Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Andy Whitman

Evangelicals and the Arts

Recommended Posts

The tragedy of Evangicalism missing on the arts isn't because we've fallen behind mainstream culture, on average--although we have fallen way behind the best of culture. The tragedy is that, as Christians, we should be doing a LOT more.
Of course, I agree with that last statement even though this debate about who is more in tune with the arts, mainstream culture or evangelicals, is sorta beside the point. All I know, is that I can have discussions about topics as diverse as Hunter S. Thompson, Prince or Marc Chagall with my coworkers any day of the week, but never with my former Club members. Those aforementioned individuals and their works arent on the Club-approved list. Of course, I can freely talk this way with my closest friends as well, but they're typically as outcast and ostracized from the old Club as I am, so that's no surprise.

Maybe this is a good time to sing the praises of this board. For the past three years I have learned, been challenged and enjoyed the myriad of ongoing arts discussions at A&F. Thank God for this place, warts and all. But at the same time I realize that what exists here is an anomaly. It's also not "evangelical" in the strict sense. Thank God for that as well. Sincerely.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Wow, he placed scripture after Jesus and the Trinity (for that is what Nicene and Chalcedon were all about). That's a surprise, since I have seen many, many evangelical statements of faith that put the Bible at #1 and put God and Jesus down at #2 or below on their list of things they believe in.

I saw that, and I appreciated it as well.

I have a feeling I have made the point here before (and by "here" I mean at A&F) that any book with a title like Art Needs No Justification was obviously written for an audience and/or a community whose default position was probably that, yeah, art DID need justification.

Absolutely true. There's no question that evangelicalism has had a woeful relationship with the arts. But that book was written almost forty years ago. And when you consider the fact that a bunch of evangelicals read the book, believed it, and acted upon the notion that art had value in and of itself, then I think it's reasonable to expect to see what I think we're seeing -- a tug of war between those evangelicals who have embraced a high view of the arts, and those evangelicals who hold to the notion that the arts are suspect, and of real value only when they are used as tools for evangelism. It's not only because of that book, of course. I would like to think that anyone who considers the whole counsel of Scripture, and examines the history of the Christian Church, would readily see the esteem with which the arts are held by both God and the Church. But I do think that Schaeffer has had a significant impact on some corners of the evangelical world.

And I have to say that in some of those corners the evangelical world has outstripped not only the rest of the Church, but also the secular world. Why is it that Calvin College can put together a series of concerts, films, and speakers every year that embarrasses the programs assembled by the Ohio State University, which has fifteen times the number of students as Calvin, and a correspondingly larger budget for the arts? In the next month Calvin will be sponsoring concerts by Shapes and Sizes, Martin Sexton, Denison Witmer, Erin McKeown, Yo La Tengo, and Romantica. The Ohio State University? Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Astoundingly enough, there is some evidence -- and I would offer Calvin as the prime example -- that evangelicals "get" the arts in ways that the rest of society does not.

Of course, the tug of war goes on, and there is real tension there. Just ask Jeff Rioux at Messiah College how much fun it is to deal with outraged students and faculty members when some non-Christian musician drops the F bomb onstage. God forbid that we should expect non-Christians to act like non-Christians, or that we discover that life outside the ghetto can sometimes be crass and dirty.

In spite of the tension, there really are many evangelicals who believe that art needs no justification. I'm in a church where the pastor attends more rock 'n roll shows than I do (and I attend quite a few), where people routinely go to art houses to view foreign films, where dozens of members are making a full-time living in the arts, and where all of it is discussed within the context of a Christian worldview. It has nothing to do with hipness or people trying to live up to a particular image. It's simply Christians being who they are. It's like Arts and Faith, only with real people you can drink coffee and/or beer with. I realize that that's not normal within the evangelical world. But artists, by and large, aren't normal, and I do think it's great that they have a place to go where they can be who they are and at the same time not be asked to sacrifice deeply-held beliefs about God and the Church. And places like Calvin College and Messiah College give me great hope. God bless Ken Heffner and Jeff Rioux. Thousands of evangelical young adults every year hear the good news -- art needs no justification. Art is a gift. And yes, we need to be discerning, so let's learn how to be discerning, but at the same time let's celebrate the Creator who bestows good gifts on his kids, including the ability to create. The tension won't go away, but I'd like to believe, and I have some evidence to think it's true, that the evangelical world is changing. I'm actually fairly hopeful about the whole mess.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
And I have to say that in some of those corners the evangelical world has outstripped not only the rest of the Church, but also the secular world. Why is it that Calvin College can put together a series of concerts, films, and speakers every year that embarrasses the programs assembled by the Ohio State University, which has fifteen times the number of students as Calvin, and a correspondingly larger budget for the arts? In the next month Calvin will be sponsoring concerts by Shapes and Sizes, Martin Sexton, Denison Witmer, Erin McKeown, Yo La Tengo, and Romantica. The Ohio State University? Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Astoundingly enough, there is some evidence -- and I would offer Calvin as the prime example -- that evangelicals "get" the arts in ways that the rest of society does not.

