Your Art is Bad, My Art is Good

In the church today, there seems to be a resurgence of the “artist.”  Congregations are more accepting of “creative” types: there are new positions popping up on church staffs for worship arts architects and environmental designers, video and creative media have more of a comfortable home in worship services, and the church drama team is bigger and better and more Brechtian than it used to be.

I think this is great.  I think art certainly has a place in the church, in spirituality, and I think artists are uniquely gifted from God to bring truths about in ways that other people cannot see.  I’m all about the resurgence of art into Christian culture.

And as someone who finds gainful employment in the field of Christian art/creative programming/etc. I’m really about it.  And I’m for sure into being the best artist you can be.  You do good work, you do the best you can do with what you’ve been given, and you put it out there for people to see.

What is unsettling about this resurgence  in church culture is the idea that there is “good” art and “bad” art and that the good art is what is used to bring about change and the bad art is something the good artists laugh at, cringe at, and generally disown because they don’t think it’s good.

This is unsettling on several levels.  One, it’s a pretty basic tenet of Christianity that we are supposed to love our brothers and sisters.  As an artist, any kind of artist that does any kind of art, probably the most hateful thing you could do to someone is openly mock something they’ve created.  Can you imagine working on a project, on a paper, on a painting, on a play for weeks/months/years, only to have the final product mocked by a fellow believer who happened to go to design school?  I am just as guilty of this as the next person, smirking at a church skit or laughing at a worship band because they aren’t GOOD, and thinking that makes them stupid.

Which brings me to two, just because you don’t LIKE a piece of art that someone has created, you think it’s bad, and therefore ineffective.  Are we so self-absorbed to believe that only art that is well-done and well-produced is art that can speak to people?  Surely not.  We see in the Bible that God used people who were utter messes.  This is kindergarten.  This is bush league information that we all know.  Art is subjective, and not everyone on the planet has your finely honed palate of what “real” creativity is.  Not everyone is moved by what you are moved by.  Yes: some things are cheesy.  Yes: some things aren’t shiny and produced well.  But that does not mean that the Lord cannot use something that you see as bad to bring about good, to affect change, to zero in on someone’s heart.

Three, “if you’re doing art for the sake of being the best, you’ve missed the point,” says my boss.  Do I think that we should all do the best work we can, because the best work we can do is honoring to God?  Absolutely.  But my best is not your best, and sometimes people have passions that they lack talent for.  And that is ok.  It’s more than ok.  It’s actually braver than what you’re doing, with your slick Final Cut Pro and your After Effects.  I think back to when I first moved to Birmingham, and my uncle visited me over a weekend.  We went to the church I had been attending, a church known for its high production value.  When I asked him what he thought of the service, his only reply was: “Wow!  That was really well-produced!”  If the only thing people remember when they leave our “creative worship sessions” is how cool the video was or the neat way the speaker used his iPad during his talk: we’ve missed the mark by about a thousand miles.  And I think we’ll have to answer to that.

But mainly what I think what we’ll have to answer for is just generally being snobby.

Good art is art that makes you feel something.  Therefore my idea of good art cannot line up perfectly with anyone else’s idea.  I love William Blake, but some people think he’s crazy, or his art is boring.  That’s how I feel about Picasso.  I don’t feel anything from it.  It’s not bad art.  It’s just not the art for me.  The modern, youthful church would hate on the genre of Christian romance novels in a heartbeat, but some people are genuinely moved by them.  They experience something with God when they read them.  Who are you and I to belittle that?  Same thing with a lot of Christian drama.  The experience is different for different people.

Art that does not come from the heart, THAT is bad art.  Art that is false and forced, that’s bad art.  But when my two and half year old daughter brings home a paper covered in stickers FOR ME, that rings of truth.  She loves me, so she made this for me.  Is it something that everyone would ohh and ahh over?  No.  It’s Dora stickers on a piece of construction paper.  It’s not good.  But it’s GOOD.

I think the worst part about this whole trend is the line it draws.  I’m right, you’re wrong.  My art is good, yours is bad.  You don’t deserve to talk because what you say isn’t put in the “right” package.  It’s so condescending.  It’s also just plain rude.  It’s also hateful, which is about the opposite of what we’re asked to do as believers.

If we’re all doing the very best we can, if we’re all believing with our whole hearts that God has given us a vision, and we’re supposed to execute it, to make something that means something, shouldn’t that be enough?  If people want to be brave and put something out there that they’ve labored over, why would we trash that effort?  Why wouldn’t we build them up, encourage them, and see the beauty of what God has placed in their heart?  Is this world so precious that we have to stake our claims to be the best, even if it’s for the Lord?  Or is there room for people who aren’t the best, but still have a passion?

I’m actually asking.

Category: Creativity

3 Responses to Your Art is Bad, My Art is Good

  1. AC

    Well said…I think the most thought provoking statement you had in this article was “Sometimes people have passions that they lack talent for” Having discussions with other christian artists over the years, I think this point has never been illustrated to me like this…

    My heart has changed on this subject recently. Hearing interviews from the Kendricks (Facing the giants, fireproof..) and reflecting on all of the art that ive seen over the years in churches, people have honorable, worshipful motivations in presenting their craft so we shouldn’t hold them to what “I” think is the good.

    Thx for that E.

  2. Artistic Pharasaism ©Jonathan L. Whitt 2012

    If an average dude got up and preached a well-intentioned, God-centered message from the bible and a seminary trained pastor did nothing but mock and ridicule his delivery, we’d all rebuke the pastor. We would tell the pastor that he’s missed the entire point. We’d tell him he’s out of line and that the average dude might not be as polished and flashy, but that he’s preached truth..which trumps polished and flashy any day…so sit down and shut up, you might learn something from this average dude.

    Thanks for gassing me up today.

  3. Hi Erin. I think I’m editing audio form a book you have read this week?
    Anyway. I am very involved with coaching, engineering, performing in plays secular and Christian. My daughter performs at Hillsong in Australia. We’re a musical family. We’ve also been very involved over many years with our church and others in regards to music and the arts. I have found that those who criticize for the sake of itself are often insecure and uneducated and/or inexperienced. The absolute worst thing a fellow brother or sister can do is to offer negative or destructive advice. If the work is to be done for the good of the body, what is the purpose of defeating one’s enthusiasm to serve in a wholehearted manner?
    I find that people who flap their mouths are usually to busy or tired to offer something requiring talent or the use of their hands.
    Yes, Your perspective is unfortunately a common occurrence. But that’s what happens when people get in the way of God’s way.

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