Should there be a difference in the art a Christian produces and art of the general culture? I’ll narrow the question more specifically. Should Christian artists make a conscious effort to produce art that is in a fundamental way an “answer” to culture and distinctly different from pop culture.?
Good art represents the artist. We don’t have to think consciously about what we’re producing to have our art represent our thought. An existentialist artist doesn’t sit down and say, “I’m going to make existential art.” It is in the air he breathes, so it naturally comes out.
Making art of any form is more than just an artist being a product of his culture and producing art. Art reflects where the artist is as a person. Gauguin’s noble savage shows where he was. Gauguin believed that man was better off outside the realm of society, and that if we returned to a “savage” state we could be free from greed, murder, you name it. He tried to return to a less civilized situation himself and it failed ultimately.
If as Christians we are going to study art or try to be artists, we need to understand what is going on in our culture. In Christianity, we have made the mistake of thinking that art is in a totally separate category from the rest of life. Since the Romantic period of the 18th and 19th century, the arts have been elevated away from the normal thinking of men, so that an artist can create a really atrocious piece of work, but if they are considered great artists, the work is excused. The Romantic period had a very skewed view of the nature of art. To the Romantic man, good art was really only produced by suffering people, and art had to communicate the confusion of life. Romantic art failed because it couldn’t show the beauty and glory of the reality that existed all around them. Men in their deepest thoughts know that the world contains great beauty. For the same reason, the Grunge movement and the Gothic movement of the 1990’s arose. They saw only emptiness and brokenness and showed only that in their music and art. Romanticism, Grunge, and Goth all developed conventions of what art should be, instead of allowing the art to come out of who they really were. In reality, art should encompass all aspects of life, good and bad, because it is a reflection of the artist and his innermost person.
An example of how art is separated from the artist is Sylvia Plath. The writer Sylvia Plath committed suicide. She had a fantastic ability to communicate the condition and dilemma of man, that we don’t know who we are or why we’re alive, or anything really. Critics of her writings will say that it is not necessarily bad that she killed herself, since her writing was so fantastic and that was what was really important about her. This is terrible. It would have been much better that she had been just a mediocre artist and known the answers to her questions. We’ve separated the art from the artist, and have dehumanized him or her into a production machine. The humanness of the artist has been removed from his creation.
If a Christian decides to produce art, he will often say, “I am a Christian, I am an artist, this is how I will work.” This is a misunderstanding of the nature of art. Because art really does express what we believe and where we are, (I’m not speaking of superficial art. Drawing a picture of a doggie or a kitty is not what I’m talking about.) we can’t just consciously apply Christian conventions to our art to make it look Christian. If we are Christians, then our art, be it paint, marble, film, poetry, novels, or whatever, will contain the characteristics that define us as Christian humans, not Christian robots.
We should never set out with the goal of painting a Christian picture, or writing a Christian book, or making Christian music. That is dishonest. The life that truly reflects Jesus Christ will not have to put on fake methods to force his art into Christianity. Christ lived on this earth as a genuine man. He never had to wake up in the morning and remind Himself, “Okay, today I’m going to act like a Messiah.” That’s absurd. He behaved like the Messiah because He was the Messiah. He never consciously “acted” like the Messiah. He never changed His behavior to live up to the cultural conventions of what made a good Messiah. Christian art is art that is produced by Christians, not art that looks like Christian art.