Andy, good point about Calvin College. I get their mailings, and have noticed the strength of what they are doing.

But do you see them as being Evangelical? I thought they were more or less Reformed.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
But do you see them as being Evangelical? I thought they were more or less Reformed.

Rather than write my own thoughts on this, let me put the question back to you: What's the distinction? (I have my own ideas about possible distinctions, but wanted to hear you out first.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I've got the shoe on the other foot in some ways. I would have a much easier time talking about fine art with people at church that with people at work, with a few exceptions. Probably not some cutting-edge stuff or superficially offensive or grotesque work, sure, but in general, yes.
When I say I envy guys like you and Andy, I mean it. Your current experiences in respective evangelical congregations as well as the goings-on at Calvin College and other places, are so far from anything I've ever experienced it's almost hard to believe. I think we can all agree this openness and encouragement of the arts among these groups is not the norm, at least not nationwide.
Why is it Evangelical belief and not just a problem with the organizational culture in your Club?
It could be both. But mainstream evangelicals happen to promote certain philosophies about the arts that preclude deeper discussion. Does the artist paint nudes? Does the author use profanity? Do the stories or themes lead people to Christ? Does the song mention Jesus or God? Does the film depict and "promote" immorality? These are rudimentary issues most of us at A&F moved beyond many years ago. The mainstream evangelicals are still spinning their wheels there. The dearth of important art coming from the evangelical church echoes the lack of liberal or moderate political views being espoused by Club members. There's a system in place that discourages both true artistic expression and liberal politics and social views.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Andy, good point about Calvin College. I get their mailings, and have noticed the strength of what they are doing.

But do you see them as being Evangelical? I thought they were more or less Reformed.

I would hearken back to the definition used by the author of the Touchstone article:

I define an Evangelical as a person committed to Nicene and Chalcedonian orthodoxy, a high view of the authority of Scripture, the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone, and the necessity of personal faith in Christ (and therefore the importance for most people of a personal conversion experience, as long as we do not stereotype it) for salvation.

I think that's a good definition, and it's one that I personally would subscribe to. My guess is that most of the students and faculty at Calvin College would agree with it as well.

It seems to me that many of the negative qualities that folks such as Coltrane are describing are more characteristic of fundamentalists rather than evangelicals. Of course, there is overlap there. But there are many evangelicals who are not fundamentalists. I consider myself an evangelical, but I'm fairly certain that I would be excommunicated from a fundamentalist church within about eight seconds of my arrival.

Edited by Andy Whitman

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It seems to me that the Touchstone article is way too broad in its definition of evangelicals. The practical, cultural definition as it plays out in American mainstream is far more strict. I did a quick web search and found this definition of "evangelical christian" from historian David Bebbington (no clue who he is) and this sounds closer to reality, at least for me.

1) Conversionism: the belief that lives of all humans need to be changed by way of a "born again" decision to repent of their sins and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior

2) Activism: the expression of the gospel in various ways, including missionary outreach and social reform.

3) Biblicism: a particular regard for the Bible as the Word of God and the ultimate authority for religious belief and morality.

4) Crucicentrism: a stress on the substitutionary atonement by Christ on the cross.

Mainstream Evangelicals certainly have more than a "high view" of scriptures authority, as the Touchstone article defines. It is the ONLY authority. Bebbington's definition paints a clearer picture, at least of the church I grew up in.

Edited by coltrane

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I would hearken back to the definition used by the author of the Touchstone article:

I define an Evangelical as a person committed to Nicene and Chalcedonian orthodoxy, a high view of the authority of Scripture, the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone, and the necessity of personal faith in Christ (and therefore the importance for most people of a personal conversion experience, as long as we do not stereotype it) for salvation.

