Tag Archives: Christian art

Is Christian Art Useless?

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.


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?


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?


And should we really spend time debating this?


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?


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…


The picture that makes up the banner at the top here with all the books contains a pencil drawing I did in 1989, one of the first I attempted. I was a freshman and our teacher, Mr. Kellner, wanted us to choose something significant, something that meant something to us, so I chose this picture from a magazine to copy down in pencil. It turned out pretty good and I’ve always been proud of it, though it’s pretty yellowed and faded now. Not sure what that has to do with anything, but there it is. I wanted to write someday, and this was my first statement in bringing that to reality in a way.

So speaking of incarnational activities, I hope you’re all busy working on those works of beauty and wonder you’re dreaming of. I am. In case you’ve wondered, that’s where I’ve been.

This was inspirational recently: an essay first published over forty years ago by a British Dominican priest in the mid-twentieth century, recently reprinted in Image Journal. Here’s a rough, Message-inspired paraphrase:

"With all our sensory gifts, we have a duty, a responsibility to God and to the world he made for us to develop our appreciation and awareness of it. To be fully alive. Because of our self-awareness, we are between physical and spiritual: our involvement is giving the world incarnate meaning beyond simple physical fact. Our interaction with the world through our senses humanizes the world and deepens material reality. We are not only categorizing, domesticating, naming and subduing nature, we are naturalizing it through our experience. Our experience is what makes it nature. Man was first made to be a gardener, so his living turns wilderness and wastelands into fields and gardens. His art draws meaning from the chaos as the word drew light from darkness and separated, defined, and solidified reality. Developing the slow transformation of physical reality into spiritual meaning requires reflection, stillness, and receptivity. And our shadowed world of political fears, troubles and economic anxieties blind us to this deeper crisis of deadened senses. The human psyche is forgetting to contemplate. Only artists know this: that one must first take in beauty and culture and meaning in order to understand it, know it, and share it.

"Artists must lead the way."

Let that be your light today, skimming across the unseen page. Inspiration for ever-greater mystery.