Tuesday, August 28, 2007


The more I explore the world of Christianity and the Arts, the more I find that I am in disagreement with other believers in the Arts, and about fundamentally important issues. Those who are the most vocal about Christian aesthetics, tend to have a theology which abuses the Arts for an unbiblical motive.

I'm not a Christian reconstructionalist, Dominionist, Liberal, or Emergent.

These differences are important because they all have a tremendous effect on the actual creation and use of art.

For many who are concerned with Christian aesthetics, Art is a vehicle for social and political change. In this crowd, the Great Commission is secondary to the physical needs of people, and Art is the method by which we can draw the Church's attention to those physical needs. Many who follow this view will scream to catch the ears of those ignoring social injustice, but shun the thought of speaking of Christ's work on the cross publicly.

For others, Art is a means of conquering the culture in order to help establish a Christian kingdom. If we retreat from the Arts, the secular world will have total control over it! Christ's kingdom is no longer spiritual in this ideology, it can be measured in album sales and popularity.

Then there are those who would have us make Christian Art so that we can retreat from the world. If we have our own songs, we will not have to be exposed to theirs. Art in this view is a aspartame solution, a poor and cancerous substitute which at best will make us gaseous and at worst will kill us. And the Art of the unsaved is seen as unredeemable waste, utterly devoid of the glory of God and incapable of communicating anything worthy of praise.

Or perhaps Art is used to communicate spiritual truth, since propositional truth is completely elusive. Here Art replaces the exposition of Scripture and is imbued with mystical meaning to fill some imagined spiritual void which the Word of God cannot speak to.

Or Art is a tool for reaching the lost. A disingenuous and insincere platform for evangelism that is too close to propaganda for my comfort. Much like setting traps for the lost, they make art that closely resembles that of the world to lure unbelievers into their midst and convince them that they need not sacrifice any of the amusements of the world. And by repetition of Christian-esse over the familiar sounds of the world, they can subtly persuade unsuspecting heathens to convert. How similar to radio jingles this approach is.

This is not meant to be yet another Internet jeremiad over the "problems" of the Church. My hope is to find more believers that seek to make art to glorify God and edify man. I openly acknowledge that some of these views of art have resulted in great contributions to Christianity and the Arts. And nearly all of these views have kernels of truth to them. But I am disappointed to find so few believers interested in the arts in a way that is Biblically sound and aesthetically excellent. Perhaps I'm just looking in the wrong places.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

"Worship Wars" and Money

Warren Smith wrote this great article called God, Mammon, and the "Worship Wars". I strongly recommend reading it. Essentially, he briefly outlines how the rise of the "worship wars" coincides perfectly with the establishment of CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International). He also points to the fact that this organization brings in approximately $40- to $50-million per year to copyright holders. One reason why you might be more likely to hear a modern worship song over a classic hymn? The aggressiveness of marketing connected with the multi-million dollar "Praise and Worship" industry.

Be sure to read Bill's blog on this article where I was first introduced to it. He has a lot more thoughtful things to say.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Art and Entertainment Continued

In this discussion of Art and Entertainment, someone quoted a professor who suggested that art should entertain, but mostly it should make us think or point us towards change. Entertainment on the other hand does not challenge our deeply held beliefs and tricks us into thinking that we are thinking about something. Here is my reply:

There are some works of art which have not challenged any commonly held belief in me but confirmed them. For example, the Great Gatsby didn't challenge anything I believe about the human desire for perfection and the infinite, but it rendered it in a beautiful and compelling way.

On the other hand, growing up watching the TV show Happy Days, my belief in what it meant to be in "love" or in a relationship was changed. The show constantly presented teenage dating relationships (with physical contact) as cheap, harmless, fun, and morally acceptable. This had an impact on the way I viewed women for the next few years until I realized that my standards were shaped by a TV show rather than the Word. So in this case, something that was clearly not art made me change my beliefs (and I was aware of this change).

So on a practically level, I can't say that I've found your professor's ideas to be reality. Works (like the Great Gatsby) which seem uncontroversially art must by this definition be labeled entertainment, and works (like Happy Days) which seem uncontroversially entertainment must by this definition be labeled art.

On a theoretical level I think these definitions are problematic as well. If art must move someone to change, would a work of art reveling in the majesty of God's creation be entertainment? If the viewer already understood that the world was beautiful and a painting would only reinforce that belief, would it be entertainment? Consider the design of the Israelite Temple. How did the depictions of animals (I believe there were animals...)and fruit change people or bring them to change?