I think that's a good definition, and it's one that I personally would subscribe to. My guess is that most of the students and faculty at Calvin College would agree with it as well.

That is fair enough, I guess. I would make a rather sharp distinction (with "Reformed" implying Calvinism, which I think affects almost everything else), but for purposes of this subject, I think that they can safely be lumped together. As you point out, that was certainly Dr. Williams' intent. I believe that the Dutch Reformed (in the Netherlands, I mean), several generations back, had a very strong current of support for the arts. I do not think that this transferred across the Atlantic when the Dutch settled this country. Perhaps they are regaining traction in this area; it certainly seems like it.

I consider myself an evangelical, but I'm fairly certain that I would be excommunicated from a fundamentalist church within about eight seconds of my arrival.

Fortunately, this would be a very light sentence, since most Fundamentalist churches (in my experience) only Communicate you about 4 times a year to start with!

4) Crucicentrism: a stress on the substitutionary atonement by Christ on the cross.

That is a huge one, I think. And, of course, not entirely bad. But it hits home to me when a certain unnamed person from my extended family makes his Christmas prayer all about Calvary, entirely missing the lesson of the Incarnation itself.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
That is fair enough, I guess. I would make a rather sharp distinction (with "Reformed" implying Calvinism, which I think affects almost everything else), but for purposes of this subject, I think that they can safely be lumped together. As you point out, that was certainly Dr. Williams' intent. I believe that the Dutch Reformed (in the Netherlands, I mean), several generations back, had a very strong current of support for the arts. I do not think that this transferred across the Atlantic when the Dutch settled this country. Perhaps they are regaining traction in this area; it certainly seems like it.

At least for the circles I run in, this is very true. (I belong to a Scottish Reformed church and hobnob with lots of neo-Calvinists.) Lots of the Dutch Reformed or DR-influenced are VERY supportive of the arts, especially those tied to Calvin College and some other colleges in the Michigan/Illinois/midwest.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Since when do we need to concern ourselves with the norm? Further up and further in, my friend!
In the context of this discussion, I think it's very important. When we ask if Evangelicals have a major problem in encouraging/discouraging artistic expressions, we're logically restricting the dialogue to the mainstream. I'm not really concerned with whether small groups in various pockets around the country support the arts. I'm glad they do. That is not, however, the experience of millions of other American evangelicals and I think that's a vital distinction.

In some places sure. Shake the dust off your feet, already.
:lol: I'll save the dust-shaking for my enemies. The Club was a drag, but it wasn't that bad. However, on the personal side, I havent been to any Club meetings in about six months and I am pleasantly surprised to announce that my heart does not have a Club-shaped hole. (And yeah, Peter, I am poking my nose around Eastern Orthodoxy again)

The bottom line for me: Evangelicals, as a whole, are not friendly to the arts. We should not be surprised then, in the slightest, that their crowing achievements are the Newsboys, Thomas Kincade and Jerry Jenkins.

Edited by coltrane

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
But do you see them as being Evangelical? I thought they were more or less Reformed.

Rather than write my own thoughts on this, let me put the question back to you: What's the distinction? (I have my own ideas about possible distinctions, but wanted to hear you out first.)

As I already mentioned somewhere else, Reformed implies (to me) Calvinism, at least in Soteriology. Another major distinction is that the Reformed embrace Covenant Theology (the Church is Israel), while Evangelicals are much more likely to see unbelieving Israel as still God's chosen nation. Likewise, the Reformed are likely to be Amillennial or Postmillennial in Eschatology, while Evangelicals seem to be almost universally Premillennial.

Because I grew up straddling these two worlds, the terms Reformed and Evangelical still sound like opposites to me.

Edited by anglicanbeachparty

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Andy Whitman wrote:

: I would like to think that anyone who considers the whole counsel of Scripture, and examines the history of the Christian Church, would readily see the esteem with which the arts are held by both God and the Church.

