The blog where I rant about things that should be obvious to everyone

Monday, July 23, 2012

The lack of art

To graduate from the college I went to, every student had to take a course called “Senior Seminar”. Among other pointless busy work, one thing that was required of the class was for every student to do a presentation of some sort for the rest of the group.

One of the presentations from some art majors was about how the Christian Church today is not producing any art. The reason that they gave was that great art cannot come out of Christian culture when it is also aimed at Christian culture. I don't remember the reasoning they gave, I mostly remember pointing out during the Q and A that a good chuck of the greatest pieces of art in the history of the world flew in the face of their hypothesis. This was brushed off with the comment that “the times they are a different”.

Their conclusion still seems insane to me, but their premise about there not being much art coming out of the church lately is a little hard to deny. At the time I thought it was probably simply because there is not much in the way of high art coming out at all right now, Christian or no. But now I think that there might be more.

The way that I would define high art would be works that fall into one of two categories. The first is a work or body of work that paves the way for a new art form. For example, Cervantes' Don Quixote would be considered high art at least in part because it is considered the first modern European novel. If someone else wrote a book today similar in prose and store quality it would not turn any heads, and rightfully so, because the author today would have been beaten to it by 500 years.

The second category of high art is a work that communicates some truth or truths in a fashion other than direct articulation. These works bypass the inner dialogue and go straight to the heart with what they have to say. An example of this would be Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, which without ever directly expressing it contains a powerful message about the nature of man, and how easy it is to be quickly and strongly attracted to those who either have no depth of character, or worse, are evil, and how easy it is to overlook those who are our best and truest friends, who have the best character of all.

So why is the church not creating much in the way of high art? Because on the whole, the church's grasp of the truth is tenuous at best. And because the church has trouble accepting, let alone revealing in, those truths that both separate and alienate it from modern culture, the church is incapable of creating high art.

Take, for example, this little story that's made the rounds recently in certain evangelical circles.  There is some truth in The Parable of the Pencil. But mixed in, you have new age wisdom such as “The most important part of you will always be what's inside”, or “You will always be able to correct any mistakes you might make”. The first is directly contradicted by the Bible: Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked”. And the second actually goes against one of the core tenets of Christianity, which is that no man is able to redeem his own sins. Our sins are black marks that we cannot wipe away, only by the blood of Christ can we be made clean again.

So this parable is a mixture of Christianity and a modern day form of paganism. This is an old problem for the church, going nearly back to the time of Christ himself. And these kinds of mushy half truths that seem so easy to accept, are antithetical to high art.


  1. As an educator I can assure you that you took "senior seminar" because your university's accreditors required it. We teach senior seminar for the same reason. Oh, yes, we try to make it worth your while, but it's not offered by OUR choice. You would not believe how much of my day is taken up with meaningless accreditation BS, and how it eats into my teaching and research.

    1. That makes sense. Good to know that some of the nonsense didn't originate from my professors, whom by and large I liked quite a bit. I definitely sympathize with educators working within the current system.