About a month ago, I published the first article from The Worship Collective, Implicit vs. Explicit. In which I put an outline on what it is that makes much of christian artwork bad art.
It has garnered quite a response. Much of it positive and in agreement. However, there has also been a backlash amongst some. Others just have questions about this line of thinking.
Here were the most common questions and responses. I will answer.
1. What about the Sistine Chapel, idiot? – This was an actual response. I angered this person to no end, which is fine. I’m not interested in writing to make everyone feel good. Truth is more important. But this appeal calls to look at the beauty of something like the Sistine Chapel in which a masterful artist portrays explicit biblical images and themes. This seems to trump my argument quite clearly, no?
I don’t think so.
I would point back to what I said near the end of the article. It is when the explicit message comes before the form that makes the piece bad. And when I say “come before” I mean that it is clear that the primary reason, or primary concern, of the artist is to preach their agenda. When I go to the Sistine Chapel, I want to go to see beautiful images. I want to see a master artist use the ceiling and walls as a canvas to display something beautiful. Is there a message behind his images? Yes. But that didn’t mean he slacked off on his depictions in order for him to get his message across.
2. What about Hymns and Worship Music? – Some hymns are like an amazing home-cooked meal. Others not so much. Again, yes, the message is clear. The purpose is quite explicit, but the words and melodies are beautiful. It’s great music. These hymn writers knew how to craft a good tune and they did it for their Lord. They were so motivated by the gospel that they wanted to create good art. This may be tough to understand. Allow me to demonstrate:
Let us use the hymn “It is Well.” Many adore this song including myself. How could we make this more explicit and metamorphose it to a bad piece of art? Try making the words less expressive and more clear of the message. How about:
“Even if I go through pain,
I’m okay because I love Jesus,
It may not feel good but It’s okay
because Jesus loves me.”
Now, this is in the same line as the message of the hymn, but far less poetic than
“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrow like sea billows roll,
whatever my lot, thou hath taught me to say,
it is well, it is well with my soul.”
Which is better?
3. Is this mutually exclusive to art within a religious framework? Does this also work for secular art? – A very good question. No. This line of thinking can also be attributed to the secular art world as well. Think of someone with a political agenda or a social agenda. Imagine it’s something you do not agree with, and they used a canvas to express their agenda. I would venture to say, not only would you disagree, but it would be distasteful. It doesn’t ask any questions or express any emotional truth. It’s simply trying to convince you of something rather than relate with you. Yes. This works for all art.
4. Does God care? This question got me to think long and hard. Does God care how good the art is? Does he care about the Implicit or Explicit notion? I think God care’s more about the state of one’s heart and what flows out of it. That is far more important than any artwork. But lets think of this in terms of “Does God care about how we work?” The answer is yes. He desires for us to work hard, work well, and with integrity. So what is art if not blood sweat and tears? Artists, make art. Make it well. Care about the form, care about the message, do it with a sense of wonder and awe. Be imaginative. But don’t feel as though you must be explicitly clear with your faith at the expense of your form. Tell a good story. Paint a pretty picture. Write an emotional piece of music. Do it because God likes good art.