Christians and the Visual Arts...

Is there anything not absolutely normal about the Hollywood lifestyle of this young woman?

Is there any way parents can train up a son or daughter for this kind of career without anticipating this kind of outcome? Are there Christians in this realm of the arts? Sure. Is the existence of Christians in this realm of the arts justification for churches and Christian schools uncritically propelling their children in this direction? Certainly not.

Coming a bit closer to home... Is there anything all that different about the moral course of a typical career in professional dance versus a career in Hollywood? Of a painter or sculptor?

In what conceivable universe should Christians be encouraging their children in these sorts of directions without anticipating potentially tragic outcomes? Does this mean every Christian actor or dancer has prostituted his or her faith? Certainly not. But the track record of those who have versus those who have not certainly shouldn't encourage us to propel our children down these career paths--or to look uncritically at the various visual art forms which so tend toward immorality. (And of course, if you've read this blog over any length of time you know that we are not merely practicing guilt-by-association in making this connection. We tend to believe Christians have failed to apply the second commandment to modern visual arts, a foundational neglect of God's Law which inevitably tends to various other forms of neglect.)

Finally, for all the talk in certain quarters about redeeming culture, all the WORLD Magazine Daniel awards for visual artists, all the lionization of Christian artists taking place in various sectors of (especially) the Reformed world, where's the beef? Where's the salt producing saltiness? Where's the light banishing the darkness? Why can't we see that only the Gospel illuminates, only the Gospel preserves? Why do we think artists and the arts are capable of redeeming culture in a way that plumbers and ditch-diggers do not?

As a matter of fact, I suspect were we to weigh the contributions to culture of Christian plumbers against Christian visual artists, the scales would come heavily down on the side of training our children to be plumbers and ditch-diggers.

One last note--please read the full story first if you're tempted toward a knee-jerk defense of Christian involvement in the representational visual arts.

Comments

How can you complain? You have a PCA member on American Idol. Isn't that enough?

Seriously: I think there are many more Christian artists and artisans plying their craft than we often realize. They are not in the forefront of the avant garde in large cities. They are rather creating well crafted, beautiful objects (not the syrupy stuff like Kinkade) that are sold locally and often enjoyed within these "limited" circumstances. In my small city (20K) there are at least a dozen Christian visual artists and many Christian musicians and authors as well. (This may be somewhat exceptional since there is a Christian college in town.) But I suspect that this story is repeated in many other places. They are quietly faithful, just like the Christians who serve us as plummers, physicians, pastors, etc.

Have you heard of Vision Forum's film festival? The page is at http://www.independentchristianfilms.com/ In particular, check out the festival rules at http://www.independentchristianfilms.com/film/guidelines.asp Doug Phillips is working on encouraging a distinctly Christian independent film industry, which I applaud. We do not need to prostitute our children to Hollywood to be able to craft excellent art.

Christopher Plummer is a Christian? The things you learn on blogs...

I searched every link in this post and comments trying to find a reference to Christopher Plummer before I realized you were making a pun. Really, Dr. Abbott, as a physician aren't you supposed to "first do no harm"? ;-)

Check out Belhaven College and its fine arts department with top of the art facilities all dedicated to the glory of God in its ministry. Or better yet, just check out Belhaven College as holding forth the word of truth and applying in the secular world.

I'd never really thought about this issue until reading it here a few months ago. I'm not a visual artist but a musician, though, and thankfully the Bible is pretty clear about the value of music in the Christian life.

But, with that said, I don't think most artistic people do what they do by choice, most of them do it because it's something they have a gift for and having a career in it is preferable to their other options. I love music, but I would give anything to be able to be an insurance salesman, earn a six digit income, and never think about music again. Unfortunately, though, I'm just not wired that way. I think it would be better for parents, seeing that their children have a love for the arts and an ability to make a career in it, to prepare them spiritually to deal with the battles they will face.

But finally, regarding your final remark of "where's the beef?", what kind of results are you looking for? Are they the same results you'd expect from a Christian plumber? If not, why?

