Is Christian Art Useless?

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Fellow Christian writers and artists, do you consider this a challenge?

“Christian art is a knock-off.”

Maybe? Maybe it depends on what we consider Christian art.

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How do we define Christian art? Are the rules different than for regular art? Probably they are, and that’s fair since “Christian” should involve some specific differences about what’s artistic and what’s not.

So what does “Christian art” mean?

Is it art when it portrays some aspect of the glory of God? And are the qualities of the work less important, more important, or as important as the content, the message? Are the specific qualities merely the wrapping paper for the gift inside? Or is the packaging of the message the more important part?

Should “Christian art” mean what pleases God rather than what pleases man? Should it entertain or only be serious? Should it seek to convert its viewers by providing an alternative to unwholesome art? Should it be less interested in depicting the real world and more interested in what is pure, true, good, et cetera? Should it provide specific takeaways?

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And does this really matter? After 4 decades in the Christian subculture, I can finally say I don’t have the faintest clue. I stopped being able to judge Christian art somewhere around age 30. I can probably make a pretty fair argument for both sides, from “everything has to literally spell out the gospel in order to be Christian art” to “only organically Christian art is truly a witness.”

But the recent “film debate” between Fifty Shades of Gray and the Christian alternative “Old Fashioned” revived some of the unanswerable questions.

“This is the irony of the Christian film industry: movies that appeal mostly to Christians are marketed as if capable of bringing sinners to repentance.”

Is that true? Is Old Fashioned art for Christians? And is it really incapable of reaching beyond that? Why? And who really knows?

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And should we really spend time debating this?

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Every Christian industry–film, music, books and all those giftable products–exists for Christians. The art they sell is for people who want a message and aren’t as interested (though they still are) in the wrapping. Should we debate whether the message of Christian art is getting seen by regular folk?

Or should we be making art?

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My opinion? We should be making art. If the appeal of “50 Shades” proves anything, it’s that the wrapping of the message matters–a lot. Maybe more than the message, in many ways. (As Marshall McLuhan said back in 1964). So if you’re a Christian inclined to making beautiful art, you should probably spend more time working on making the package work, and not worrying so much whether the message is clear.

But my point is, whether Christian art is or isn’t largely miserable, useless and derivative, who cares? What if instead of debating we just got to work and focused more on making art than the distractions of others’ opinions?

Maybe that would be a more productive use of our gifts and time?

I’m reminding myself here. And now leaving to write.

Feeling better already…

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10 thoughts on “Is Christian Art Useless?”

  1. Isn’t that a little like asking “what constitutes a beard? How many hairs, how densely packed, how long?” And yet, wouldn’t pretty much everyone agree on the difference between a 5 hair attempt or an overnight stubble, and the real deal?
    Even so, whatever one’s definition of “Christian,” whatever one’s definition of Art, however long the discussion re John Updike’s or Georgia O’Keefe’s work, I bet any crowd that’s familiar with the basic tenets of Christianity would agree that Fifty Shades of Vulgar doesn’t eeeven come close. :-)
    And maybe the value comes more in the debate than in the vote.

  2. Art is art. My problem with “Christian” art is all the calisthenics people go through to make it “Christian.” If I remember right, Christ spent a lot of time down in the dirt and the muck of real humanity . . . and then elevated them. To the degree that Christian artists stay above it all and preach to the choir, they don’t really accomplish much; to the degree that they worry about being “Christian,” they don’t keep their eye on the art. Michelangelo didn’t set out to make Christian art, but he did. Better than anyone ever. You use the talents and the platform that God has given you to the very best of your ability, and let what you produce bring glory to God.

    says the unpublished guy shouting into the wind . . . :P

    1. Really appreciate the comment here, “Just Me.” I clicked over and enjoyed your blog as well. Thanks for stopping by–and keep shouting. We may just be drops in the bucket, but there’s a bucket and it fills faster if we pull together…

  3. I’ve thought about this a lot. Like you said, Christian art is for the Christians. Always has been. I doubt you’ll get many non-Christians going to see Old Fashioned. In fact I’d bet you’ll get more Christians going to see 50 Shades. I think the question has to come, who do we want to create for? What are we trying to accomplish with the gifts God has given us? It’s so easy to say just do the thing and let God take care of the rest, but I still think about it. When a movie like Old Fashioned comes out … yeah … I think about it a lot. Because it’s marketed as an ‘alternative’ to 50 Shades, but seriously? Come on.
    I’ve finally come to the sad conclusion that Christian art is going to remain boxed and packaged and sprinkled with sugar for the Christians who buy it. The only thing I can do and probably should do, is write to the best of my ability and not worry about where the words end up. I wish that were different. I wish we were offering product that the world would sit up and take notice of and be affected by. IMHO, we’re not there yet. I have days, moments of hope, when I see evidence that things might change, that we might stand a chance of reaching beyond the bubble we’re stuck in, but other days I’m not so sure. I’ve thought about writing a blog on why we’re settling for mediocrity … but who cares, really? And my head is kinda sore from all the banging, and the wall is blood-stained.

    1. You care, Cathy, and that is why your writing just gets better and better. (Bloody walls or not!! :-) )

  4. Well said, Mick Silva!

    I believe that Christ died and rose again and through His sacrifice I have an open door to God. That is the great miracle which buoys me up each day. However….

    Artistic experimentation does not threaten God’s omniscience.

    Depicting evil does not deny God’s ability to deal with it.

    Breaking out of the box does not break God’s commandments.

    Writing or drawing or sculpting or dancing or making music for people who live beyond the pale of the Christian comfort zone may be exactly what God wants His artist, His writer, His musician, His dancer to do.

    Oh the joy of following Him down the carpeted aisle out to the sidewalks and the streets and the gravel roads to those places where the only path is made by God walking first.

    As Mick says, we waste too much time judging when we should be creating.

    1. Hear, hear! For the JOY set before us! Every time I got distracted today, I remembered this call back to the point and I pictured that gravel road that disappeared into the trees and looking for the bent grass…

      Thank you, Sue. That was so perfect.

  5. in a nutshell…”But my point is, whether Christian art is or isn’t largely miserable, useless and derivative, WHO CARES!!? What if instead of debating we just got to work and focused more on making art than the distractions of others’ opinions?”

    uh, yeah!

    lovingly
    suzee B

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