Over the next few weeks I will be writing a series of posts which present the essential issues each Christian artist should consider in their medium. I hope to do a post on Painting (and drawing and graphic design), Photography, Film, Poetry, Writing, and Music.
In this post I'm going to lay out the basic ideas that all Christian artists should consider. In later posts I will expand to talk about specific mediums.
The Top Ten Ideas All Christian Artists Should Consider:
1. Remember that everything you do should be to God's glory.
This means that whatever create or do should be an act of worship to Him. The very act of creating is a work, a service that reflects our manishness (our made-in-the-image-of-God-ness) and mirrors God's own love of aesthetic creation.
2. Have a purpose in mind.
I use the word "purpose" as opposed to "message" because not all art has a distinct and readily communicable message to be discovered. A wonderfully made vase might not contain the Gospel message, but its existence, its purpose can give evidence to a beauty, a loveliness that is found in the Christian worldview. What is imperative is that the artists consider what they are doing.
Purpose can mean a lot of things. It could be the purpose of the work to explore beauty, or merely cause the viewer/reader/audience to explore an idea themselves. Be careful not to confuse "purpose" with "message"; sometimes a work of art has a very clear, specific thing to communicate, but often the purpose is to revel in the complexity of life itself.
Ask yourself, "Why should I create this thing?", "Why is it better that I make this, or do this than not?", "What is said or done or communicated or meant or alluded to by this work?", "Am I contributing to a conversation, or merely restating what some other work has already expressed?". Often, the worst works of art by believers are those which are simply not considered. Expression is good. Creation is good. But the goodness of these do not give us license for unexamined artistry.
3. Know that whether you mean to or not, you are expressing a worldview.
Art reveals worldviews. It just does. Whatever a person fundamentally believes about the most essential issues in life--eternity, truth, goodness, beauty, evil, humanity, redemption, love, death, life, etc--will be exposed in their creation.
If at your core you believe that humans are corrupt and selfish beasts, then when you paint your figures will be bestial. Or if you write, your characters will be narcissistic hypocrites.
The frightening fact about art is that it does not reveal the worldview we claim to hold (except in truly bad art), but what we actually believe.
As a Christian artist you might claim to believe that God came to save the sins of the world, but perhaps in your true worldview, you (much like Jonah) believe that God would not bother to save some people--child molesters lets say. If this is your true belief, it will come out in your works of art. So what does this mean for us as artists? Three tasks lay before us:
First we must know the Word of God. We must be grounded in what God has revealed about humanity, the universe, and Himself. If we fail to do this then we risk presenting a work of art which could be identified as Christian but which distorts the Truth. (See Thomas Kincade's worlds without need of redemption for examples of this).
Second, we must know the universe. The Word of God only makes sense in relation to the universe He created. We cannot make excellent works of art about our universe if we know nothing about it and the people that inhabit it. All great artists must become students of the universe and humans. Failure to do this usually results in works of art that feature unrealistic characters or situations. They tend to be didactic morality tales in which sinners are immediately punished for their sins and believers are immediately blessed for their righteousness. The universe is complex, thanks to God, so understand and reflect the complexity.
Third, we must know ourselves. We cannot create excellent works of art which accurately express the Christian worldview unless we know ourselves in the world. We cannot know that all men are fallen unless we know that we are fallen. Likewise, we cannot know that all love comes from Christ unless we know how we love and are loved. Failure to do this means works which lack mercy and intimacy.
4. It is not the job of your work of art to spread the Gospel.
Consider the Temple artwork commissioned by God. Palm Trees and Flower Blossoms do not express the need all men have before God for repentance and sacrifice, and yet that's what you would have found in the walls of the Temple that Solomon built.
For some reason, the Christian culture has decided that all art must be held to higher evangelistic standard than the objects created by any other occupation. A car mechanic is not pressured by his church to etch John 3:16 on every muffler he fixes. A computer technician is not pressured to turn every computer virus into an object lesson about sin related to an unsuspecting costumer. And yet our painters are often looked down upon if they don't work a verse or a distinctly Biblical message into a painting. And our musicians are discouraged if they sing about anything other than Jesus.
As an artist working for the glory of God, your task is much broader than didactically retelling the Gospel.
5. It is the job of your life to glorify God, which means spreading the Gospel.
Just as problematic as it is when Christians use arts as bait to sucker people into hearing the Gospel, is when they believe that their task as artists is wholly separate from the Great Commission.
Art tends to work slowly, good art at least. It takes time for the viewer/audience to digest the ideas, to consider their weight in the real world, and to judge their veracity. As a result of this, some Christian artists have taken the view that their job is merely to express stuff about life and then sit back and see what happens. They become more concerned about how they will be perceived as "artists" than with the very pressing issue of sharing the Gospel. Often, these same artists feel extremely comfortable in openly and aggressively addressing social issues, but not spiritual ones. We must never, ever lose an urgency to share the Truth in love.
It is not the goal of art to share the Gospel, it is the goal of our lives to glorify God, and one act in that glorification is the command to spread the Gospel. How do you actively seek to tell people the Good News in all areas of your life? Do the same thing in your art.
With some people and in some situations I share the Gospel by loving them, really loving them as people made in the image of God; not so that I can secretly get them on my good side or to learn some dirt about them that I can later use to "convert them," but because I genuinely love them. With other people I try to address theological or philosophical questions they might have. With others I try to allow my marriage and life be a testament to God's loving kindnesses. With others I discuss the fallenness of this world. With others I discuss the beauty and love to be found in this world. With still others I speak very plainly and openly about Christ's work on the cross in space, time, and history.
Our art should reflect the same variety of approaches and views to the Gospel as we find ourselves using in all aspects of our lives.
It is my hope, and prayer, that artists who are believers would use these ideas to create greater works for God's glory. These lists are not intended to be comprehensive, and as such I would love to hear how you would expand them.
Next week (or in a few days) I will post the second half of the list.