Reason Number 3: We can’t judge art well if we don’t know enough about it
So far, I’ve talked about art as a kind of evangelism.
I want to get practical for a moment.
As Christians who live in societies with lots of art (movies, music, books, games, etc), we all eventually review that art.
We recommend or disregard certain kinds of art to your friends.
We build ideas for what we each think is “good art” or “bad art” and use those ideas whenever we find something new.
Many of us write and publish our thoughts about art – either as professional reviews or through personal blogs and websites.
If we’re going to review art in an intelligent, helpful way, we need to know something about it.
This is especially true because sometimes we discover art that’s made in a very different style than anything we’ve ever seen before.
For example, some years I became interested in the band U2.
I’d learned from various interviews that most of U2’s members describe themselves as Christians, and was interested in how their faith influenced their work.
I had a hard time seeing any theological content to many of their songs – in fact some of their songs seemed nihilistic. For example, the song “Raised by Wolves” has the repeating line “I don’t believe anymore.”
That changed recently when I was watching an interview by another rock musician who professes to be Christian: he described his latest album as a collection of songs about fictional characters.
Something clicked in my head. I suddenly realized something obvious that I’d missed: many songwriters don’t write songs are necessarily about themselves.
Instead, they write songs that are really about fictional characters, the musical version of short stories.
In light of that idea, a lot of U2’s music made more sense.
“Raised By Wolves” has the lyrics “I don’t believe anymore,” but it’s not talking about the lead singer losing his faith. The song is talking about fictional characters dealing with personal and spiritual crises (some of them inspired by the Troubles in Ireland).
The reason it took me so long to figure this idea out was because I grew up around a very different kind of music.
Most of the music I’ve listened to by Christian musicians has been worship music or Contemporary Christian Music. The idea of writing a song about a fictional character or situation almost never shows up in those genres.
Sometimes a Christian band will write a song with fictional characters (like “I Need a Miracle”) but they usually write those songs from a third-person perspective.
Some Christian bands write songs that describe bible stories (like “Forgiving Eyes”) but they usually use language that makes it obvious they’re singing about Biblical characters.
So, if we hear a worship or CCM song written in a first-person context, we can generally assume the singer or songwriter is talking about their own spiritual lives or talking to God through the song.
If we want to really understand and review other kinds of music, you have to expand your knowledge and learn about other music styles.
Otherwise, we approach the music like people who’ve only ever seen ballroom dancing seeing someone tap dance.
We may think it’s bad or terrible when the real problem if we don’t have the tools or context to really understand what’s going on.
It’s particularly important we understand this principle today because no one has to be qualified to review art anymore.
These days, any one of us can write a book review or a rant about a movie online and influence hundreds of people.
No one’s watching to see if we really know what we’re talking about.
All we have to do is know how to type (or, if you make a video review, how to talk).
So, we need to be more careful about how we judge art.
We need to be willing to study it, to learn new things to understand the context of what different artists are saying in their work.