An Artist’s Faith Does(n’t) Matter

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Earlier this month, I posted a couple articles about art, which have garnered quite the response.  In an effort to continue what I believe to be an important conversation, I’ve written a bit of a follow-up post that addresses the specific thoughts of some of my readers.  You can read those articles here and here before jumping into this post, if you’d like.

Jonathan L. writes the following:

As an artist myself though (visual, not musical art), I have to disagree a little bit. I think the title ‘Undercover Christian Artist’ sums up the misconception I feel is pretty common about this topic. Art is not something that should be divided between ‘Christian’ and ‘secular’. Sure, some people may feel called to create art for the church, which is great, but that does not mean every Christian artist has a duty to do so.

Think of it as if they were plumbers. Do Christian plumbers need to tell every client about God? No, they need to do a good job fixing toilets. If the conversation comes up, then great. Same goes for artists. Perhaps some are just called create good art, and their ministry happens in their personal lives. An artist is more than the sum of their art.

So those that are Christians and avoid that label aren’t necessarily ‘conforming to this world’ or ‘being ashamed.’ Maybe they are, but that’s between them and God. 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 backs up my point here pretty well I believe. It’s often our daily life that matters, and that’s what we should focus on more.

I agree that there shouldn’t be a division between “Christian” and “secular” art.  Unfortunately, people in both Christian and secular circles do make that distinction.  In this article, I use the title “Christian artist” to refer to any Christian who is making art.  I do not seek to label any art as “Christian,” but the people behind the art can still receive that label.  It is an ultimately unnecessary label, but it’s very convenient in narrowing the scope of a conversation. Regarding the plumber analogy, I’m not sure this works for all areas of the arts.  There are certain art forms that are not message-driven like others.  If you’re talking about arts not driven by a particular message, then I totally agree.  The only requirements for the artist here would be to carry out his business in a way that honors God, like in the Scripture that you cite.  Christians who are skilled in design don’t need to put crosses into all their logos, nor do they need to compose solely for companies owned by Christians.  The Christian in this scenario should just make the best art he can and in his heart dedicate his work to God.  Art is an offering, and the artist should seek to present his very best.  I think that these principles apply to most visual arts (including digital design, some forms of dance, sculpture, architecture, painting/drawing/sketching/etc.) and instrumental music (including music composed with the express purpose of licensing for marketing purposes).

However, there are other art forms like lyrical music, filmmaking, and all sorts of writing that is driven by a message.  This is where the problem of the undercover Christian artist, which I talked about earlier this month, really emerges.  In good message-driven art, the content is honest and comes from the heart of the artist, a principle backed up by Scripture (Luke 6:45).  When an artist claims to be a Christian – reluctantly or readily – and their message isn’t representative of this heart-level condition, then something is amiss.  Either the artist is purposefully being dishonest about the condition of their heart; or they are being honest, and the roots of their faith just do not go very deep.  Furthermore, a Christian’s faith should be so ingrained in their daily life that it should naturally receive focus in their art.  I do not seek to pass any judgment on “undercover Christian artists.”  I am merely offering a word of caution, as the fruit I am seeing in their art is rather unripe.  I can’t judge the tree, but I can indeed judge the fruit it produces.

I believe that something needs to change in the artistic atmosphere of the Christian subculture.  I don’t think there is one answer to the problems at hand; we as a culture need to have a continuing conversation on how to best represent Christ and his kingdom in the arts.  I am glad to contribute to this conversation on this site, and I am glad to see that there are others who want to have this conversation and are initiating it.

*

Blake C. writes, “Why does religion need to be a factor in liking/disliking a band. If it’s a rad song I’ll turn it up!”  In an earthier and blunter expression of opinion, Cory S. also suggests, “Or….. Stop giving a shit about the artist’s religion and just listen to whatever.”  These comments raise an interesting and important question: does it even matter if an artist identifies as a Christian?  Should we allow this to determine what art we choose and what art we reject?

Of course, the answer here isn’t as simple as a yes or no.

If art is good, we shouldn’t shun it merely because of the views of the artist.  If we feel that his views have so affected his art that we cannot support it in good conscience, then we shouldn’t support it.  But if art made by someone in opposition to our personal views is good and does not grieve our conscience, we shouldn’t let the artist’s personal views deter us from supporting his work.

So what about an artist’s beliefs affecting our decision in a positive way?  In this instance, it is entirely dependent on the supporter.  We should support our own respective communities, whatever they may be, more than communities and cultures that we are not a part of.  So, a Christian should be more inclined to support art made by Christians.  For example, if a Christian is presented with two works of art equal in material excellence, one made by a fellow Christian and the other not, he should choose the work made by a fellow Christian.  This is called loyalty, which is appreciated in all social circles.

So, in the end, an artist’s personal views should not be an ultimate authority in our decision to support his work.  It should be a factor in a larger equation and not the whole equation itself.

Thank you, everyone who commented on these posts.  If you have any thoughts to continue this conversation, please don’t hesitate.  The only way that we can make and support the best art possible is if we keep having thoughtful dialogue like this.

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