Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Why are Artists So Disconnected from the Church?

Can you imagine a world without art? Think about it. No poetry. No paintings. No color. No books. No music. No Dance. No sculpture. And no films. It would be a grey and unimaginary existence. Art helps us connect with our humanity. Ultimately, it can reveal the divine which exists all around us. In many ways, I think that’s exactly the purpose of art—to reveal God’s glory and majesty.

I believe that when we create art it’s through the creative process that we are closest to God. God is a creator. And if we are made in the image of God, at least at some level when we create we are mimicking the very nature of God. After all, isn’t God the supreme artist? He created an amazing canvas—the world you and I live in. And I have no doubt that he is asking each of us to follow his lead.

However, over the years, the subject of art and its relationship to the Christian community has often been controversial and problematic at best. I describe it as a love/hate relationship. I’m not sure the Church completely understands the heart and the mind of the artist.

For over 30 years, I’ve been involved with artists. I’ve come to realize that they often don’t think like most of us do. Not wishing to speak in generalities, I have come to some conclusions. Artists tend to be sensitive, fragile, and wear their emotions on their sleeves. They are easily hurt and offended. They are free-spirited and open to new ideas. They are unconventional and don’t fit into neat categories. The bottom line is creative people just think differently and are more likely to think out of the box. And sometimes that scares the Christian and faith-based community.

As a result, through mistrust and misunderstanding of the artist, the Church has not provided the type of support and encouragement that I think is necessary in helping our artists grow and mature. In fact, I think we are losing our artists at an alarming rate.

Recently, The Barna Research Group published some groundbreaking research. They concluded that 84% of 18–29 year olds that identify themselves as Christians do not understand how their faith has any relevance to their vocation or career. Amazingly, 20% of all young people in the church feel they have a calling to the arts. But if they feel there’s no relevance between and their faith and their vocation as a writer, musician, or filmmaker to name a few then we are missing the best opportunity we have to fulfill the Great Commission, build the Kingdom of God, and be a witness for Christ. What a tragedy! Then the world gets the brightest and the best artists. Think about it, their talents could have been used for for a higher purpose.

One of the major mistakes the Church has made over the years is to force artists to create art that conforms to the image of what the Church believes art should be. In other words, it’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It’s a sad story. But the Christian community prefers its art to be explicit, leaving nothing to the imagination. They would prefer art that can be best described as an instruction manual with detailed diagrams, with no possible discussion about its meaning or origin, and with nothing left to the imagination.

Case in point: The Contemporary Christian music industry is a great example. I worked as a television producer for years on a Christian music video show. There was a joke in the industry that if your song didn’t contain at least three references to Jesus, it wouldn’t play on Christian radio. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. But I do know that most Christian radio stations had stringent requirements as to what constituted a Christian song. And if you didn’t meet those criteria, you didn’t get on the air. As a Christian recording artist, that meant you wouldn’t sell records or tickets to your concerts. In short, you wouldn’t have a career in contemporary Christian music very long.

Off the record, I met many Christian recording artists who felt they were being held back and who also felt they had to conform to somebody else’s standard as to what they thought art should be. They had no freedom to be the artist they were called to be. Their creativity was cut short.

But this goes on all the time in the Church. If it’s outside of the orthodox of what we think is acceptable, it gets rejected. Now I know in some places in the faith community things have gotten better over the past few years; however, there is still much work to be done. If a young person who felt a calling to go to Hollywood and be a filmmaker went to their mission’s board and asked for support, would they get it? Can you be an artist and go into the secular mainstream world of media and entertainment? Can your art reflect God’s majesty without being explicit? Is there a way you can express the heart of God that connects people to his love and forgiveness that’s totally outside of what we would expect to see in the Church. I think we can do that. And that can be done through art as long as we allow the artist to tap into the divine no matter what that looks like.