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If not "Christian art", then what?


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I was having a conversation with someone the other day and I kept using the term "Christian rock". He kept correcting me. "Christian" is a noun not an adjective, blah, blah, blah. I'm with him on this for the most part. But sometimes it seems the only way to describe or reference music by groups like Resurrection Band, Petra, etc. I'm usually one of the first ones to point out there really is no such thing as "Christian art". But when one is in a discussion about the art that Christians can, will or do make in relation to their Christianity, how do you avoid the term?

"Christian music" or "Christian art" has become so imbedded in our contemporary vocabulary at least, it seems, within church circles or the bookstore, how else can/should we reference specific art made by Christians and at the same time not really mean there is any greater spiritual value or significance because of this? Or do we have to spend the rest of our lives clarifying the distinctions between the marketing term and honest discussion about being a Christian and an aritst? Seems to make for awkward conversations.

Resurrection Band is great classic rock music. But the music will probably never see significant recognition outside Christian circles. Nor does the band care if they do. It wasn't their purpose. Why not "Christian rock"?

Thanks,

Joe

natureofthebeat.svbtle.com

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I disagree withe the premise. I think the problem is that there IS and HAS BEEN Christian Rock. It was put out by Christians, for Christians only and exlusively about the Christian experience. It is undeniably Christian Rock.

Now, ideally, it would end today and there would never be another mention of it. And in the future there may be Rock by Christians or even Sacred Rock (rock that is about God - which is of course, fine like classical music or paintings about sacred subjects).

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Dan, I disagree with your premise. In the beginning, with bands like Rez, there is no way you could say they were only playing to/for a Christian audience. This might be a question we want to ask Mike H to appear for when he gets back from Flickerings, but in my mind, they were Christians who wanted to affect the culture at large but didn't always have the money/skills/know-how market themselves to the masses. It seems that it is when labels began not being owned by Christians (i.e.the RISE OF NASHVILLE) that the real problem with marketing began. Non-Christians could easily see how to properly market this kind of music, they saw a network of youth groups and churches that needed to be distributed to, and they have done just that.

I just don't have the same kind of thinking about the motivation of the earlier bands/movement. I could be wrong, but what is JPUSA if not an incredible outreach that does not wrap itself in a bubble?

-s.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

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Y'know, I've always responded to people who object to the phrase 'Christian art' as being pedantic. 'Christian' *is* an adjective, but it's an ambiguous one (as many words are), so you have to look at the context it appears in to know what's being meant. But to say that it's only a noun is to redefine things so that your position can stand.

matt

www.xreal.org

"What do people mean when they say 'I am not afraid of God because I know He is good?' Have they never been to a dentist?"--C.S. Lewis

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Exactly. Yes, christian is an adjective, but it is hard for it not to be a pejorative one or a second or third tier adjective in almost any way it is used outside of religion. What do you think of when you see the words "christian right"? It is always something worse, more fierce, more "no-nothing", more all-crust-and-no-center. Christian art connotes (but does not necessarily mean) shallow, sentimental, and somewhat polemical. Christian art is almost never deep and profound. If an example of christian art were to transcend the sub-culture, it would be fought over by other sub-cultures wanting to appropriate it and any of them would lessen the work by attaching themselves to it.

"During the contest trial, the Coleman team presented evidence of a further 6500 absentees that it felt deserved to be included under the process that had produced the prior 933 [submitted by Franken, rk]. The three judges finally defined what constituted a 'legal' absentee ballot. Countable ballots, for instance, had to contain the signature of the voter, complete registration information, and proper witness credentials.

But the panel only applied the standards going forward, severely reducing the universe of additional basentees the Coleman team could hope to have included. In the end, the three judges allowed about 350 additional absentees to be counted. The panel also did nothing about the hundreds, possibly thousands, of absentees that have already been legally included, yet are now 'illegal' according to the panel's own ex-post definition."