Hmmm. To a point, sure. But our understanding of "the arts" has undergone profound shifts, especially in the West in the past several centuries. To this day, Eastern artists emphasize that icons, say, are NOT intended as vehicles for individual personal expression. Likewise with the "tones" by which we sing in every service (and the Western church didn't start using musical instruments until around the time of the Great Schism between the East and West, when the Church was already about a thousand years old; the Eastern church still doesn't use 'em). There has always been an artistic ELEMENT to the Christian Church, but I am not so sure that the Church's use of artistic elements down through the years is all that affirmative of "the arts" as we now define the term.

Incidentally, I find myself wondering if ENTERTAINMENT needs justification. To what degree is this discussion restricted to "the fine arts" (and their implicit connection to "the sacred"), and to what degree is it open to artistic forms that are more "popular" (and thus perhaps "secular"), for lack of a better word?

Alan Thomas wrote:

: (By that definition, I believe that "Evangelical" means the same thing as "Christian" as I can't imagine anyone being a serious, mature, Christian without that desire.)

Well, if the whole point of words is to help us distinguish between things, then this definition isn't very helpful -- especially since the article that kicked off this thread uses a very specific and Protestant ("...Reformation doctrine...") definition of "Evangelical". (I would be open to saying that Christians of all stripes can be "evangelical" in a lower-case, adjectival sense, but capital-E "Evangelicals" are a very specific bunch, even if they overlap with other capital-letter categories like "Fundamentalist" or whatever. I vaguely recall SDG making a similar point in another thread some months or years ago.)

coltrane wrote:

: (And yeah, Peter, I am poking my nose around Eastern Orthodoxy again)

Wow, cool (if I can say that).

Interestingly, one of the things that delayed my own conversion to Orthodoxy was my uncertainty about the Eastern church's relationship to Western modes of thought with regard to the arts and sciences -- fields that I value very highly. (The Greek Orthodox Church -- don't know about the other national churches -- reportedly forbids actors from becoming priests; if the Roman Catholic Church had taken a similar line, they would have missed out on one of their best popes, John Paul II.) So when I say "Wow, cool", I hope I don't sound triumphalist or anything. I know that there can be "issues" there.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Andy Whitman wrote:

: I would like to think that anyone who considers the whole counsel of Scripture, and examines the history of the Christian Church, would readily see the esteem with which the arts are held by both God and the Church.

Hmmm. To a point, sure. But our understanding of "the arts" has undergone profound shifts, especially in the West in the past several centuries. To this day, Eastern artists emphasize that icons, say, are NOT intended as vehicles for individual personal expression. Likewise with the "tones" by which we sing in every service (and the Western church didn't start using musical instruments until around the time of the Great Schism between the East and West, when the Church was already about a thousand years old; the Eastern church still doesn't use 'em). There has always been an artistic ELEMENT to the Christian Church, but I am not so sure that the Church's use of artistic elements down through the years is all that affirmative of "the arts" as we now define the term.

Incidentally, I find myself wondering if ENTERTAINMENT needs justification. To what degree is this discussion restricted to "the fine arts" (and their implicit connection to "the sacred"), and to what degree is it open to artistic forms that are more "popular" (and thus perhaps "secular"), for lack of a better word?

I don't agree with the idea of a sacred/secular distinction in the arts, nor do I think in "fine arts" vs. "entertainment" categories (good luck with those definitions). So it's all fair game to me. I'm interested in sacred/secular fine art/entertainment that is creative, that tells the truth (sometimes about unpleasant things), and that nourishes my idiosyncratic, very individual soul. Any overarching aesthetic that leaves room for Mozart's Great Mass in C Minor and Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road" is fine with me. If it doesn't, I have little use for it.

For what it's worth, I've been immersed in the world of Renaissance art as I prepare for my upcoming trip to Italy. I'm looking forward to seeing Raphael's Madonnas hanging next to his scenes from pagan mythology in the Vatican. Those Popes have been an inconsistent bunch, but in terms of a theory of aesthetics, they got it exactly right.

Edited by Andy Whitman

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Andy Whitman wrote:

: I don't agree with the idea of a sacred/secular distinction in the arts . . .

That isn't quite what I said, but I personally have no trouble whatsoever acknowledging that certain artforms and artworks are more conducive to worship and others aren't. It may or may not be going too far to say that musical instruments should not be allowed in church, for example, so there may be some room to negotiate where that line is drawn. But that there CAN be a line, and even SHOULD be a line, makes perfect sense to me. (The term "a cappella", incidentally, means "the way we sing in church", i.e. without instruments.)

