Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Artistic Activism

The current status and trajectory of the is distressing. , , and critics are all struggling with poor work. Rock music seems to be dieing its long predicted death, movies are increasingly rehashed plots or remakes and even the “artsy” movies seem to be running out of steam (See Wes Anderson's latest, or the new Bat movie from the director of Memento, although some directors are still moving forward, it is at least a slump. this years ticket sales for that). In TV the sitcom has all but vanished in any significant way and reality TV is hardly a competent usurper.

This crisis---whether real, imagined, or temporary---has been caused by many forces to numerous and complex to deal with at this time. But this crisis is multiplied in the Christian community by a crisis which has been ongoing for several decades, and perhaps even a few hundred years, depending on who you ask or which particular artistic medium you look at. as at the forefront of this crisis and many others have been lamenting its faults of late. Even worse is , which has always struggled for an identity, and when you combine that with the fact that the rock genre is quite probably in its last gasping breaths, the situation is bad to say the least. So then, what are we going to do? It is very easy, in comparison, to find what is wrong with Art, whether that be the more general slump or the specific struggles of the Christian arts. But it is difficult to figure out what to do about it and even harder to actual do something. For those who can create, there is a lot of work to be done. But what about those who can't or don't? What I would like to discuss here is what the listener/watcher/reader/viewer can do to help the Arts recover.

The most obvious approach is financial support; however, I believe that this is more often than not a disservice to the artist. Take for example a CD. Let us say that you know a guy who plays in a original rock band. They have just recorded a CD and he asks you to buy it. While it is good to buy that CD it is not enough. The comodification of art is one of the reasons it is in a rut right now. Simply buying a work of art does not provide the artist with any incentive to improve or explore. One could say that simple demand for a work of art is a good barometers of the arts quality: if it is good, it will sell, if it is not, it won't. But this is not necessarily true. If we return to our previous example, your motivation for buying that kid's CD was more than likely not genuine interest in the art, but rather sympathy and encouragement. Because of this, I have seen bands who have little or not talent artistically become wildly popular. Now, I am not saying that you should not buy independent music or works of art; rather, I would plead with you to take an active role in art. Don't just buy that kid's CD and bury it in your shelf, instead listen to it, try to understand it, and then talk to the artist. Without being negative question their themes, forms, styles, language, tone, etc. This creates a responsibility for the artist, they cannot make total garbage if their fans are engaging their art and discussing it. And in our times we need responsible artists. In a similar way it is important that when your talking to an artist about their work that you don't simply tell them how it was “good”, or “cool”, really engage the work, have something of substance to say and say it kindly. Pursue the artists, ask them how their work is coming along, discuss with them what their doing and why. This is particularly important for the Christian Artist who, as I've already suggested, is in a double fix. Perhaps no other Christian Art is in more trouble than Worship music. If you know someone who plays worship music, urge them to write their own material. Support them, but do so in a way that promotes excellence not stagnation.

I'm sure that my words are either falling on deaf or converted ears, or maybe my words are not clear enough. But my hope is that if people will stop treating art as a commercial and shallow thing, then the artists will stop producing shallow and commercial works. I have already spoken on the obligation of the artist, specifically the Hip-Hop artist, but the audience/receiver of the art also has an obligation: think critically about the work, discuss it, and support growth.

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