The rallying cry for arts to be in church is being heard in many places. It has become (almost…?) mainstream. Even saying that the church used to be a centre and a patron of the arts — and should be again! — is mainstream.
We can’t get anywhere productive until we consider the reasons why the church doesn’t have this place in the arts now. (And perhaps the reasons why it did –some of which aren’t so pleasant.)
Here it is: faith has been reduced to a set of premises. It’s been boiled down to a (supposedly) logical argument. This is “preaching”.
It’s not just words. It’s a certain genre of words.
And then along comes art. Art doesn’t interest itself in logical arguments. It explores life on a much bigger canvas. It reflects on the absurd, the grotesque, the unpredictable, as well as the noble, the beautiful and inspiring.
Feeling and thought; real and imagined.
This isn’t where the established church loves to camp. The church, in its current iteration, still loves to make sweeping declarative truth statements. Art doesn’t fit easily into propaganda. Not for long, unless an artist is getting paid somehow.
If we think that we can solve the divide by upping the appreciation of art, and purchasing a handful of art pieces, that will only make the divide deeper.
In the broad strokes, art is exploration.
The church hasn’t (re)discovered that this is its purpose. At least, not yet. It’s still stuck trying to do stuff which is concrete and tangible.
This isn’t to dismissively imply that there aren’t artists in church. Or to imply that what a church does is somehow not “real” art. Rather, it’s to recognise that the church isn’t typically warm to the concept and process of art, just its fruits.
The church cannot be a patron of the arts if its artists are still largely misunderstood and unwelcome.
If art is merely another way to express the same tired, superficial, certainty-infused messaging of the church, most artists will not participate. Those messages are old. They do not reflect the growing clamour of perceived and intended meanings within our culture. Therefore they cannot speak to our culture’s needs.
These are aspects of art we’re going to need to be comfortable with:
- Not every artistic endeavour is worthy of attention.
- Not every journey arrives at an important or even meaningful destination.
- Nothing is guaranteed to have a singular interpretation.
Indeed, we’re going to have to get comfortable with this unsettledness regarding many aspects of human creativity.
I think we can. And I think we will. But only if we begin to grapple with truth in a deeper, more candid way than we’re currently known for.