Christianity & The Arts

Two good articles this week on the arts: First, there’s Gene Edward Veith’s WORLD Magazine piece that contrasts the meaningless art of today with the capacity for beauty that’s inherent in a Christian view of art. Second, there’s this interview with Image Journal publisher Gregory Wolfe:

Christians have been tempted to say, well, pop culture is a huge phenomenon and it’s incredibly cool in its way. Why don’t, instead of we rejecting pop culture, let’s get on the pop culture bandwagon, let’s just place the message inside the vehicle of the pop culture medium, whether it’s the romance novel that is being used or the techno-thriller or rap music.

Here’s the danger. The great Marshall McLuhan once said, “The medium is the message.” And the danger with pop culture is that it is naive that you can somehow insert some idea about faith or the faith itself into this vessel and simply transmit it and it be opened up and received in some pure way. The very nature of pop culture is to dumb things down, to make things more special-effects oriented, more in terms of spectacle than demanding exercises of heart and mind that high art and traditionally mainstream art has called us to employ. The danger is that what the young Christian listening to as he rocks his head to the Christian grunge rock is grunge rock and not the faith at all.

There is an inherent nature within pop culture that almost seems too easy to deal with. I listen to pop music, for example, when I don’t really want to think about what I’m listening to. I never really ponder what TCP is, and why you have to take it out of R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and why somebody in the end might “sock it to me.” There’s nothing necessarily wrong with listening to light fare such as this—if this isn’t all I listen to.

The problem with pop culture is that it has become the pervasive culture that drives everything we do. Today’s artists no longer worry about writing a song or a book that will be a thing of beauty for centuries to come—making it big on the week’s top 40 charts is reward enough, Janet Jackson’s mammary gland notwithstanding. Christians should be leading the way, yet we so often lag behind. Veith reminds us that there is hope:

Many Christians are, in fact, finding callings in the arts, and they need the support of their fellow believers.

Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ is an example of a work of art that conveys the faith in a nonsentimental, even shocking way, in a film that is a masterpiece of cinematic art. It is controversial and provocative, and it is having an impact on the culture.

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