God in the Gallery
Hello again, this will be the first of a series of posts as I attempt to articulate the Why of media and the arts in the church. I’m still fleshing these ideas out, but much of what you’ll be hearing comes from the Baker Academic Engaging Culture series. Some great stuff fell out of my mouth while I was having this conversation with Stephen Proctor last week, we’ll see if I can reconjure.
In God in the Gallery, Daniel A. Siedell explores and further fleshes out the relationship between modern art and theology in ways Visual Faith didn’t, and is in fact a response to Visual Faith from a very knowledgeable source. Dr. Siedell holds a Ph.D in Art History and has served as a curator at a modern art gallery for 15 years at the University of Nebraska.
Siedell’s two points are that modern art is intending for Communion and Contemplation, not Communication. One of the greatest misunderstandings about the Arts in the church is requiring them to teach. This concept comes from Martin Luther, and finds fruition in our Easter and Christmas musicals, the Flannelgraph, Powerpoint slides and Much of the creativity that is expressed in evangelical churches. But this errors by not dealing with artistic expression on its own terms. (dealing with the Other on the Other’s terms is a concept sorely lacking in many facets of christian culture) Art is not created to express specific concepts. That is, the goal of art is not dictated before creation. If there is a goal, it’s often quite broad. I have a piece I’m working on now that is for high school Wind Ensemble, will start “dark” and end “light,” be playable by a high school band, yet musically satisfying for a college group, and be about 6 minutes long. I have goals, you see, but not any that are tied to Communication. Communication Arts are things like graphic design, powerpoint for the message, videos about service times or shuttles, etc. There certainly are needs for communication in churches, but screens, pianos, cameras and paintbrushes are not merely communication tools. Seeing expression as Communication also requires any work of art to be explainable in words, which is not fair to art, or to language. Most good art expresses quite a bit that cannot be captured in words; indeed, if we could say it in words, we wouldn’t create in paint, sound, theatre or movement.
Well, doesn’t the bible say the WORD is more important than anything else? No, not really. “Instruction, rebuke, teaching”… yes. God also says that he has made himself known throughout creation itself.
Isn’t the World DEPRAVED and SINFUL? It’s beneath the language of God. That’s why he gave us the holy scriptures! The created world is NOT beneath God. He ordains creation in the INCARNATION, where God himself became matter, and subjected himself to the laws of the planet.
Okay, fine, but it’s still more important to make more Christians than to waste time on painting or creating. Artists, in their way seek to alleviate, or respond to the suffering on this planet, and to the spiritual dimension of existence. By creating pieces/or moments of transcendence, they offer humans the chance to experience things beyond mere survival. In this way, they act as part of God’s redemption story, precluding when he himself comes to redeem this planet. The idea that IDEAs are more important than actions has more to do with Enlightenment philosophy than with anything in the Bible. It came to Christian culture via Martin Luther and John Calvin, not Jesus Christ.
It’s these transcendent moments that Stephen and I get excited about in media-churches. Moments where the church experiences the truth of God in a profound way. As a goal, this requires more consideration, preparation, and theology than creating communication, and requires a different set of gifts.
I enjoy production churches, especially as a comphrensive-creative kind of person. But as an artist, it is terribly boring, and often awkwardly difficult to do what amounts to internal marketing. “Make a video about kids camp. Make it cool, so people come!”