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or maybe it has to do with context and defining terms. as i often say to a friend of mine, "put up your sophs!" i love a good argument as much as the next man, but i find that the greatest proportion of time is often spent simply defining terms. when talking to either christians or non-christians i discuss my work according to the content (language, meaning, phenomenology) or medium (artists books, installation, drawing) or style. let others define (or not) whether it is christian. and then let them describe what exactly that means. more often than not, christian is simply shorthand for something else entirely. in other words, discuss the work. it is what it is. if it isn't what you want it to be, try again. sometimes i think 'christian' is in the eye of the beholder. andres serrano considers himself a devout catholic, i think his #$^&christ photograph is astoundlingly beautiful, and many think he (and i guess by extension his artwork) is blasphemous. and what makes lynn aldrich's work christian art then? or tim hawkinson? or tracey emin?

I don't deny that there should be priests to remind men that they will one day die. I only say it is necessary to have another kind of priests, called poets, to remind men that they are not dead yet. - G. K. Chesterton

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andres serrano considers himself a devout catholic, i think his #$^&christ photograph is astoundlingly beautiful, and many think he (and i guess by extension his artwork) is blasphemous.

Well, that's a problem right there. You can't infer anything "by extension" about the art from the life of the artist. It's possible of course for a blasphemer to make profoundly religious art, and possible as well for a Christian to make junk.

Yeah, that photograph by Serrano is beautiful, but let's consider it in the context of his oeuvre. This is a guy who likes to photograph his own bodily fluids, and just happened to hit on a compelling image.

Edited by mrmando

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but i find that the greatest proportion of time is often spent simply defining terms.

And Rich

Christian art connotes...

That's the part that is driving me nuts. I keep needing to define the term outside of the connotations. I guess right now there is no way around it. While I don't think anyone here thinks "Christian art" is somehow intrinsically superior (spiritually or otherwise) to "secular art" or feels the need to "segment the market", I cannot assume other people I meet feel the same. So I find myself using terms like "sacred art" or "religious art", but even then I still have to define what I mean.

But calling Ressurection Band's music "sacred rock" first sounds odd and then seems to leave out the sense of that time.

Oh well. I guess this should be the hardest thing I face in my life. "Suck it up soldier and march on!"

Joe

natureofthebeat.svbtle.com

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There are two ways of reading the 'Christian' in 'Christian art': it could mean (and too often does) the worldview of the artist, or it could mean the worldview being expressed in the art. The latter, however, is hard to determine at times. The case of Serrano that has been brought up is a good example.

One distinction I prefer (but realize this is a losing battle) is sacred art vs secular art, with 'secular' meaning 'not sacred' and not meaning 'done by those yucky heathens' (which is its too common meaning among Christians). Bach's 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desire' is sacred art. But Tolkien's LOTR is secular art. But even this distinction is problematic.

I think we should just stick with 'good art' and 'bad art' and then argue the aesthetic that allows us to make those categories. That alone should keep us plenty busy and also bring the idea of Christianity and the arts into the conversation repeatedly.

matt

www.xreal.org

"What do people mean when they say 'I am not afraid of God because I know He is good?' Have they never been to a dentist?"--C.S. Lewis

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but, but, but...secular art doesn't mean 'not sacred'. it means 'of this world, this moment, this time and place'. why can't you simply discuss the content of your work? what metaphors do you employ and why? what role do your materials play? why the scale of your work? explain your choices. if there is a blatant christian content, then address it simply, directly, plainly. there's a weird tendency for many christians to feel like they have to defend their choices and they tend to do a lot of explaining that is really about theology and then they end up ignoring the art and the artistic process they went through. i think that the good art vs bad art is really a great way to look at it. then it becomes about what the work is about and whether or not that communication is effective or not. and one more thing, serrano's photo is within the context of a number of works exploring both bodily fluids and religious imagery. interestingly (there was a series of exhibitions and panels in minneapolis a number of years ago called divine perversities that explored some of these issues - which isn't to say i agree, just that it is interesting), there are a number of catholics (both practising and lapsed) that create work exploring the importance of the body and presence within religious thought and action as the resulting embrace of that versus the often taboo view of bodily fluids in other streams. robert gober. kiki smith. tracey emin. a religion in which one drinks the actual blood and eats the actual body of christ may not have the same issues with bodies and bodily fluids. perhaps. and this is not to invite theological debate. simply to present a content question to consider, rather than the artist. or in addition to the artist? hmmm...