Actually, Miss V, I was playing off the last sentence in Mr. Tourist's post. I confess, however, that where my fondness for puns is involved it's hard to resist a little "nocere."

BTW, "physicain" would be a great thing to take before going to the doctor's office...or getting his bill.

What jumps out at me in this story is the absent father after divorce living in the Virgin Islands. What's the real story in this family? I don't know how many statistics we have on the record of Christians in the arts succeeding or not succeeding, but there is data on children of divorce. Add to that a weak sense of "church" and It could be that her life situation would be a sad one even if she was a plumber or a ditch-digger. I think there's a lot more going on here than her interest in acting.

It does not matter what career one may embark upon, (becoming an actor, singer, pastor, physician, politian, teacher) if we are not glorying GOD in the process, then any career would be a failure in God's eyes.

I don't believe the point here is to 'bash' the arts, but rather look at what we as Christians should be doing in the career that God has called us to.

I remember a sermon a few years back from a pastor in NJ. He begin by talking about 'little boy' Billy beginning his first job. His father told him to make that bar of soap as if he was making it for "Jesus" himself. To make a long story short, at the end of the sermon, 'little boy Billy' turned out to be William Colgate, founder of The Colgate Company.

As I cannot enter my URL in the field above, - my blog is: www. pcacristianmom.blog spot.com (I needed to put the space in order for this comment to post)

As things stand now, you certainly have a point. We should not be content to leave things as they stand now. I agree with you that work unto the Lord is honorable--whatever that work is. But God has gifted some with incredible talent for the visual and musical arts. Doesn't He want to bless his church with these people just as much as he wants our showers to drain? Both are important.

The problems with our artists is that the definition of what makes an artist has been taken from the world. Most of what makes for successful art in the world is the outrageous personality of the artist. We need to return to the days when an artist went about the work like any other tradesman instead of trying to be a Byronic hero.

Ken, write me a scrip. (P.S. I watched "Wit" last night and thought of you. By contrast, of course!)

A more substantive comment: The vast majority of supposedly evangelical parents are far more worried about squashing little Johnny or Susie's imagination, self-expression, and real or imagined gifts than they are about the dangers little Johnny or Susie might be facing as they pursue various interests. We are so worldly that we think being a star is a reasonable measure of success. We get way too excited about a Christian getting on the silver screen (or, in the case of American Idol, on the idiot box) because we think we have made it someplace worth arriving. In our heart of hearts, we think God is impressed with the Academy Awards.

Wow, sad story. Our family has been actively involved in CYT (Christian Youth Theater) and can understand how it could propel someone to this level in the industry. We fight the pull of it all the time, and strive to keep it as a fun family activity....nothing more. But it's hard. The kids can learn a lot about speaking and singing and working as a team, but they can also learn to be self-centered and obsessed with stardom.

Jeremy - I agree with you that we need artists who approach their work like a tradesman. This is exactly what is happening in small towns: faithful Christian artists are quietly and steadily making beautiful, edifying, even useful(!) objects/works. The "cutting edge" artists in the city centers by and large fail to see the value in these "old fashioned" endeavors. Looked at from a national perspective, these small town artists are invisible. Lets not forget that they exist and are a crucial part of the Kingdom.

Here is an example (OPC elder working in Maine):
http://www.homeandgardenornament.com

Forgive me for my cynicism, but I've spent much of my lifetime in the arts world. The longer I've been a Christian, the more it seems to me that the number of Christians that are truly "called" into the arts probably equal that of the numbers who are called to be eunuchs.

Sorry to be so pessimistic, but I've seen way too many professing Bible-believing Christians in the field that I was in that didn't live or look like Christians at all (on stage, back stage, in the dressing rooms, etc.) I'm including myself here. It is such an alluring and deceptive world that is so saturated with self-glorification and worldliness that I've come to really think that it really is only a special handful that should go down the road toward those vocations.

