Friday, July 20, 2012

Guest Post: The Artist's Job by David Larson

There’s a lot of debate in the Christian art world today.  How do we compete in the mainstream market?  What sort of art glorifies God?  What are our goals?

These are just a few questions that face us, and the fact that there are so many different opinions about the answers shouldn’t surprise us.  After all, art is an incredibly subjective thing to begin with.  Within certain moral guidelines (that idea alone is a subject of huge debate) art can often serve as a fulfillment of the phrase, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

Of course, the ultimate beholder of our works is God, and we should want to make what He thinks is beautiful.  I don’t know what else matters.  Which leads me to the question in this post: What is the Christian artist’s job?  What are we trying to accomplish with our work?  What are supposed to do?

I think one of the problems with Christian art today is that we sometimes over-think this question. And when we do, the result of our efforts tends to be a sort of carefully packaged commercial product, trying desperately to keep mainstream American Christianity happy, or at least not angry, yet attempting to include elements that draw secular audiences. 

I don’t think this approach turns out well very often.  When we’re so caught up trying to please everyone and earn the approval of man, we miss the most important goal: pleasing God.  And there’s no way, Christian Artist (especially Writer) that you will please everyone.  Believe me, someone’s going to get angry no matter what.  I mean, an author like, say, Bryan Davis, can write about Christian love, sacrifice, and heroism beautifully, but even he gets blasted by a minority of Christians who believe the literary genre of fantasy is inherently immoral.  You’re just not going to be able to make everyone happy.

But if God is happy, that’s the only thing that should matter to us.  Right? 

It should.  But I find myself having to wage war against the part of myself that longs for the approval of man rather than the approval of God.  This is a spiritual battle, and I could write another whole post on this.

So what is the Christian artist’s job?  Let’s start by very simply saying that our job is to create a good story, drawing, song, or whatever it is we’re making.  Truly.  That should be our first focus. A good piece of art glorifies God, and it also has universal appeal.  Suddenly, we don’t have to work so hard to create a safe, marketable product.  The art does its own work, has its own draw. 

I believe that if we focus on being the best artists we can be, we’ll be surprised at the results. Hopefully the world will, too.  I really believe that a good piece of art glorifies God more than a safe, tailor-cut product.  And it stings to say this, but I would go so far as to say that I’ve seen works of art made by non-Christians that glorify God more than some works of art made by Christians, whether they mean it to or not.  It sounds practically blasphemous to say that, but it really isn’t. Humans, Christian or not, cannot quench their thirst to worship, whether they mean to or not.    

Please understand, I’m not trying to knock Christian art at all.  There’s some great stuff.  Good music, poetry, drawings, and, of course, writing, something I’m trying to do myself.  There are commendable aspects of certain movies as well.

The reality is, it’s harder to be a Christian artist than a secular artist.  We have ethical restrictions, there can sometimes be a negative bias about our work, etc.  But it’s not supposed to be easy, it’s supposed to glorify God, and He promises that it will be well worth our effort and that, as the great runner Eric Liddell said in the movie “Chariots of Fire”, we will “feel His pleasure” along the way. 

Soli Deo Gloria,

3 responses:

Mary Ruth Pursselley said...

Amen. Excellent post. You're right, this can be a very difficult topic to deal with, but you did an excellent job.

Galadriel said...

Yes. I heartily agree.

Lostariel said...

I've been reading The Christian Imagination, and it has some excellent things to say in this vein.


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