Christian Art, Parody, and Creativity

The comments for the [Insert Site Here] is the New MySpace post got a tad derailed into the beginnings of some fantastic discussions on Christian art, media, etc. and I wanted us to talk about it more.

Here are a few choice thoughts I culled from those comments to get us started:

“Why must Christians desperately try to keep up with their secular peers?”

“You would think with God on their side Christian artists would produce amazingly kick-ass media. Sadly, that’s hardly ever the case (minus, of course, the High Renaissance era).”

“Don’t just imitate, innovate.”

“One of the problems I see is the lack of willingness and ability to engage melancholy, depression or just generally the darker side of things to generate artistic output.”

Full disclosure: I worked for a church for almost two years as a designer, art director, and sometimes creative director. The majority of my best friends still work there. I love that church and I love The Church. I love Jesus. I love art and the people who make it.

“Christian” Art?

I think Ben hits on something profound here. Most of what is deemed “Christian art” (I hate the term, but it serves the discussion so we’ll keep it) focuses on the top 99.9% of positive human experience – happiness, rampant selflessness, divine ecstasy, etc. – and completely ignores the bulk of life on Earth. Read the Book of Ecclesiastes; life under the sun is often not pleasant.

That exclusion, in and of itself, makes Christian art irrelevant and dishonest to all but a few (delusional) people. Most people do things like get depressed, have family and friends die, fight with their spouse, screw up their finances, have their cars break down, and so on and so forth. We don’t live in the 99.9% and we don’t know anyone else who does either, so why would we engage in art born out of a worldview we don’t connect with in the least bit?

We Gave Up

Christians have not been at the forefront of art and creativity since the Protestant Reformation which, if my time as an academic serves me correctly, started in 1517. We have neglected artistic expression, and demonized any art that isn’t expressly, explicitly about Caucasian Jesus™.

“Creativity”?

Right now, in America, there are a number of churches who have made cultural relevancy and creativity a huge part of their planning and programming. That desire, in and of itself, is wonderful, welcomed, and certainly in keeping with the early church leaders (namely Jesus) who used cultural queues to discuss spiritual matters. The desire to be culturally relevant and create is GOOD; the way it plays out more often than not infuriates me. I’m going to paint with a big brush to make my point, so please forgive the generalizations. It typically plays out like this:

1. Determine a sermon topic or passage of scripture or t-shirt idea or product or website.

2. Parody an existing TV show, movie, cultural trend, brand name, etc.

3. Call it creativity.

First of all, it doesn’t take a creative genius to parody the Home Depot logo and make it say Home Work on a bunch of print materials. (That particular sin I was completely guilty of early on in my tenure at NewSpring Church.) Secondly, and probably more overlooked and vastly more important, it minimizes and makes light of the hundreds (thousands?) of hours artists and craftsmen in the marketplace put into creating recognizable and excellent TV shows, movies, cultural trends, brand names, etc. We don’t care about their work, we simply USE their work. Their artistic expression and craftsmanship is reduced to commodity.

When a church (or Christian organization, or Christian designer) takes existing art and media, makes poor parodies of it (that they probably made in a few days because refuse to plan well), and then distributes it under the guise of creativity it completely devalues the work and skills of the artists and craftsmen responsible for the inspiration. Worse, it just makes followers of Christ look BAD, which in turn makes Christ look bad, uncreative, and irrelevant. And then we wonder why there aren’t more artists in the church.

Shouldn’t You Be Supernatural?

If Christians are really smoking what they’re selling, shouldn’t the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (who offers divine understanding, guidance, inspiration, gifts, help) enable them to be as creative, if not more creative, than artists who don’t have a direct connection?

I hate to be all negativity and no solution, so what are some solutions? How can we educate the church? What resources exist to do so?