245. the art is out there

Art should be about the things that matter, about the things that bring us together.

Although many artists would say that they are trying to use their art to make the world a better place, so much of what is popular in the art world is (intentionally or not) divisive. I think of high art and the divides it (again, intentionally or not) creates between the elite and the rest of society. I think of counter-cultural art and the divides it creates between the hip/cool/underground and the rest of society.

Worst of all, I think of art in advertising and how it divides everyone – children from parents who can’t afford the right toys, women from other women who don’t conform to a constantly shifting physical ideal, neighbor from neighbors who don’t drive the right car or cook with the right grill or drink the right beer.

When did art become a wedge? When did art go from building bridges to burning them?

I believe that art has lost its way. It has become corrupted by the rampant individualism that pervades society today. Art has made intensely personal expression (accessibility be damned) its ideal.

Art is not the only institution with this problem. Politics is certainly divisive. Religion does the same.

But of these three, art has the opportunity to transcend, to elevate our attentions away from ourselves and towards each other.

And perhaps it seems odd that, as a Christian, I would look to art this way so let me be clear about my beliefs. I believe in the God of Moses, Abraham, Elijah, the God who humbled himself and walked among us as Jesus, who died on a cross so that we reconciled to him and to one another. I wholeheartedly subscribe to the essentials of Christian doctrine as summarized in the Nicene Creed.

I also happen to believe that the arts have been abandoned by the Christian church as a whole and the daily escalation of depravity is the inevitable result. And I purposely chose the word, “abandoned,” because that’s what’s happened – what’s happening. I know there are Christian movies now and the Christian music industry is huge and the market for Christian fiction continues to grow, but the problem is that Christians have segregated their artists away from the whole of society.

We cloister Christian artists in a parallel entertainment industry and then criticize the “secular” portion of the industry for its cynicism, its rampant violence and graphic sexuality. Well what did we expect to happen when we removed salt and light from the world at large? Yeah, so the Christian music industry is huge but when’s the last time you saw a non-Christian walk into a Christian bookstore and pick up a Christian CD?

I believe art should be something that brings people together, that highlights what we have in common, that encourages community and ultimately culture.

Finally, to put all these ideas together, I believe that if/when Christians get back to supporting the arts in a way that engages the culture at large (as opposed to preaching to the choir), it can bring beauty and hope back to a lost, cynical world. And I believe it can happen through the arts because image, substance, beauty (his art, also known as the cosmos he created) is the way that God most readily and sublimely expresses himself (Romans 1:20).

I don’t know what this art will look like, but I know it’s out there just waiting to be made. It’s hard to imagine a new kind of art when art has run the gamut from lifelike realism of the High Renaissance to the extreme abstraction of modern art and everywhere in between. In part, I suspect that the institution of art itself will have to be wrested away from the elite, academia, and (particularly) advertising, and returned to everyday, regular people.

I don’t know what it will look like, but it’s out there somewhere, waiting to be fished out of the soup of the collective unconscious.

I don’t know what it will look like but I know the world is waiting for it.

I don’t know what it will look like but I believe it’s out there, if only because the alternative is too terrible to contemplate – that we have come up against the end of our achievement as a civilization and all that’s left is decline.

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