The thin line between art that communicates a scandalous truth and art that is sheer shock-sensationalism is something that takes time to explore and courage to proclaim.
When does art begin to confront the culture in the same way that the parables of Jesus perplexed and challenged and offended the culture of His day? When does art stop pandering to our basest desires and begin to challenge us to shrug off our complacency? Shouldn’t real art have the power to disturb and unsettle us?
The truth is, we don’t know the answers because examples of this type of art are so rare in this day and age. But isn’t this the sort of thing that our society desperately craves? Art that communicates to the soul?
Look at how Jesus packaged the Gospel when approached by Nicodemus. His response was “You must be born twice.”
Now, for you and I, thousands of years removed from this moment and informed by countless biblical commentaries, we understand plainly what Jesus meant. But, for Nicodemus, standing there in front of Jesus, the only response was bewilderment.
He tried to get a grip on what Jesus was talking about. “You mean, I need to re-enter my mother’s womb?”
He was grappling with this statement. He tried desperately to make sense of it and felt frustrated, challenged and annoyed. And that’s exactly what Jesus wanted.
Jesus did not give him theology. Instead, He gave him something to chew on. Something to exasperate and confound him. Jesus did something that very few of us ever do when attempting to evangelize. He engaged the person on a level that invited dialogue. He allowed the person to take a concept and think about it for himself.
When Jesus was approached by Nicodemus, He took a creative mode of communication that challenged the listener to actually engage his own brain. More importantly, He did not give Nicodemus the punch line.
The Gospels are full of these sorts of examples of Jesus’ style of evangelism. What are the parables if not simple stories that cause you to ponder the deeper meaning beneath the surface? I think if more of us took Jesus’ approach to the idea of evangelism, we’d be more effective—especially when it comes to creating art that transcends the norm.
Recently I came across a great quote from Steve Turner about artists as prophets in Image: Journal of the Arts and Religion: “One role of the artist is to provoke and even disturb us so that we can see in new ways. As the ancient prophets did, art frequently condemns the values and concerns of its surrounding culture-often in a loud, harsh voice. In consequence, the artist is often outcast, rejected, or unpopular.”
Maybe the problem is that, most of those whom we call artists today are in reality only entertainers. But a true artist, as defined above, is one who challenges the lifestyle, thought-pattern and behavior of a society, regardless of what anyone thinks—even if it means being unpopular.
Why don’t more artists take the role of prophet? Perhaps because it’s just a lot more difficult. Perhaps because we’re making some wrong assumptions, one being that to be evangelistic, we must somehow spell out the Gospel in plain English in a song or a painting.
But the world doesn’t want things spelled out. It doesn’t want the punch line. They’ve already heard the punch line (in regards to what the Christian faith is all about) numerous times. What they want to know is, How does it relate to my life? How do I actually “do” this stuff? What value are the teachings of Jesus to my life today?
Art has the power to ask these questions and to provide clues regarding the answers. But, the more important elements of the equation are the question and the clues, not the punch line.
Sure, it’s easier to just look through an art magazine and take cues from what the rest of the world is doing. Maybe slap a cross here or a few nails there and, presto, you’ve got something that other Christians might call “Christian art.” But, if your hope is to communicate something more potent and effective to the culture we live in, then it’s going to involve submission to the Holy Spirit when you sit down to create your art.
The finished product might not look, on the surface, like something that God could or would use, but as you continue to seek God’s face in your work, you’ll begin to find more and more success at hearing His voice and responding to His direction.
[Keith Giles is one of the world’s greatest enigmas. Ruggedly handsome yet surprisingly gentle and compassionate with small animals, Keith actually has a very weak grasp of reality and often talks to himself in the bathroom mirror. He’s currently writing his own original sci-fi novels and putting together a few comic books of his own in his spare time. Visit him at PlasticAnimal.com.]
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