: . . . nor do I think in "fine arts" vs. "entertainment" categories (good luck with those definitions).

Fine. But when people come to the defense of "art", what do they usually mean? The point I was hinting at in my previous post is that Christians who defend "art" seem to gravitate towards "fine art" for its transcendent qualities in a way that roughly parallels the Church's historic gravitation towards the "sacred" over the "secular". You can get a lot of respect among such Christians for saying that you're a fan of Robert Bresson and Terrence Malick. Maybe not so much respect for saying that you're a fan of Paul Verhoeven and Mel Gibson. Certainly none for saying that you're a fan of Ron Howard and Michael Bay.

: So it's all fair game to me. I'm interested in sacred/secular fine art/entertainment that is creative, that tells the truth (sometimes about unpleasant things), and that nourishes my idiosyncratic, very individual soul.

Hmmm. Not sure what to do with this emphasis on the idiosyncratic soul. Outside the sanctuary, I'm all for it. Inside, not so much. In church and in worship, our focus is on God, not on ourselves.

But I guess we may need to clarify what we mean when we talk about "the Church" and its "esteem" for "the arts". WITHIN the sanctuary, the Church has historically worked within certain limits (though there has been some loosening up in the West over the last several centuries, in all directions, some more ill-advised than others). OUTSIDE the sanctuary, I don't know. Do we mean that Christians enjoyed playing their musical instruments and singing folk songs etc. when they weren't at church? Or is that too weak an understanding of "the Church" and its "esteem"?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
That isn't quite what I said, but I personally have no trouble whatsoever acknowledging that certain artforms and artworks are more conducive to worship and others aren't. It may or may not be going too far to say that musical instruments should not be allowed in church, for example, so there may be some room to negotiate where that line is drawn. But that there CAN be a line, and even SHOULD be a line, makes perfect sense to me. (The term "a cappella", incidentally, means "the way we sing in church", i.e. without instruments.)

We've gone over this before, more than once, and we're still going to disagree. So I'm going to pass on the whole "how should we worship?" topic.

But I don't think anyone in this discussion has been thinking in terms of "sacred" art. We started off with a well-meaning professor stating that evangelicals don't create very good art, and contrasting evangelical art with excellent art as represented by the works of Flannery O'Connor. Surely Flannery O'Connor wasn't writing for the sanctuary. And certainly everything that I've written in this topic has had a much broader view of the arts in mind.

Fine. But when people come to the defense of "art", what do they usually mean? The point I was hinting at in my previous post is that Christians who defend "art" seem to gravitate towards "fine art" for its transcendent qualities in a way that roughly parallels the Church's historic gravitation towards the "sacred" over the "secular". You can get a lot of respect among such Christians for saying that you're a fan of Robert Bresson and Terrence Malick. Maybe not so much respect for saying that you're a fan of Paul Verhoeven and Mel Gibson. Certainly none for saying that you're a fan of Ron Howard and Michael Bay.

I assume that when people come to the defense of art, they have the usual suspects in mind -- music, painting, sculpture, literature, dance, photography, film, architecture, theater. That's certainly the broader context I've had in view throughout this discussion. And although I think a knowledge of the "fine arts" is worthwhile in terms of being an educated human being, in practice I find little value in such distinctions because they're usually driven by the kind of cultural snobbery that values, say, Mozart over Bruce Springsteen. And if we're going to toss around terms like "transcendence," then I find that Wolfy and Brooooce have created equally transcendent works.

Hmmm. Not sure what to do with this emphasis on the idiosyncratic soul. Outside the sanctuary, I'm all for it. Inside, not so much. In church and in worship, our focus is on God, not on ourselves.

But I guess we may need to clarify what we mean when we talk about "the Church" and its "esteem" for "the arts". WITHIN the sanctuary, the Church has historically worked within certain limits (though there has been some loosening up in the West over the last several centuries, in all directions, some more ill-advised than others). OUTSIDE the sanctuary, I don't know. Do we mean that Christians enjoyed playing their musical instruments and singing folk songs etc. when they weren't at church? Or is that too weak an understanding of "the Church" and its "esteem"?

Again, I'm not talking about art inside the sanctuary, and I'm using the term in its broader context.

