Another great animation by actionJones
Category Archives: Art
I came across this post from Sojourn Music [HT: The Bored-Again Christian] that features an audio link by Harold Best speaking on worship and art in the church. Best had some good thoughts regarding art in the church and art by the church as a means of engagement. Sojourn Music distilled some of his main points as follows:
• The engagement of the Church in the arts should be the norm, not the exception.
• We’ve exhausted our superlatives – everything is “awesome” now. We’ve reserved no words for God.
• If you’re an artist asked to serve the liturgy in corporate worship, remember that the Word is preeminent. Art must serve the liturgy by humbling itself to wash the feet of the Savior and the congregates.
• The blood of Jesus is still needed by Christians as much as by the unbelieving world.
• Art for the Church should be simple, accessible, authentic.
• Art from the Church should be a rampant, outspoken, prophetic invader. For instance, write simple tunes on Sunday morning to serve the liturgy, then go “out there” in culture as prophet, going to the edge of who you are, creatively.
• The intent of the world’s art is idolatry, but the content is neutral. Don’t try to “out-art” them. Debate the intent while celebrating the content.
[Just a note on this last point – I do not agree that all content is neutral and can be celebrated… and I’m not sure that is the point Best was making. The better point, I think, is that intent determines content. Content is the surface of an intent – and so content can be subjective as to how it is perceived. Engage, therefore, with the intent.]
Some other ideas he presented in the audio that I found intriguing:
• There is a universal urge among human beings to be “artistic” in some form.
• Some “art” is only art because someone has called it art.
• Art in the church must be surrendered to the Word of God. Art is a servant of the church – it should be lost, hidden behind the Word.
• Christian artists have 2 roles – they should be humble servants to the church and ministering prophets to the world.
• Christian artists must be well-equipped as theologians to fulfill both roles well.
This is a brief response to Matt’s previous post. I hope it provides some historical/cultural background to the issue of art in the church.
I think there are several reasons why the Christian culture seems to have an inordinate amount of guilt with regards to art and cultural engagement. Matt, you mentioned fundamentalism’s decampment from the arts, which in my estimation is no small part of the problem. In fact, I think you have the crux of the issue right there. Although there are many variables in the issue, in the end you are dealing with the broader aspects of truth and beauty, essential commonalities that resonate with every fallen human being. If the Church withdraws from those grounds, how can we show them a Savior who is perfect in beauty and truth?
Concepts of truth and beauty have changed drastically over the past couple of generations. In cultural chronology going back only a little more than a century ago, you have the movement of Modernism, which in a great sense rebelled against “traditional” forms of art and literature. In general, Modernism rejected the reality of the supernatural and the authority of the church or religion. Modernists asserted truth can be discovered and beauty can be seen, but only through objective power of the individual mind or scientific methodology. Modernism affirmed the reexamination of previously accepted forms of art and truth and beauty, and did so while maintaining that these were things with external anchors and standards outside of one’s self. While perceptions of art and beauty changed, truth was still considered discoverable, knowable.
As Modernism begot Postmodernity, truth joined beauty as being “in the eye of the beholder.” Ambiguity and contradiction no longer matter (or are even seen as desirable) since any notion of truth is relative to the sovereign eye of the individual. Comic books and computer screens can be just as good and beautiful as classic literature or the Sistine Chapel – it all depends on your point of view.
As postmodern plurality and relativity emerged in the early 20th century, the Church’s general reaction was not to engage or redeem – but to withdraw from all things “secular.” Modernism gave us the ol’ stinkeye, so we sulked off and sat in a corner while postmodernity took root around us. Faith in the Church became a buffer zone between the secular and the sacred. Parachurch ministries virtually exploded because the Church disengaged. Now, decades later, we have finally decided that it may actually be beneficial to engage people culturally for the sake of the Gospel… but we approach it like the annoying little sister who is just trying to tag along with big brother.
Think about it – for centuries, the Church drove art and music and cultural trends. Now, we simply try to imitate those things. While society in general and Western culture in particular rejoices in the value of the creative individual (see also, YouTube, Myspace, the blogosphere, etc.), the best the church seems to be able to do is make flimsy imitations (see also, GodTube, MyChurch, the blogosphere, etc.) We are not exactly a consistent hotbed of innovation in the areas of visual art, music, film and literature. I think we sense we should be doing more, but are really too lazy to put forth the effort of being truly innovative. So we feel guilty.
