Welcome to Apologists for Christ
Philosophy of Art

Home | Debates | Classic Quotes | Rodney's Reflections | Controversial Issues | Cults | insights | Movie and Game Reviews | Music Reviews | Articles | Why Greasy Theologian? | Links | Yo Nick!

By Aubrey M.

The world is always in need of change. The heart is always in need of reawakening. As the people fall asleep in droves, someone must remain alert. Someone must speak to those people, not only to wake them but to give them a reason to get up. Whose task is this?

It seems so often that the artist is called to live a solitary life, that somehow by isolating himself, he can perfect his need and therefore his ability to communicate. The best artists are always eccentric, some almost completely insane. It is these madmen who reflect most accurately the desperate state of our world. They are great, not because they are talented, but because they are true.

How great is the impact of art when it causes us to see ourselves more clearly? It can incite us to change or to crumble in despair.

Imagine, then, if there were a group of artists not madmen, but passionate enough to be called mad who were not isolated, who knew love love that wasnt a hoax who had a purpose to their lives and could share that love, that passion, that life, and still be true? What power could they wield? Not a power to be taken lightly. And yet the power would not be theirs, but rather the power of the truth that they spoke and the love that they lived every day.

Christian artists have the potential to be one of the most influential groups in todays society. There are those who do make a huge difference where they are, who depend on God, give all theyve got, and who are shining the light of truth through an art that people can believe. However, a couple of attitudes exist among some Christian artists that dull the impact of not only their art but also reflect badly upon all of us. Sometimes we think we have to put on a certain face, sing a certain phrase, or come to a certain ending for our art to be considered Christian. Art is art, whether it is produced by believers or unbelievers, and bad art is bad art, regardless. When we attempt to "spiritualize" our artwork in such a manner, it comes across as being cheesy and fake. We need to stick to the truth, yes, but we also need to be believable, to do our homework and create more than two-dimensional characters or happily-ever-after endings. We cant expect to just throw words on paper and still change lives.

Similarly, Ive noticed that some people will let just about anything go, just as long as its Christian, to the point where some of it lacks the minimum amount of quality to be taken seriously. In short, Im afraid that many have come to equate the term "Christian" with bad art. There is absolutely no reason why this should be. In fact, people used to come to the church when they wanted to find good art!

Why reduce such a powerful medium to merely a trite imitation of something you can find anywhere outside the church?

To begin with, I dont think many Christians recognize the full potential that lies in the arts. Some people think that art is merely a diversion, a distraction from the seriousness of real life. One reason for this could be the idea many people hold that art is just an imitation of life, a life which is better served by living than by painting. However, the best art is not escape but discovery, not diversion but direction.

To better understand the role of art in the Christian life, I have developed a model. I do not think that many would deny that the two basic components of art are form and content. When I tell a story, there are words and paragraphs, and then there is the meaning I am trying to portray. The two most obvious components of form are accuracy and innovation. While we imitate life, we attempt to do so with precision, but also in a way that is fresh and new, allowing us to hold our audiences attention.

As far as content goes, truth is the major concern. Truth will resonate more deeply within the listener or the reader than will beautiful prose or unexpected harmonies. Only truth can touch forever. Art is akin to science in its pursuit of truth, but while science speaks to the mind, art speaks to the heart. This is especially valuable when confronting postmodern thinking, for while the postmodernist will not listen to apologetics, he will listen to art, and if the heart becomes convinced, it is only a matter of time before the mind follows suit.

Content also involves honesty. Honesty is not the same as truth one can honestly believe a lie but it is the means to truth. If I believe a lie, yet I write honestly, eventually my honesty will allow me to see the truth. Honesty makes art believable, makes truth believable.

The goal of the artist should be truth. We search for meaning, then bring it out for others to see. We want to understand. We probe the depths relentlessly, searching for that key that will unlock the door and bring everything to light. We arent afraid to search for knowledge, but we are afraid to step out without that knowledge. As an artist, I do not want to say anything that is not true. The truth defines my art, my very existence. The worst thing that I can do is to write something assuming that I know. Assumption is the number one enemy to good art. As my high school art teacher was quite fond of saying, "Draw what you see, not what you think you see." What you think you see gets you nowhere if it is really a lie. In fact, it will pull you so off course that when you finally do realize your error, it seems impossible to get back on track.

As a Christian, it is so easy to assume that we know all the answers. In a very real sense, we do have all the answers, in Gods Word. Sometimes, its a temptation to cut and paste the Gospel, to skim the surface, look for the easy answers, and forget that life, most of the time, is not so neat and clean. On the other hand, its also a temptation to become arrogant, to forget the importance of the message and get caught up in clever plotlines and rich symbolism.

