Saying No to Bad Art

When I was a pastor overseeing creative teams in the church one of our members gave me an original painting specifically done for me–to put up in my office.

The painting was a wolf.

I don’t know what the wolf had to do with church, or my office, but it was a metallic blue hue (did I mention it was howling) wolf-portrait. I know the person meant well but I remember struggling about whether to put the howler (that’s what I called it) up in my serene office space to view every day for eight-or-nine hours at a time simply because someone in the church made it.

Let me be clear about two things: 1) this was a dear church member whom I loved and 2) I, too have made art that I would not consider “good” or relevant.  

On some scale I believe this is what creative leaders in the church deal with on a regular basis–what do you do with bad art made with good motives?

Of course, art is subjective, I know that. To some the howler could have been a Monet but as a creative leader in my church this dilemma was a frequent one.

I am not one of those creatives who feel the need to whine about all the bad “Christian” art in the world today. I’m hopeful.

Seriously.

I believe God is up to something and we’re in the midst of a “creative” awakening in the church today.

In a large part, this creative awakening in the church is taking shape because a new breed of artists are embracing their God-given gifts for design and creation and, well, they’re also learning to say “no” to bad art. Whether it’s bad art they have created or bad art from others.

Learning to say “No” is the beginning of good art.

“No” is a freedom word that gives us liberty to throw away that which isn’t helpful and credibility to point to what is. As a community of artists and creatives, saying no can be one of the most powerful tools we have in stirring the next great wave of art in the church.

Of course, the prerequisite for saying “no” to bad art is actually knowing what good art is. To that there could be volumes of books
written, because we all have our opinions and our preferences but the main foundation–the starting point–is that good art is full of truth and beauty.

It’s good to note that good art is not meant to replace preaching or teaching–in fact, one of the biggest mistakes in Christian art is often that it tries to preach or evangelize its audience. I like what Pastor Kevin DeYoung says:

“We must allow art to be art. Sometimes Christians make the mistake of thinking that for art to be valuable it must share the gospel or try to point people to Jesus.  Such an approach usually makes for bad evangelism and bad art.  Art is valuable because it can be beautiful and full of truth.  We should not expect art to communicate in the same way that discourse does.”

That doesn’t mean that good art doesn’t point people to Christ and to redemption, it certainly should, but when art is done with the motive to evangelize and not the motive of brining glory to God–something inauthentic happens to the work. And, people know it when they see it.

The church went through a long kitschy period of parodies and cheap art—it was a time when everyone said, “yes,” but we’re seeing a new generation of creatives emerge from the church today who are serious about making beautiful things full of passionate design and truth.

We live in such a unique day and age—we’ve been given so many outlets to create and to represent our Creator through our work–it’s a great privilege and responsibility.

I’m a firm believer that code is poetry and today’s series graphics are the new stained glass. Art is no longer relegated to a few disciplines—we have a myriad of artistic fronts to conquer in the church today.

So, let’s continue to pursue the vision God has given us to do good art, as painstakingly humble yet serious creators. Let’s put the church back on the cultural map for its innovation, artistry and beauty. Let’s stay passionate about creating beautiful things and let’s not be afraid to say “no” to bad art to pursue something greater.

Like Steven Pressfield says in his wonderful book, The War of Art, “Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”

And I’ll add, just make sure it’s not a wolf painting for my office.

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brian@churchleaders.com'
Brian is a writer and editor from Ohio. He works with creative and innovative people to discover the top stories, resources and trends to equip and inspire the Church.