There exists a chasm between Christians and good art.
The most frustrating thing about being both a Christian and an artist is the fact that my fellow brothers and sisters consistently fail to understand what good art is (and why Christian art blows.) Thus making it difficult to communicate on matters of worship, beauty, truth and form. I’ve gone many years trying to explain why art is important, why art that is difficult to understand or uncomfortable to view can still be worth the struggle. It creates a feeling of isolation. Does anyone understand me? A few do. And we’re spearheading this blog.
Two weeks ago, The Huffington post turned out a fantastic profile on the artist, Lecrae. Many in christian circles love the guy and it is not hard to see why. His vulnerable and honest lyrics pair well with his progressive and infectious hip-hop beats and he challenges many on what they believe. He has consistently been in my playlists, if that says anything, and has been a part of my growing affection for hip-hop music. However the author of the article, Jon Ward, celebrated Lecrae’s departure from mainstream christian music and lauded the way the rapper mingles his faith with his art despite this fact. He explained the issues he has with Christian music and pointed out the frustrations Christians have over Lecrae’s recent changes.
This piece of writing was inspiring.
But I was particularly struck with a certain quote that Ward iterated. It comes from the brilliance of C.S. Lewis:
“What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects — with their Christianity latent,”
It captures the problem with christian art: Amongst evangelicals, the explicit trumps the implicit.
The film, “Fireproof” is an explicit (and christian) film. The agenda presents itself clearly and very early. Kirk Cameron needs to fix his marriage and the only way for him to do that is to get right with God. The film wants to explicitly give their version of the gospel and show how it can better one’s life. It was praised by many in the evangelical community and was showcased at many churches.
This type of art is bad art.
The film, “The Tree of Life” is an implicit film. In abstract ways, director Terrence Malick paints a picture of life by focusing in on a family’s evolution and their coping with the death of a son. Many characters pose questions, all of them directed toward God. Malick portrays heaven, he portrays the creation of the universe, he displays a verse from the book of Job that seems to be at the heart of the movie, “God is God. You are not.” Critics and filmmakers are still talking about this film and what it is in fact trying to say. It won the palm do’r at the Cannes film festival and was nominated for five Acadamy Awards.
This type of art is good art.
I will not argue the fact that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, especially in regards to taste. Also, the mere fact that a film has won many awards does not make it good art either, though I do think it can be a sign of what many professionals believe is excellent crafstmanship. I am also not saying that if one likes the film “Fireproof,” that they are wrong. I am simply saying that they enjoy bad art. In the same way that one can enjoy greasy fast food and say it’s the model meal for everyone to eat. Wrong. Just… No.
Billboards are explicit. They function as a way to display information for businesses and groups. Do they ever catch your eye? Sure! Can they be pretty and designed well? Absolutely. But those come second to the primary purpose: advertising.
And that’s what Christian art feels like: Advertising.
That’s why it is bad art.
The best art brings about its voice, its message, its ideas through the form, through the medium, through the design, through the beauty.
At the center of all art is truth and beauty. The implicit uses the beauty to portray the truth. The explicit uses truth at the behest of beauty.
So Mr. Lewis and I agree. I would, however, change one word of his quote in order to help my evangelical friends.
What we NEED is more little books by Christians about other things with their Christianity latent.
Well… Maybe I was wrong about billboards.