Thursday, August 12, 2010

It’s not art Richard

I found another post while surfing Reddit that caught my interest: Thoughts on Christian Art

Author Richard Beck posts a few pictures he took in a Christian book store  asks, “Is this art?”


All of them have words on them. I was alerted to this phenomenon by my colleague and partner in crime Dan McGregor. Just about every bit of Christian art or decor I saw in the store had some text involved.

What's going on with this?

My take is that the need for proclamation has so overwhelmed Christian aesthetics that text has become integral to Christian artwork. Words dominate Christian aesthetics. Words (e.g., "Be strong in the Lord") make something neutral (e.g., a picture of a horse) into something "Christian." What we see in this is the need for the artwork to explicitly teach, preach, edify or evangelize.

denver It’s not art Richard. It’s a team advertisement.PeterGriffinMotivationalPosters6 Or maybe a motivational poster. It’s trite and commercial. It has no ascetic value of its own. Its meant to send a commercial, religious or spiritual message, and make you feel like your part of God team. 

christianArt1Art makes can make you angry, can move you to tears, can leave you feeling alone, or any number of other responses. Don’t worry about the drivel they sell as art, it’s not. At least the Christian junkie to the left is pushing the boundaries a little. I don’t see words, but a read a message. I have a response. It’s wtf?

Richard, if you want to criticize Christian art, then find some real Christian art. Otherwise, your words fall short. Criticism works if the thing criticized is worthy. Is a horse poster worthy?

This obviousness makes the artwork excellent for teaching, but it dooms the piece as an attempt at art. This is the second way text gets in the way of art: Good art isn't obvious. Good art is subtle and multilayered. It might take a lifetime to plumb good art, with new meanings bubbling up over the years. Good art can't be reduced to a PowerPoint bullet point. Unfortunately, much of the art and decor you find in Christian bookstores is reducible in just this way, making the "point" of the artwork explicit and digestible. The goal is to convey cognitive content, not to prompt the searching of your soul.

Do you really think a Christian bookstore sells art? Is a horse with an inspirational saying what you call art? I suggest you visit a museum and take a look at the ample displays of religious art. If you want contemporary Christian art, look harder. It’s out there. Have you seen The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian? He died by arrows, lots of arrows.

Martyrdom_of_St.Sebastian I prefer the Francois Guilaume Menageot version.

I hope my point is obvious here. Pictures of horses with trite motivational sayings are not art. Nothing found in a Christian bookstore is art.  Art is not a few words on paper, although at times it can be.

Shot with arrows and left for dead,
against the angel's leg, Sebastian sinks.
In time, he'll become the patron

saint of athletes and bookbinders.
But for now, who wouldn't want to be
delivered into the sculpted arms

Read the rest of Angle supporting St. Sebastian by Robin Becker.

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