It seems to me that to esteem art is to start with the basic assumption that art -- the creation of it, the support of it in terms of time and money -- is worthwhile in and of itself. It is not utilitarian, it does not serve propagandistic purposes, and it may be worthwhile and beautiful even when it expresses a worldview that one does not agree with. To esteem art is to pay attention to it, to view it as an important pursuit during one's free time, as a viable and respectable career, and to spend money on it and the people who create it. To esteem art is to talk about it with others, to share those moments of transcendence that may come from W.A. Mozart or Bruce Springsteen. And to esteem art, from a Christian standpoint, is to see the hand of God in the creative process, to recognize a gracious God who allows incredible beauty to flow from very broken vessels.

And this is yet again why I don't like the "sacred" vs. "secular" distinction. Most evangelical art is horrible precisely because it tries very hard to be "sacred." It is utilitarian, with the goal of winning souls, and it is propagandistic in the extreme. What the world needs, certainly outside the sanctuary, is less sacred art, and more Christians who are committed to creating beauty for its own sake, and who recognize that they serve and honor God when they do so.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Andy Whitman wrote:

: We've gone over this before, more than once, and we're still going to disagree. So I'm going to pass on the whole "how should we worship?" topic.

Fair enough; I have no interest in that question here either. But I do think worship should be different from, y'know, a concert.

: But I don't think anyone in this discussion has been thinking in terms of "sacred" art.

Neither was I, until you appealed to the Church's historic "esteem" for the arts. I am aware of certain roles that art has played within the Church on a "sacred" level, but I am not so sure that the Church has ever been all that directly involved in "secular" art.

: It seems to me that to esteem art is to start with the basic assumption that art -- the creation of it, the support of it in terms of time and money -- is worthwhile in and of itself. It is not utilitarian, it does not serve propagandistic purposes, and it may be worthwhile and beautiful even when it expresses a worldview that one does not agree with.

Can you point to specific examples from across Church history when the Church has "esteemed" works that did NOT serve propagandistic purposes, or works that DID express worldviews that the Church did not agree with?

FWIW, I am aware that some Church Fathers spoke of the value that could be had from studying the literature of Homer. But Homer was a pagan who lived centuries before the Church even got off the ground. That's not quite the same thing as "esteeming" a pagan poet or musician or thespian who lives in the here and now and creates art that disagrees with an existing Christian worldview. But I suppose there may be some sort of precedent there.

: And this is yet again why I don't like the "sacred" vs. "secular" distinction.

I think it's absolutely essential, though I can see why a non-sacramental approach to the faith would take that view. The key point I would make here is that we do not need to set "sacred" and "secular" against each other, the way many evangelicals have, alas, historically done. The "sacred" simply focuses our connection with God in a way that the "secular" does not. All bread is good, but not all bread can be the Body of Christ.

: Most evangelical art is horrible precisely because it tries very hard to be "sacred."

Or, rather, perhaps, because it has an impoverished view of what it means to be "sacred", and of how the "sacred" and the "secular" relate.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Can you point to specific examples from across Church history when the Church has "esteemed" works that did NOT serve propagandistic purposes, or works that DID express worldviews that the Church did not agree with?

Sure. The Vatican Museum is full of such works -- literally hundreds of paintings and sculptures that have nothing to do with the Christian faith and its pictorial representation. Artists such as Raphael and Titian alternated between Madonnas and scenes from pagan mythology. And the Popes were happy to finance both, and hang them on their walls.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Andy Whitman wrote:

: : Can you point to specific examples from across Church history when the Church has "esteemed" works that did NOT serve propagandistic purposes, or works that DID express worldviews that the Church did not agree with?

:

: Sure. The Vatican Museum is full of such works -- literally hundreds of paintings and sculptures that have nothing to do with the Christian faith and its pictorial representation. Artists such as Raphael and Titian alternated between Madonnas and scenes from pagan mythology. And the Popes were happy to finance both, and hang them on their walls.

This is what I get for deleting the parenthetical qualification that I was looking for specific examples from ACROSS Church history and not just a narrow sliver of space and time such as the Western Renaissance.

There is also the question of whether a single bishop's or clergyman's or parishioner's tastes constitute the "esteem" of "the Church", which I kind of raised a few posts ago when I asked whether Christians pursuing their own interests outside the sanctuary might be "too weak an understanding of 'the Church' and its 'esteem'".

