Christians should be exposed or expose themselves to images that will cause them to stumble.

That being said...

The Christian artist does bear a special responsibility for Christ's Kingdom and the Christian community, but this question of "leading into sin" can all-too-easily become an excuse for avoiding the uncomfortable in favor of a blind and deaf mediocrity.

Just as a pastor should not be content to merely tickle the congregation's ears, so the artist has a responsibility to explore and expose the truth of human nature. Artists (Christian or non-Christian) should not be satisfied to only explore the beautiful or the saccarine, and we should not limit them to these subjects.

The ugly, the distorted, and the disturbing are also a part of our world, and the sensitive artist has a tremendous power to upset our expectations and challenge our assumptions about the veil we draw over our all-too-comfortable lives. Images of famine, war, disease, and destruction are not out of place for the mature Christian who is fully absorbed in the meat of the Word. In fact, in a culture dominated by quick and easy sex and violence every night on TV, a careful exploration of images that disturb us and drive us to question our assumptions can lead to significant personal, spiritual, political, and social transformation.

The Scriptures are full of powerful images--many of them as graphic and disturbing as anything the art world has produced. In the Bible we find endless brutality, want, destruction, and, yes, both the beauty and the ugliness of sexuality. We must not be seduced by the modernist thinking that these images are somehow "safer" because they are textual and not visual. Aside from the command to make no image of God (who is not physical and cannot be reduced to pictures), I don't see Scripture making this distinction.

Finally, Phillipians 4:8 should not be used as an excuse to avoid the uncomfortable in favor of the mundane. Paul is writing to a particular congregation in a challenging and uncomfortable situation, and the command to rejoice in the midst of trials is much different from the state of the middle-class American Christian, who can all too easily hide behind self-help books and happy Christian art--only occasionally concerned about the world around him or her, as produced in a Christian news magazine or on the nightly news. Also, we must not too quickly lump the words in this verse together. The first command is to think about whatever is true, and seeking out a lie--even a beautiful lie--is only a mask to hide the need for real and lasting beauty in our lives and our world.

Jared said...

Jonathan - right on. I wholeheartedly agree with your comments and they provide the perfect counterbalance to my mine (I think). By no means should artists avoid the hard (as well as the joyful) parts of life. And we shouldn't expect them to. Life isn't a Disney movie.

As I continue to ponder this, it really seems that artists are given a razor's edge to navigate between truth-telling and not causing others to stumble. Certainly we can't hold artists accountable for leading the most sensitive consciences into lust (say, by producing a non-licentious picture of a pretty woman). But there's something there, too - I keep thinking about the verse in Ephesians about there being some things that are shameful to talk about. Instead, we are to expose them and dismiss them. I think art can help do this.

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