Should there be a Separate Category for Christian Art?
Or should Christians simply create art apart from any categorization?
And why Christian Art often seems to be so bad.
There are many strong opinions to support both the category of Christian Art, and in opposition to such categorization. Part of the problem stems from what has been produced under the moniker of Christian Art over the last hundred years: trite and sentimental works of art, cloying and manipulative prose, and banal music lacking any real gravitas. The Church, however, is largely to blame for this situation. Abdicating its role as arbiter of culture, and nurturer of all that is good and noble, the Church abandoned its place in the arena of art leaving it unattended. This created a vacuum that was filled with humanistic, naturalistic, and often times immoral art. Furthering its alienation from the arts, the Church often discouraged and at times even persecuted artists, driving them out of the Church. As a result, when the Church did produce art, it was bereft of talent. Those artists who could have served the Church with excellence in the arts, had long departed its halls for other pastures. This, I believe, is the main reason why many thoughtful Christians cringe at the mere mention of Christian Art as a category.
This does not however need to be the status quo with which we live. Historically the Church produced some of the most celebrated works of Western culture. During the Middle Ages, and even in much of the Renaissance, the best works of art were produced by the Church; if you wanted to experience the best of culture, you had to visit the Church. This of course is no longer the case; today, the best of our culture is being produced outside of the Church, and often stands against the Church and the teachings it espouses.
The Church can once again be a source of culture. Brian Godawa writes, “The truth is that each epoch of thought in history, whether Medieval, Enlightenment, or Postmodern, is a contest in storytelling. The one who can tell the best story, in a very real sense, wins the epoch (10).” This idea is further supported by N. T. Wright who suggests “that the way to handle the clash of competing stories is to tell yet another story, one that encompasses and explains the stories of one’s opposition (ibid.).”
The Church needs to tell a better story.
Rather than investing in hackneyed programs that do little to support the work and mission of the Church, the Church needs to invest in its artists. It needs to wrestle with the ideas of culture, aesthetics, art theory, and theology, raising a generation of artist theologians who can once again bring relevance and meaning to the Culture both within the Church and outside its walls.
So Should there be a Category of Christian Art?
Of course I have not yet answered your question on categories. Humans by nature categorize, its how we make sense of the world. So yes, there should be a category of Christian Art. This does not mean that all art produced by Christians will be Christian Art, nor does it mean that all Christian art must be overtly Christian. The category of Christian Art should be one in which God and His attributes are central. This does not make it necessary, however, to always picture God, the saints, angels, scripture verses, or even mention them at all, but rather that the work be permeated with the nature of God throughout. Such work has to be thoughtfully produced, bathed in prayer, struggled with, and agonized over … it should be no soft and easy thing. Those who believe they are called to it must be willing to suffer for it. They must be willing to shed tear, bend knee, and spend hours in study, work, and prayer. The Church can no longer afford those who only flirt with their calling.
Other artists who are Christian may not be called to create for the Church in the category of Christian art, but are called to an external vocation in the arts. These artists too have a duty to prepare themselves skillfully and thoughtfully for their task. Theirs is the calling to be a light in the depths of darkness. Though they create works that are not categorized as Christian Art, they nevertheless must be Christian. Their work too needs to be a source of salt and light, whether the art be landscape paintings, abstract sculpture, pop music, or theater, the work of the Holy Spirit must be evident both in the artist and in his creations. Though his work may not be about God, God must still be plainly evident in the work.
Storytelling as Subversive Apologetics – Brian Godawa