In any case, I find myself wondering if the perceived chasm between Catholic and Evangelical understandings of art might also reflect the emphasis that defenders of art place on the Popes over here versus the more, um, populist, grass-roots, "vulgar" tastes over there. Evangelicals don't have Popes, after all. So Evangelical art will always skew more towards the low-brow or middle-brow, towards the "popular", because it is the masses rather than elite, well-endowed patrons who will support the artists' work. (FWIW, the Orthodox do have bishops and patriarchs, but I haven't got a clue whether any of them have ever seen themselves as "patrons" of "the arts" in a secular sense.)

And of course, there is no shortage of kitsch and/or propagandistic art at the "popular" level in Catholic circles, either.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
This is what I get for deleting the parenthetical qualification that I was looking for specific examples from ACROSS Church history and not just a narrow sliver of space and time such as the Western Renaissance.

There is also the question of whether a single bishop's or clergyman's or parishioner's tastes constitute the "esteem" of "the Church", which I kind of raised a few posts ago when I asked whether Christians pursuing their own interests outside the sanctuary might be "too weak an understanding of 'the Church' and its 'esteem'".

In any case, I find myself wondering if the perceived chasm between Catholic and Evangelical understandings of art might also reflect the emphasis that defenders of art place on the Popes over here versus the more, um, populist, grass-roots, "vulgar" tastes over there. Evangelicals don't have Popes, after all. So Evangelical art will always skew more towards the low-brow or middle-brow, towards the "popular", because it is the masses rather than elite, well-endowed patrons who will support the artists' work. (FWIW, the Orthodox do have bishops and patriarchs, but I haven't got a clue whether any of them have ever seen themselves as "patrons" of "the arts" in a secular sense.)

And of course, there is no shortage of kitsch and/or propagandistic art at the "popular" level in Catholic circles, either.

I think the arts have been esteemed by the leadership of the Church throughout the Church's history. In addition to the Renaissance Popes, I think it's very possible to argue that the arts wouldn't have survived at all without the tireless work of those now nameless monks in monasteries throughout the Dark and Middle Ages.

And of course it's impossible to identify a "rank and file" esteem for the arts across history for the simple reason that the rank and file had no access to the arts for most of the Church's history. It's hard to envision some poor, mud-spattered feudal serf looking for just the right painting to decorate the hut. It's only been in the past 100 years that most people have been able to buy reproductions of famous works of art, and have had both the money and the leisure time to devote to an appreciation of the arts. Scripturally, though, I think we need look no further than the detailed descriptions of the tabernacle in the Book of Exodus to conclude that God cares about the arts. Commentators can explain the symbolism and allegorical implications all they want, but sometimes a pomegranate is just a pomegranate. All that seemingly useless filigree was added primarily because it looked pretty.

Edited by Andy Whitman

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Scripturally, though, I think we need look no further than the detailed descriptions of the temple in the Book of Exodus to conclude that God cares about the arts. Commentators can explain the symbolism and allegorical implications all they want, but sometimes a pomegranate is just a pomegranate. All that seemingly useless filigree was added primarily because it looked pretty.

Andy, if you are talking about Exodus, you must mean the tabernacle, not the temple, correct?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Scripturally, though, I think we need look no further than the detailed descriptions of the temple in the Book of Exodus to conclude that God cares about the arts. Commentators can explain the symbolism and allegorical implications all they want, but sometimes a pomegranate is just a pomegranate. All that seemingly useless filigree was added primarily because it looked pretty.

Andy, if you are talking about Exodus, you must mean the tabernacle, not the temple, correct?

Yep. Brain cramp there.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
And I have to say that in some of those corners the evangelical world has outstripped not only the rest of the Church, but also the secular world. Why is it that Calvin College can put together a series of concerts, films, and speakers every year that embarrasses the programs assembled by the Ohio State University, which has fifteen times the number of students as Calvin, and a correspondingly larger budget for the arts? In the next month Calvin will be sponsoring concerts by Shapes and Sizes, Martin Sexton, Denison Witmer, Erin McKeown, Yo La Tengo, and Romantica. The Ohio State University? Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Astoundingly enough, there is some evidence -- and I would offer Calvin as the prime example -- that evangelicals "get" the arts in ways that the rest of society does not.