I think Mr. Bayly has rather unfortunately mingled the evil of Mammon with the goodness of the visual arts. One need look no further than every 4 year old ever created to realize that expressing oneself visually, either through paint or performance, is an ability imprinted on our natures. No surprise there. After all, the greatest visual artist I know is God, whose image every community theater participant, every Hollywood actress, and every aspiring 4-year Michelangelo shares. That one of these groups has allowed the ever-so-predictable root of all evil to do what it does best should not surprise us, let alone cause us to throw our babies out with this bathwater.

Rebecca,

Your experience is duly noted. As the arts are today, the temptation to ungodliness is extreme. But consider this:

1. The actress' mother seems like the sort that if she were kicked by her daughter would exclaim, "My, what good aim you have! And I remember when you couldn't even cause a bruise!" etc. The arts tempt the ego, and parenting like that only makes things worse.

2. Academia is the ruination of many Christians. Yet we know that we must have college professors and we hope that we will have faithful ones.

3. Christians used to make the most beautiful art in the world--and they didn't even leave signatures! We can create things that reflect the glory of God and not our own depravity. All the pagans in the world doing something wrong do not preclude our doing it right.

This vilification of the arts is nothing new. The immorality in the theater, is something written of in 19th century Russian literature for example (c.f. The Golovlyov Family). I don't know if it's the undisciplined sort of person who is usually attracted to the arts falls prey to it or what. I know one thing: When I hear the words "visual arts," my first instinct is to run away fast... I associate the term with alternative art, pretentious slide shows, and powerpoint backgrounds. People who talk about humor usually aren't very funny, and people who talk about "visual arts" are, well, anyway...

Was his post really the "vilification of the arts?"
I saw it as a direct commentary on the "Vanity Fair" of our culture and our impotent and idolatrous slavery to it. To the point that we defend the culture and our discernment is dulled. It is dulled to the point we look like someone trying to cut down a twenty five year old oak tree with a butter knife.
It is a direct confrontation of the spirit of this age and how it controls the many venues in which "the arts" are expressed and deamnds of its followers to bow to the baals or "you're out." It is a direct warning to those who "profess" Christ that going down a path like this can be extremely dangerous to your spiritual health and discernment, and ultimately destroy your witness. Lest we believe friendship with the world in this medium is ok as long as we make a buck, eh? I wonder how the Williams family would answer the question, "what has your faith cost you?" The "faith" that costs nothing is ultimately worth nothing.

I did not mean "vilification" in the political-speak sense. The potential for immorality in the theater was something well known long before this blog. Once you chase fame and comfort, all sorts of compromises occur... witness Jessica Simpson and her former minister father. Second, and I'm generalizing based on personal experience, artistic people tend to not be the most disciplined people in the world. Few in Hollywood certainly are living stable, godly lives. So I was musing on whether the arts corrupt or whether a certain type of person is drawn to the field. It seems like a mixture of both.

I think it's also easy to forget that the artists you see on the national stage are there in large part because of their enormous ambition and their willingness to devote themselves single-mindedly to the goal of being extremely successful in their fields. There are many many musicians, actors, and artists who exist on a much more modest plane, where they live middle class lives, go to church, spend time with their families, etc.

My first comment is this: I read the entire article and did not see either Michelle Williams or her mother professing Christ. I cannot just assume that this is a Christian girl from a Christian home. As a matter of fact, I have known many nonbelievers who place their children, often rebellious children, in Christian organizations and in private Christian schools in order to "fix" them, to give them a taste of morality, etc. This doesn't seem to be the right article to start a discussion of Christian children and their parents being involved in the arts.

My second comment is in response to Seth Ben-Ezra's promotion of films produced by Vision Forum. I have watched many of the films that won recognition in Doug Phillip's Film Festivals. Over all I would say that in order to be acknowledged in this realm, a Christian filmmaker would have to subscribe to Phillip's own narrow slice of Christianity and the applications he, personally, makes to Scripture. For the most part, the acting was like a highschoolers' production and the storylines were predictable and "cheesy," if I may use that contemporary adjective.