In the discussion regarding form vs. content in the arts, I have been quite adamant in my argument that content is more important than form. I say this because form exists for the sake of content and is therefore subservient to content, whereas content is not subservient to form. I have been known to say that "form doesnt matter when content is absent." Quite true. However, some have taken this statement to suppose I meant that form doesnt matter, period.

Oh, form matters, but its importance is dependent upon the importance of its message. Suppose I took the reverse of the above statement that "form doesnt matter when content is absent," or "content doesnt matter when form is absent." Now, this statement is false because the truth still matters even when no one understands it. However, the fact remains that it is not understood. Without form, understanding becomes impossible. Enjoyment also becomes impossible, since innovation is also a part of form. Now, when content is absent, nothing exists which must be clearly communicated. One may still find enjoyment, but does it really matter? It is merely mindless entertainment.

When content is present, form begins to matter. The more important the message, the more important it becomes to communicate it clearly and in a way that will catch and keep peoples attention.

Form and content exist in a symbiotic relationship. Content is the brain, the essence, but it depends upon form, the body, to carry it around and to interact with the world. Form and content are not equal, but the artist must expend a considerable amount of effort on both if he is to create great art.

I think one of the reasons why the definition of art has become so obscured is that we are isolating our artists. Somehow, in the course of history, the idea developed that art is a lonely, intensely personal thing with which we dare not meddle. We leave the artist to his work, and the artist isolates himself, perhaps believing that loneliness is a small price to pay for greatness. Sometimes, art is born in isolation, out of a desperation for communication that could be attained no other way. However, lonely, desperate artists will usually produce lonely, desperate art, though they may choose to adopt a fašade, in which case the truth is obscured.

Artists should not be alone. We have a tendency to be frail, drawn to beauty, even when beauty would betray us. Were sensitive individuals. We want to change the world. We dream big but often arent prepared for big disappointments. When they come, many of us are destroyed.

Perhaps some dont make it because they dont "have what it takes." People say you have to have the skin of an alligator to succeed as an artist. Quite the contrary. Never should an artist stop being vulnerable. It is not our job to destroy humanity but to preserve it. No, what we need are the guts to speak the truth, and the love to not beat people with it.

How do we find this strength? Does it lie in some untapped inner store? No. The artist is constantly looking inward. If the strength were there, he would have found it by now.

Ultimately, the strength comes from God. God is the source of every good and perfect gift, and he is synonymous with love. But telling people that love comes from God does not mean leaving them to find it on their own. Children learn how to love from their parents, from human beings, in how the parents love the child and how the parents love each other. Unfortunately, in todays society, this process is often frustrated, leaving many, many emotionally needy people. It is the churchs responsibility to meet this need, to be Christs presence in the world, to champion the cause of the hopeless, to love the lonely.

Art is not, nor has it ever been, about talent. Talent is a wonderful thing, but its like form. It doesnt matter when content is absent. No, art is more about having the courage to speak the truth when the rest of the world is busy ignoring it. Its not about creating something new. There is nothing new under the sun. Its about finding out what is there, looking under the surface and bringing to light that hidden by ignorance, fear, or selfishness. Its about finding out what it means to be human. Its about life, its about love, its about faith.

Art is meant to be a meeting place, a sharing of thoughts and ideas, yet it has become a muddled pool of contradiction and complacency. The "assumers" and "escapers" rule the popular media, a sea in which any true message is quickly lost.

So much of the fluff that passes for art these days could be eliminated if people would just be honest. We need to stop catering to the mass media and realize that the people are never going to wake up if we keep feeding them tranquilizers.

The art world needs more truth seekers. Artists are key players in the shaping of society, and if enough of us could represent life honestly, perhaps the true picture would not be so obscured.

Art is powerful. Those who claim the contrary either have minds that are closed so tightly they are seamless, or they are lying through their teeth. I know that after watching a movie, many times I walk away seeing myself as one of the characters, perceiving their face and expression instead of my own. Some characters have taught me to be cold and distant. Others have taught me to follow my dreams. In a screenplay I am writing, I have a character I hope will teach people to put down their pride, to face their fears and have faith.

If I can send people away with a heart newly open to faith, then I have accomplished my purpose as an artist, and also as a follower of Christ.

Let us remember this as we put our artistic talents to use, so that we may further Gods kingdom through what he has given us.

Email the author at LizardStatue@netscape.net