Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Church Supporting Art: What Does it Mean?

Tim Challies has provided some 'blog-fodder' for me again.  If ever I run short of ideas again--see my total 4 posts in 2007--I think I'll just hitch my wagon to his, commenting on every post he makes.  Anyway, Tim has read a book called Why We're Not Emergent, which he reviewed here.  A few days back he posted an excerpt about the Church and artists.  It was by Ted Kluck, and Tim found some humor in the article.  I usually agree with what Challies writes, but I read the excerpt, and not only did I not think it was funny, I found parts of it a little insulting.

Am I being hypersensitive?  Am I just grousing because, since I would like to write literature, my ox got gored?  Maybe and maybe.  Still, the excerpt seemed unnecessarily sarcastic toward people who are trying to positively contribute to culture in a self-consciously Christian way.  I wouldn't mind if it seemed like the author was approaching the topic with humility.  He might have said, "I don't understand this movement of the church toward supporting artists, and I am afraid they're missing the boat in some important ways."  Instead he wrote about 20-30 somethings looking like Sufjan Stevens ("skinny, hip, and misunderstood") and trying to "out-dishevel" each other.

For one thing, I ain't skinny.  And I ain't hip.  And I'm only slightly disheveled.  But apparently I am misunderstood, as are the rest of the people who want to support artists in the church.  Kluck himself demonstrates the misunderstanding:

My hunch is that there is this feeling that churches aren’t adequately “supporting” artists (musicians, writers, visual artists) in their midst. However, I don’t exactly see churches “supporting” software designers, salesmen, or farmers either. That’s not the church’s purpose. And it seems that the artists who are making the most noise about “not being supported” are the ones who may not have the talent to really cut it in the marketplace anyway. I don’t know of any working artists (musicians, actors, writers, painters) who complain that their church doesn’t “support” their efforts. Art is tough. Making a living at art is tough. It’s tough on families and marriages. That’s simply the nature of the game.

The Church's support of the arts is not about financial subsidies.  It is about striving for creativity, about pushing the envelope to communicate God's grace in new forms.  It is about creating an environment in the Church that is conducive to producing art that is not 'safe.'  It is about having room for Flannery O'Connor and Frederick Buechner and not just Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.  The latter have their place, though I am not a fan of the Left Behind series, but the former can challenge and transform us in ways we might not have otherwise imagined.  The Church is enriched by art, whether the Church enriches artists financially or not.

Many of us grew up in traditions that denigrated art, treating it like sin or a path that leads straight to sin's door.  We just want our churches to acknowledge that art and literature are good things when done well.

Challies post is not all bad news, though.  The response from those who come from a 'support the arts' perspective has been excellent.  It has been measured, humble, and well thought out.  They pointed out Kluck's misunderstanding and explained what we actually want in a gracious tone, and that is just the sort of art we can all appreciate.


Anonymous said...

Hey bro,

Just wondering if the undercurrent to the post was a perceived differentiation between aesthetic and concrete works. Should there be a separate attitude toward creative and general labor? I think he's missing the point that the church should be on the forefront of thought and creativity. Painting walls is not boundary bursting. Not enough room here for more thoughts.

Rex Queems (the phony)

Joshua Duncan said...

I don't know. It seems to me that the chief misunderstanding is that 'supporting the arts' means 'subsidize the artists.'

I think you're onto something with the 'boundary-bursting bit, though. That is what makes the arts important.

samuel said...

I kind of think that we need to make room for artists and encourage imagination, in the same way that the church needs to make way for homeschoolers. Not in subsidy, or in preference to other labors, per se. But we need to encourage the cultivation of imagination. Because it is essential to doctrine, to theology, to the Lorship of Christ.

That said, I think many of the emergent sector's emphasis on art has been sophistry, and often downright heretical.