Why is it assumed that to reach the culture, we must be artistically engaged? I think the answer is because culture is artistically engaged. That is where unregenerate people are. The Church in many senses has become passive and lazy. We want the people to come to us because going to them takes effort, and – God forbid – maybe pain. Artistic engagement on whatever front or medium can be a powerful means of missional engagement. They are confused about truth, but are drawn to beauty. We have truth, but have lost a clear vision of the beauty therein. Truth and beauty are essential commonalities within us and are worthy ground upon which to advance the Gospel.
This, of course, begs the question – what is the relationship between beauty and truth? Comments are open.
The event’s emcee is a faculty member at Calvin, who explains that the conference, in essence, is “a profound apology from the Christian community for doing such a poor job of engaging art and culture in the public square.” He adds, “We don’t have a lot of answers.”
This is an apology I’ve heard made several times before, and I’m still a little unclear as to the reason. Is it because churches aren’t displaying art on their walls? Neither are insurance companies, but nobody is up in arms about that. My hunch is that there is this feeling that churches aren’t adequately “supporting” artists (musicians, writers, visual artists) in their midst. However, I don’t exactly see churches “supporting” software designers, salesmen, or farmers either. That’s not the church’s purpose. And it seems that the artists who are making the most noise about “not being supported” are the ones who may not have the talent to really cut it in the marketplace anyway. I don’t know of any working artists (musicians, actors, writers, painters) who complain that their church doesn’t “support” their efforts. Art is tough. Making a living at art is tough. It’s tough on families and marriages. That’s simply the nature of the game.
Read the whole thing.
My primary question has to do with why the Christian culture seems to have an inordinate amount of guilt with regards to art and cultural engagement. In other words, it seems like the art community has had such a voice in chastening the Christian culture as of late. Is it a reaction against fundamentalism’s pulling out of the arts? I am sure that we need to apologize at some level for poor art we have contributed to society. Stuff Christians Like has become a new favorite in my RSS feed. If we read this blog more often, we would have more than art to apologize for. Why is it assumed that to reach the culture, we must be artistically engaged?
These questions, I know, betray my naivete. Inform me, please.
MW: When you say you were raised in the ‘backwoods of Kentucky’ what exactly do you mean? How backwoodsy?
JVD: Haha. The backwoodsiest, man. I’m talking waaaaay back. In the early ‘80’s, my folks picked up out of Atlanta and drove to Kentucky to get away from it all. I think they were tired of big cities and suburbs and wanted to live differently. So they bought a 45-acre forest in the middle of the Kentucky hills and built a house there. Our nearest neighbor was several miles away. And also, we had no electricity. A lot of folks ask if we were Amish when they hear that – haha. We weren’t. My Mom and Pops just didn’t want to be dependent on anyone for their well-being, and they took that idea pretty seriously. They were kind of like Old West pioneers, you know? Living off the land. It sounds weird to most folks that we didn’t have electricity, but it was really no big thing. Probably not much difference between my house and yours, but instead of watching TV, we read lots of books.
MW: Why did you go to the big city for school and not some small rural college?
JVD: For purely pragmatic reasons, I ended up at the University of Louisville – which was a big step for a small-town boy. I actually really wanted to go to Western Kentucky University because my girlfriend at the time was there. But, Louisville offered me a full academic scholarship, plus an art scholarship – basically a free ride and them some. I think I actually made money off the deal. No other school even came close to offering that, so U of L it was. Ended up being a good fit, so I guess the Lord knew what He was doing the whole time. Figures.
MW: What is it about graphic design that is so titillating?
JVD: Ugh. Well, definitely not the word “titillating.”
I majored in graphic design, again, for purely pragmatic reasons. I knew I wanted to be an art major, but the idea of being a “starving artist” was not appealing at all. Graphic design seemed to make the most sense at the time because it was the most practical – generally, there is more opportunity for steady work as a graphic designer than, say, a painter or sculptor. Plus, I am one of those guys who is decent but not great at a wide variety of mediums – drawing, painting, sculpting, photography – and graphic design really gives opportunity to put all those to work for you.
