I’ve never considered myself artistic until sometime last year. The last art class I took was in third grade. In fourth grade I started band, and that replaced art class. It never occurred to me that was because band was simply another form of artistic expression. Words have always been my playthings, and more recently, as I’ve read books about developing as a writer, it has been impressed on me that writers must see themselves as artists.
So when I issue this plea for Good Christian art, it is not simply a call for good painting and sculpture, but also for those who create music, movies, dance and writing. Let me explain what I mean by “Good Christian Art” by unpacking those words in reverse order.
The artist holds up a mirror to the world and says, “This is what you look like.” It isn’t always pretty, because the world can often be an ugly and terrible place. The artist also casts an image of where we should be heading and paints a portrait of who we desire to become.
Whether the art explores relationships, love, justice, or whatever else… we can find ourselves identifying with what is being said. This is why the music we listened to as teenagers continues to have so much power in our adult lives – because it draws us back into our hopes and struggles.
Art has the prophetic ability to say, “Like it or not, this is who you are. This is happening in our world. What will you do?”
If Christian art is always happy and polished then it isn’t reflecting a Christian worldview. Christian theology has a profound understanding of sin and depravity which should be reflected in our art. We cannot faithfully represent our world or our salvation without grappling with the brutal reality of sin and all its effects. And yet, Christian art should also be uniquely marked by hope.
Most Christian worldview are built on the framework of God’s story of redemption: Creation, Fall, Salvation, Glorification. Is this whole story reflected in our art? Sure, one may be highlighted more than others in order to make a point, but in general, these four pillars of the Christian worldview must be consistent in what we produce. Otherwise, we may be making art, but not Christian art.
Hear me right: not everything needs to be explicitly theological. You don’t need to have a Bible verse in every piece of art. But does it interpret and reflect the world in a way that makes the artist a Christian prophet to the world? Here a few questions to consider:
- Does my art show the beauty of God’s creation?
- Does it glorify sin (on one hand) or make does it make sin look terrible and unappealing (on the other hand)? OR, does it display how tempting sin can be, but then display how ultimately harmful and unsatisfying it is?
- Does it show nonChristians are still created in the image of God, or are they always as bad as they could be?
- Does it make the Christian life look easy and comfortable, or is there ongoing tension between indwelling sin and progressive sanctification?
- Does it show our inability to save ourselves while pointing to God as our savior through Jesus Christ?
- Does it display the astounding promises of God that await in the New Heavens and New Eart where sin will be no more?
I hope it’s obvious no piece of art can answer all of those questions. But these are questions Christian artists should consider.
(Update: To be clear, Christian art flows from a Christian worldview and the discerning viewer will understand what you’re saying. Some things are best communicated below the radar, and many messages are lost because they were too direct. Art doesn’t need to shout “Christ!” to be honor his gift of life and salvation. Sometimes we teach, sometimes we show, and sometimes we simply play. Those are all good expressions of Christian art.)
Good Christian Art
Unfortunately, Christian art isn’t always good art. Many times, we have smoothed out the jagged corners and skimmed over the attractiveness of sin. We have made Christians look like saints and nonChristians look like devils. Good art must be honest, and that can be a dangerous thing. Creatively, we have borrowed so much from popular culture that much Christian art seems like a cheap knock-off.
Fellow Christian artists: be creative, innovative, and daring in your prophetic role. Sometimes prophets comfort, sometimes they afflict, and at others they warn of coming danger.
For too long, Christian art has focused more on being “Christian” enough than on being artistic. If our art continues to reflect only a Christian sub-culture, it will have no prophetic power. Sanitized art is powerless.
There was a day when the greatest support of the arts was the Church. My hope is for a new generation of Christian artists to embrace their calling to see the world through a Christian worldview and say, “This is who you are, this is who we’re called to become, and here is how.”