This seems like dubious logic to me. Calvin is a private liberal arts college--OSU is a large state school. No surprise that they cater to different demographics. People who run student activities at private liberal arts schools have different goals than people who run student activities at large state schools. That Ken and his staff have pretty consistently good taste seems to be a weak basis for making broad sociological claims.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, maybe Ohio State books Tim McGraw and Faith Hill because they can afford to. (Of course, I think Tim & Faith ought to look into a corporate sponsorship.)

Calvin and Messiah are probably exceptions rather than rules, as bookings at evangelical colleges go. I suspect even the much-touted Home of Image Journal and Alma Mater of Me and Jeffrey is still a few squares down the game board when it come to music bookings. I won't bore you by listing all the CCM acts I saw there back in the day.

Do you think there's a double standard in evangelicalism between being CONSUMERS of the arts and PRODUCERS of the arts? There may be evangelicals who really do strive for consistency on both sides of the coin, but I think I'm more likely to meet a person who, say, has a print of some Monet water lilies, and watches "Friends" and "Survivor," and maybe even has a Kenny G or Andrea Bocelli CD in there among all the Casting Crowns and Caedmon's Call ... and yet expects every Christian who picks up a brush or faces a camera or strums a chord to do it "only for Jesus."

True story: Friend of mine was a flute instructor at said alma mater for a year or so. She told me about one of her students, who came in to a lesson and said: "The only reason to play music is to worship God, and I can't worship when I'm thinking about my technique, so I've decided to stop taking lessons." You want to know what's wrong with evangelicals and the arts, there's as good a nutshell summary as I've ever heard.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
True story: Friend of mine was a flute instructor at said alma mater for a year or so. She told me about one of her students, who came in to a lesson and said: "The only reason to play music is to worship God, and I can't worship when I'm thinking about my technique, so I've decided to stop taking lessons." You want to know what's wrong with evangelicals and the arts, there's as good a nutshell summary as I've ever heard.

That gets it very concisely, yes!

It reminded me of a young fellow (second or third year college student) who visited us one summer at our arts-friendly church in Texas. It was basically an Evangelical upstart congregation that had become more and more Reformed. After that, it became more and more Liturgical, until it ended up Reformed Episcopal.

But, anyhow, this young man came to visit us, and told us that by far his strongest talent was music, but he had decided to study Journalism instead. All the End Times prophets had convinced him that there was not time to lollygag around in an impractical vocations such as Music, so instead of that he picked Journalism. Because it was more practical when you're only 5-6 years ahead of the Great Tribulation.

(This is one reason that I think the distinction between Reformed and Evangelical is an important one. Had this young man been Reformed rather than Evangelical, he'd have likely been an Amillennialist, and would have pursued his strongest gift.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
And I have to say that in some of those corners the evangelical world has outstripped not only the rest of the Church, but also the secular world. Why is it that Calvin College can put together a series of concerts, films, and speakers every year that embarrasses the programs assembled by the Ohio State University, which has fifteen times the number of students as Calvin, and a correspondingly larger budget for the arts? In the next month Calvin will be sponsoring concerts by Shapes and Sizes, Martin Sexton, Denison Witmer, Erin McKeown, Yo La Tengo, and Romantica. The Ohio State University? Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Astoundingly enough, there is some evidence -- and I would offer Calvin as the prime example -- that evangelicals "get" the arts in ways that the rest of society does not.

This seems like dubious logic to me. Calvin is a private liberal arts college--OSU is a large state school. No surprise that they cater to different demographics. People who run student activities at private liberal arts schools have different goals than people who run student activities at large state schools. That Ken and his staff have pretty consistently good taste seems to be a weak basis for making broad sociological claims.

I don't think I'm making broad sociological claims, but I do know of three evangelical (or evangelical-like, in that they tend to be conservative theologically) colleges that regularly book non-Christian musicians to play on campus -- Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Messiah College in Grantham, PA, and Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. I have no doubt that that they are the exceptions to the rule. But the fact that these student activities offices do what they do constitutes "some evidence" to me that evangelicals "get" the arts in ways that the rest of society does not, and that things are changing in the evangelical world.

I'm not sure how different the demographics are between a place like Calvin College and OSU, other than I would assume that there is a higher percentage of non-Christians on campus at Ohio State. This would usually suggest to me that it would be easier to find decent music at Ohio State. But that's not the case.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...