I would also say that if your target audience for presenting a Christian worldview is other Christians, this might be an option, but I thought that the calling for Christians is to present a Gospel message to the unsaved, who, for the most part, would never watch this stuff. These films are also very confusing because they are so similar to the many Mormon productions that are rapidly making their way into the mainstream.

Sadly to say, this is all too common. Christians tend to support the art of other Christians, whether or not it is good. (Prime example is Kincade....painter of light car air fresheners...give me a break.) For some great commentary and links to other discussions of this, I would highly recommend this Walter Kirn's series of article on the reflections of a non-Christian's experience of spending 7 days in a Christian culture.

On a personal note, of my six children, all of them have an artistic bent. We have sought profitable ways for them to express their God-given talents. My daughter (who is far, far from lazy, as, in my experience is also true of most Christian artists) received an undergrad in piano performance and a Masters in Theater from Bob Jones University. Her education was incredible and she has been able to present a Christian perspective in all her involvement in the arts. She has been asked to direct productions in our local theater and is near having a waiting-list-only cliental in her music studio. (Pardon my mother raves!) All that to say is, it took hard work to accomplish all that she did. Being an artist is not just waving a paint brush toward a canvas willy-nilly. For someone to think so is not only condescending but insulting to those who have been given, by God, great artistic gifts. I would suggest a good reading of Francis Schaeffer to be reminded of God's calling on those have been given these gifts and on those of us who ought to support, purchase, and praise the fruits of these labors.

Finally, I was wondering what people here think about the standards a Christian artist ought to maintain in their works. For example, a real one I know personally, how would you respond to a Christian young man who writes a novel on his blog at the second grade reading level that repeatedly uses fowl language and explicit descriptions all under the guise of presenting a picture of the reality of the abuse of children in our culture today to other Christians who might be nave? Any thoughts? I will send a link to anyone who privately e-mails me if you want to see this so you can give further input.

So how do we obtain a biblical view of the arts? That seems to be an essential question. I'll begin by pointing to an influential work by Abraham Kuyper and his Stone Lectures at Princeton. It's available under varying titles, the most common being "Lectures on Calvinism." Just do a Google search or go to Amazon and type in Kuyper's name.
The Calvinistic tradition in Holland (Groen van Printerer, A. Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, and others) spent a great deal of time working out a truly Christian approach to art and the arts. This is a worthwhile/necessary read.
I agree with Rebecca that far too many so-called Christian artists end up looking more like the world than Christians, but unfortunately that tends to be true of modern evangelicals as well.
Rattlesnake 6

David,

How many professional artists do you know personally? Where did you study the visual arts? How involved are you directly with the visual arts community in your town or area? How many Christians do you know personally who are involved in the visual arts professions? It is easy to find bad examples and unfortunate outcomes, of course. But I'd venture to guess we could find these kinds of sad stories about covenant children in any profession.

I respect your concerns, but I think you are largely speaking from a position of ignorance. Certainly not Biblical or theological ignorance. But perhaps ignorance of the faithful witness of many truly Christian artists practicing their faith with integrity in the context of the visual arts.
Perhaps the operative word in your post is "uncritically". We should do nothing "uncritically". At Grace Central we are equipping artist, dancers, designers, writers and musicians (as well as teachers, doctors, attorneys, mothers, business men, no plumbers, but two electricians etc.) to critically employ a Christ-centered worldview and belief system in the way they approach their respective fields of expertise. I have found most of these artists have been starving for a voice of affirmation and encouragement from the church in place of the voices of suspicion and denigration they have traditionally recieved.

Again, I truly do respect your concerns. I just think maybe they are communicated in an uncritical way, and have the great potential to cause a lot of damage in the lives of artists who are true believers. I know this is not your intent!

We should talk. I look forward to having lunch with you in Toledo sometime soon and it was good to see you at Presbytery.

By the way, I am completely in favor of Christian plumbers as well! Too bad they will be unemployed in the comsummated Kingdom, as I suppose the pipes there never burst! I tell you what, send some of your plumbers to us and we'll teach them to paint and sculpt, just so they have something to "fall back on" when they get to Heaven. ; )

Peace.

Add new comment