Clear Gospel, Ambivalent Art Part 2

Painting by Jackson Pollock

In my previous post, I wrote about the need for ambivalent art in light of presenting a clear gospel, especially in a church setting. One my biggest lessons, however, is that the general/average church-goer has no idea how to contemplate art. This makes me sad. Historically, some of our greatest paintings and architecture were found in the chapels and cathedrals of Europe. When was the last time you drove by a church and said, “Wow, what a beautiful building”? When was the last time you walked into a church and you were struck by the art hanging on the walls?

As I look back on my own experience, I remember two paintings from my childhood church. One was done by a congregation member–it was an autumny-mountain scene. The other was the American stereotypical thin, well-kept, rosy-cheek Jesus. Was there more art? The building itself was no piece of art. Within the church walls, there was teaching, preaching, music, dancing, and movie-watching. But there was little art, and even less talking about it.

I’m disappointed that art is so foreign to church-goers. Is this a failure of the church (as an organization)? Is it a failure of the individuals who comprise the church? Is it a failure of the greater culture to appreciate art? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Christian church–organizationally not individually–is guilty of copying pop-culture to make it’s own culture more attractive. As an organization, we’ve ignored the command to love our neighbor and to be in the world building relationships. There are many Christian artists/writers/musicians/producers/actors who influence the world outside of the cute little Christian sub-culture. But you don’t hear about them because of their faith, you hear about them because of their art. In the Bible, James talks about showing the measure of your faith by what you do, not what you say. I’m not saying Christians should be shy about their faith. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed my life. If you spend any amount of time with me, you’ll eventually hear parts of my story and my faith. But it’s never first out of my mouth, because if I can’t act like my life has been forever changed, the my words, my poems, my art is empty.

But the general public’s lack of appreciation of art cannot be blamed on the church. The church may be guilty of not producing or educating people in terms of art, but our greater culture doesn’t make time or take energy to stop and appreciate art. And why should they? Culturally, we are so focused on giving our attention to things that are tangible, logical, worthwhile, and applicable. For an example of stripping art from ourselves, check out the standards for Colorado. At the high school level, fiction is being replaced by “real-world” reading to give students the applicable skills to survive in the workplace. Our schools are preparing kids to be robots and factory workers, not deep-thinkers and creators (thanks to Seth Godin and his book Linchpin for this terminology).

We do not know how to stop and contemplate something that doesn’t have immediate relevance, meaning, or clarity. We are not okay with mystery.

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2 thoughts on “Clear Gospel, Ambivalent Art Part 2

  1. If you pick up Richard Hofstadter’s classic Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, you can follow the depressing shift of American religious institutions from being strong advocates for the life of the mind (in late colonial days and days of the early republic) to their current position as anti-intellect, anti-art, etc. Believing individuals, of course, exist and even thrive—I think of Frank Samperi, Fanny Howe, Kathleen Norris, and Peter O’Leary as exemplary in this regard. But religious institutions now actively discourage the imagination. No imagination=no art in the institutional setting. (There are individuals, as I said.) But as you say, anti-intellectualism didn’t originate with churches; it is rampant in every institution. My sense of things is that this is due to the corporatization of our culture from top to bottom—politics to schools to churches to the workplace. The corporate state prefers robots to deep-thinkers: they are easier to control. The same, in my opinion, goes for many churches and schools, which have become approved and approving extensions of the corporate state. This condition has a long history and will not soon change, I think. Distressing for those of us who advocate for imagination and the life of the mind…..

  2. Thanks for the thoughts, Joe. I think one of the sad things, for many churches, is that the lack of art isn’t even on purpose. I realize many churches intentionally rid themselves of art, music, dance, etc. but many (I think) get so caught up in the “product” of church that they lose sight of the heart and minds of people. I’ll post more thoughts on this very thing in a few days!

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