Nowadays, I am able to do design from a pastoral perspective. I really like to serve people, and to me, that is the essence of good graphic design: serving others. Much of what I do is take something in someone else’s head – a concept, an image, a message – and make it visual and (hopefully) more accessible. I love to design because it is a practical way to serve visionaries and leaders within the church and point others to the message of the Gospel. Graphic design is not usually just “art for art’s sake,” which can become narcissistic. Serving others through design helps keep my own tendency toward egocentricity at bay, because I can never take all the credit. So that is like a bonus.
MW: Do you think it is necessary for a church to hire a graphic designer? Why?
JVD: I’m tempted to say “yes,” but in all honesty, I would have to say “no.” So, in general, no. In most cases, I would probably consider a church-staffed designer a total luxury and not a necessity. I realize that probably sounds real odd coming from a guy who directs graphics & communications for a church. Before all you on-staff designers out there start spamming me with nasty comments, let me quantify that answer with some random thoughts on the matter:
If you are a church who can afford your own graphic designer or creative arts producer or whatever the heck you want to call it – by all means, hire away … as long as you are already doing basic pastoral ministry well. Don’t hire a designer at the expense of pastoral ministry.
Realize, though, I am speaking in very general terms because the answer to this question could depend entirely on your church’s size and situation. There could be a lot of factors involved. If you are a passionately missional North American church, good visual design can be a valuable draw depending on your location and culture. If you are a steadily growing church of hundreds or thousands and you think animated gifs and overhead projectors are the hotness … for practical communication reasons, you probably need to think about integrating some nice design.
On the other hand, if you are a church that is not well-staffed pastorally or not functioning with a competent admin staff (i.e. your teaching pastor is also the receptionist, janitor, and bake-sale organizer), your hiring philosophy should probably include addressing those issues first – you need to be doing basic ministry well before you start prettying things up. Otherwise you are, if I may borrow a phrase from one Matthew S. Wireman, “polishing a turd.”
As a side note, if you are going to hire a graphic designer, hire someone who is pastoral in their approach to design. Graphics can easily become overdone, manipulative or overbearing. Good design in the church should always always always ALWAYS point to and support the message, not overpower it and not become the message itself. But I digress…
Seriously, though, in the end, design is just another tool. Graphic designers in the church can be as valuable or invaluable as any other vessel. Design and art can be helpful or harmful depending on how wisely it is used. In the end, broken people need Jesus, not cool PowerPoint slides – so take that into consideration.
MW: Is there another position you see that would have primacy over a graphic designer?
JVD: I think I sort of addressed that in my last tirade. Don’t hire strictly creative arts guys over well-qualified pastoral guys. If you are trying to decide between a good pastor and a good visual arts producer – go for the good pastor. You can always outsource design. If you can find someone who is both wildly creative and qualified pastorally – hire them and double their salary (Hint, hint? Anyone?)
MW: If it were a choice between a puppet ministry and a graphic designer, which should a church hire?
JVD: Pshaw. That’s easy. Neither. If you’re operating at that level, your clear priority should be to find a solid Pastor of Mime Ministry.
I received a comment asking how my thoughts from my post On Art & God relate to the craftsmen who were endowed in a special way for the construction of the tabernacle.
Exodus 36-39 gives us four chapters of detailed information of what Bezalel and Oholiab did in accordance with all that the Lord commanded them through Moses. While it is true that the frames of the tabernacle are covered in gold and fine tapestries drape over the rods, we must not forget that God also inspired the very dimensions of the tabernacle (Ex 25-27).
In other words, we should not isolate the artists and craftsmen for the tabernacle as though they are the only ones anointed by God’s Spirit to portray the grandeur of God.
This is the rhetoric I so often hear. “God has purposed art to portray his beauty in a special way so that it touches the soul in ways that words cannot.” Surely art does impact us in different ways than syntax and grammar do. Different does not mean preeminent, however.
The beautiful tabernacle is beautiful both in its magnificence of construction as well as its gold-covered rods. Both the construction worker and the artist are needed to scribble the glory of God on earth. By being captivated by light and color, have we failed to plumb the depths of what makes art good? In other words, I can walk around an art gallery and appreciate the art, but without an interpreter as to who the artist was or what the artist intended, I will not be able to embrace the true meaning of what sits on the canvas.
Show me a picture of red and black swirls. I can appreciate the interplay between the colors and my senses can be tickled. But when you tell me that the artist was trying to depict the violence on Calvary, the deep despair and dark night of the soul my soul is captured.