I recently finished a 7-part series on why evangelical Christians have often struggled to create good art, compared to Christians who come from high church traditions (Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, etc.). I will discuss a few points (such as the need for art that captures “the thinginess of things“) in more detail in “sidetrail” posts over the next couple of months. In the meantime, here are some takeaways, things I’ve learned as I developed these ideas over the series:
1. Good art is part of a healthy system.
In part 7, I talked about the idea that there’s a simplistic assumption in some Christian circles that entertainment made by Christian always has to be kid-friendly. This misses out on the fact that many religious themes worth exploring are complex, meaty and can only be explored adequately in ways that adults understand. Therefore, good art needs to be more than just one particular kind of work or style. It has to belong to a wide system that allows artists to create work for kids, parents, singles and other groups, without talking down to any of them.
2. Good art must face what it means to be human.
In part 6, I talked about the idea that we sometimes find we are led to God by paths we don’t expect. Humans are a complex breed, great capacity to give love and explore truth combined with great capacity for vice and to justify our own mediocrity. We need at least the occasional artwork that explores the odd ways we find God, how he can even use our trials and selfishness to draw us closer to him. This helps us avoid false expectations, recognize how unexpected and undeserved grace really is.
3. Good art systems must consider the whole Bible.
It’s important to consider whether an artwork’s theme or message is internally consistent, but also that most artworks can’t cover all reality. A well-written novel about martyred missionaries can give a compelling portrait of the sacrifice, and allude to the complex relationships many missionaries had with the people they were trying to reach. However, even one of Irving Stone’s brick-sized historical novels would have a hard time capturing both things in equal detail. Therefore, in order to have art that covers all the themes seen in the Bible (repentance, redemption, confession, forgiveness, sinful denial, etc.), Christians have to be okay with different kinds of art being on the market, ones that specialize in relaying particular ideas. This takes us back to point 1: good art has to exist in a system that supports a diversity of material.
4. Good art leaves things to explore
Different art forms have different layers of complexity. An oral tale will not have the same degree of symbolism as a 500-page novel, which doesn’t mean one is superior to the other, it’s a question of form. Even so, the art that survives tends to do so because it has multiple layers of symbols and themes to explore. It invites readers to explore several layers of ideas, which is why intellectual communities tend to cultivate good artists (a point I made at the start of the series).
5. Good art must serve the work.
I tried to delve into this topic in part 2, 3 and 5, describing the dangers of art that describes life in an unhealthy, artificial way. The broader point would be that if making art is a God-given gift, it must be treated like any other calling or vocation: it must be used well.
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