I don't deny that there should be priests to remind men that they will one day die. I only say it is necessary to have another kind of priests, called poets, to remind men that they are not dead yet. - G. K. Chesterton

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but, but, but...secular art doesn't mean 'not sacred'. it means 'of this world, this moment, this time and place'. why can't you simply discuss the content of your work?

Short answer: sez yoo.

wink.gif

Longer answer: The reason for creating categories is mostly so that we can have a way to discuss art. Heck, even the question 'what is art?' (which I see you have been discussing with MrMando) is a question of categories. Thus, a discussion of categories is important as it makes us look at what we value.

As to the phrase 'doesn't mean', I'd have to ask where you're getting your definitions. For the one who can phrase the question is the one who controls the debate. My definition of 'sacred art' would be art that is not directly referential to this world, moment, time, or place and instead focuses on the eternal and transcendent. Thus, secular art, by your definition does mean 'not sacred.'

More to be said, but have a meeting here in my office in about, oh, 20 seconds....

matt

www.xreal.org

"What do people mean when they say 'I am not afraid of God because I know He is good?' Have they never been to a dentist?"--C.S. Lewis

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well...i don't know - if the whole earth is full of his glory how can it not be sacred (if one defines sacred as consecrated to g-d, which i do)? i guess i think that subject matter doesn't define or limit that. i guess my hackles rise at the distinction because it smells gnostic to me. like the spiritual has no truck with the natural (and yet i am infused by the spirit...). like they don't ever dance together, like you can so easily separate them from each other. without the spiritual we are only dust. as for definitions, i will get you the citations (etymological dictionaries) but just to save time, the sacred one i just used is the first entry in my webster's.

anyway, my point was not to debate definitions. it was simply to suggest that, perhaps, the definitions you are using might be part of the problem (especially since you said you realized it was a losing battle). perhaps i have overstated things. so to clarify, i tend to not say 'sacred art' at all. if it is indeed sacred, that will come out, whether it is defined by overt subject matter, or whether it is able to convey some sense of the eternal, or holiness, or mystery. i just decided that the distinction is not helpful in discussing my work with people, especially when many of those people might see first nations art or tantric art or h.r.giger as spiritual (or sacred. or are these terms interchangeable at all? what do you think?). so i avoid the term 'christian' when discussing my art as far as the art goes. i will talk about how jesu has touched my life, but i want people to pull the metaphors out, to tease out the meaning of the story. and people will actually get it without me defining the art as christian. after all, they are responding to my chosen images and metaphors, and hopefully, i have been a responsible, conscientious artist. i'd rather have someone else say, "hey, that sounds like a christian idea...." than me having to tell that to them. and the point isn't christian content, the point is opening a door, beginning a conversation. i guess i could just as easily choose to talk of all art as sacred (meaning

'religious') or secular ('not religious'). and i guess that's more my strategy for talking about art and sneaking up on larger ideas and issues without alienating or preaching.

but this isn't about art, it's about talking about art. so perhaps this is all dependent on the context of the conversation. if you are talking to fellow christians, do you use these terms? do you feel the need to make a distinction then? if so, why? if not, why not? after all, you have stated several times how much of a red herring the term 'christian art' is. and i assume this is regardless of who you're discussing with. which brings me around to one of my earlier questions: why can't you simply discuss content, history, techniques, responses? when discussing anything artistic (music, art, dance, film, poetry) i discuss how well the art conveys its message. isn't that more important than the label? if the [christian] content is important then discuss the content itself - resoration, forgiveness, judgement, sin - whatever the content is.

after all, the best story wins.

I don't deny that there should be priests to remind men that they will one day die. I only say it is necessary to have another kind of priests, called poets, to remind men that they are not dead yet. - G. K. Chesterton

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