It seems to me that if artists would follow these definitions then they would have to restrict themselves to topics that would produce change, and then art becomes utilitarian and didactic. Much modern art is guided by the philosophy your professor suggested, it is focused on accomplishing a specific end in a person. The result of this idea is that most art now days is political or directed at some social problem, since these topics are the best way to produce tangible change.

And much Christian art is overtly evangelistic, didactic, and shallow because it is focused on "change." So often when we see a work of Christian art it presents itself as a visual alter call. I'm not, of course, suggesting that presenting the Truth of God's Word is wrong in art, far from it! But I am saying that if artists focus too much on changing their audience they are not likely to be able to speak to their audience on an intimate enough level to compel them to change. When artists focus on producing works that cause change it is usually at the expense of properly rendering something about the world. No specific examples come to mind except that old claymation show David and Goliath (which was funny) which was so didactic that the characters seemed inhuman and artificial. Sincerity is almost always the cost of utilitarian art.

So while I think these are interesting definitions that I should probably spend more time considering, I think there are some serious problems them as I understand the definitions.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Art and Entertainment

When I finished writing my epic, 130-or-so page thesis, I thought my life would slow down quite a bit. But I have found that teaching two 8 unit classes over the summer is a lot of work. I plan on getting on here more and posting more creative writing and nonfiction, but until then I thought I would share a few posts I made to forum concerning the difference between art and entertainment. Someone posed the question, "What is the difference? Where do you draw the line? When is something both?":

Linguists talk about being prescriptive and descriptive with language and grammar. Some linguists tell people what a word should me, how it should be spelled, or how a sentence should be punctuated, and others simply describe how people define words, spell them, and how they use grammar. Typically, prescriptive linguistics is not helpful for languages or linguistics because languages are almost impossible to control, but in the case of the arts and philosophy, I firmly believe that prescriptive linguistics are beneficial.

In the case of differentiating between Art and Entertainment I think we need to ask ourselves what we want these words to mean before we talk about how to apply them. For example, some people want to define art as anything that expresses the art's emotions, but if that is true than "flipping the bird" or honking your horn at a careless driver would have to be labeled a work (or act) of art. Most people that define art in such a way don't fully consider the ramifications of such a definition.

How can we define Art and Entertainment so that the words are most useful in discussions and personal reflection?

I choose to think of entertainment as that particular time of media which encourages and/or produces passiveness. We can see this concept work out in our language. A person can be the objecting of entertainment, "That show is entertaining him." But we cannot do the same with art, "That painting is arting him." The implication is that in with entertainment something is being done to us, and we do something to art (I.E. we attempt to understand it).

Where this issue gets complicated is with the use of "entertaining" as an adjective to describe a work of art. If something causes us to be pleased, if it produces joy or exuberance, and if it is exciting, we might call that work of art "entertaining," but this does not mean it is entertainment (at least in the sense that I would like to use the word).

A great work of art might capture your attention, cause you to laugh, and yet still force or encourage you to be active. For example, Huckleberry Finn is extremely entertaining, but Twain's commentary on the cruel nature of man (or at least man in a government or organization) is profoundly compelling. Thus, we could say that this work of art is also entertaining, but it would be misleading to say that it is entertainment.

What is interesting to me is that much of the difference between a piece of media which encourages us to be passive and one that encourages us to be active is not necessarily inherent in the work itself, in general it is merely our cultural or personal disposition towards a type of media. For example, when I sit in front of the TV I might begin to disengage my mind because I have been culturally predisposed to "receive" TV rather than engage it. Likewise, when I go to a museum I prepare myself to analyze the paintings, to engage them, because I have been culturally conditioned to believe that paintings are things people wrestle with. Therefore, I believe that the heart of this issue lies not so much with the individual works, but with our attitude as consumers.

As believers, I firmly believe that we have no right to be "entertainment" because to be entertained connotes passiveness, and we must always be vigilant to take every thought captive. That does not mean that I think that television or animated films are wrong for Christians to engage; instead I believe that we have an obligation to treat all "entertainment" as art and take an active role in understanding it's message, themes, concepts, and underlying assumptions. If we take the same approach to viewing sitcoms as we do to viewing works of high art in a museum, we will gain a better understanding of the world we live in, we will be more well guarded from ideas and worldviews which are antithetical to our Faith, and we will be able to give honor and praise to those works which are deserving of it.