Why Don’t Christians Make Good Art?
For the last several years, I have found myself dismayed by the dismal quality of Christian art. Contemporary Christian music is largely uninspiring, unchallenging, and unambitious. Furthermore, Christian movies are often predictable, disconnected from reality, and culturally outdated. Why is this? After all, Christians used to make the world’s best art. Why has that changed?
For one, the church has lost sight of the value of beauty and creation. We have forgotten that God is the creator and that we are made in his image. When we create beauty, we glorify God because we are exercising our unique, God-breathed abilities.
It is sad to examine the architecture of most American churches. The majority of them are ultra-utilitarian with little beauty or creativity put into them. This reflects our values. We no longer see the goodness of beauty, nor do we see creating as a worshipful act. Sadder still, the church has seemingly forgotten that beauty is transcendent and inspires worship.
Additionally, many Christians think that the quality of Christian art doesn’t matter because it has the best message and is thus better than all other art. However, this ignores the reality that the quality of art is inherently connected to the message. What if The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe had merely said, “God loves us so much that he died for us”? The statement is true, but the way that C.S. Lewis wrote the book was certainly much better at communicating such a message. He used his imagination and created a work of literature that was able to reach millions of people. Had he not recognized the value of quality, that probably wouldn’t have happened.
Just as logic leads a well constructed argument from the premise to the conclusion, so quality leads a work of art from the beautiful to the truth. Without warrants and evidence, an argument cannot lead someone rationally to the conclusion. Without creativity and technical fineness, art cannot lead someone authentically to the truth. There will be a disconnect. Something will be missing.
Finally, Christian art falls flat because Christians don’t want to engage the culture or ask challenging questions. Scripture tells us to be in the world but not of it, and many Christians have used this verse to isolate themselves completely from the culture. By isolating themselves, Christians lose the ability to engage in or influence the culture in any way, even through art. Because of this, a large portion of Christian art is not relevant and it fails to do anything but preach to the choir. When I watch Christian movies, I often feel like I am watching a socially awkward kid try to fit in with the cool kids. He might be trying, but he just doesn’t quite get it.
Unfortunately, Christian art also fails to engage the Christian community. Perhaps because of the number of denominations and the ferocity with which Christians attack each other, Christian artists tend to just let the status quo remain. There are very few artists who are brave enough to ask hard questions or to attempt to effect change and growth. Instead of challenging people on social, theological, or political issues, artists seem to stick to less controversial subjects. They would rather sing about how God’s love is like a waterfall or how Jesus saves, which is good and true, rather than call Christians to fight to end sex slavery, environmental degradation, or the killing of homosexuals, which would be just as Christian and much more challenging.
In the last few years, I have become so frustrated with Christian art that I have been tempted to go buy an instrument, learn to play it as well as I can, and blow people away. Christians once created the greatest art in the world, but now we are at best mediocre. Our subculture has created an environment where artists’ work is not valued, they are not encouraged to be creative or ambitious, and they’re disconnected from the culture at large and discouraged from speaking into and challenging their own culture. Of course, there are exceptions, but this is what my experience has led me to conclude. Hopefully, Christians will begin to regain an understanding of the value of beauty, quality, and relevance, and perhaps then our art can be great once again.