The following is an excerpt/adaptation from David Taylor’s recent post, “A Landscape of Church & Art Questions: Part 1: the prologue” on his blog, Diary of an Arts Pastor. David will be a regular contributor on the C&A blog, but this post so clearly sets forth some of the main ideas behind the founding of Church and Art Network that I asked David to publish portions of it here, too. I encourage you to check out the full post, the rest of the series, and David’s blog and book. –Luann
Update 1/28/11: “A Landscape of Church & Art Questions: Part 2: Corporate Worship and the Arts” is now available. Also great.
A few things play a critical role in any observation about art and the church. Five things strike me as particularly noteworthy: theological ideas, communication issues, strategies, networks of power and relationship, and legal and financial resources.
With the question of theology, the question “Do the arts matter?” usually falls into two kinds of answers: They matter maximally or they matter minimally. Rarely will a church say that the arts matter not a whit and exclude all forms of art. Usually they will find a place for oratory; they might advocate a minimalist aesthetic palette, but it will still be an aesthetic. With the “minimalists” two attitudes will prevail. Either art will be seen as something to be tolerated or the arts will be viewed positively but under very restrictive terms. With the “maximalists” the desire will be to encourage a flourishing of the arts in certain contexts or media or the desire will be for the arts to flourish in all arenas of life.
With the matter of mass communication, the thing to pay attention to is the kinds of rhetoric and argumentation that people use on behalf of or against art. Examples might include “art helps us communicate the gospel,” “art touches the Father heart of God,” “art expresses my vision of the world,” “art fulfills our cultural mandate,” or “art brings us into the domain of the sublime.” Another issue to pay attention to is the channels of communication that are employed. Are convictions about the arts communicated from the pulpit, from radio stations, web sources, print sources, to sectarian audiences or mass audiences–or a combination of these?
Strategically we get into divergent views of how we should go about promoting the arts. Send our high school kids to art school? Start an “arts ministry” or “arts school” at your church? Hire professional musicians to lead your corporate worship? Establish alternative sub-cultural organizations (e.g. magazines, film festivals, TV shows, etc.)? Reconfigure seminary curricula to include exposure to art for future pastors? Present your work in terms that include no reference to Christian faith?
Networks of power and relationship are the kinds of things I believe James D. Hunter suggests in his book To Change the World. (I’ve yet to read it, though, so we’ll see.) Networks are powerful. Network of networks are even more powerful. [Note: This is exactly how we hope Church and Art Network will function! --Luann]
Legal and financial resources? Ah, yes, here’s the rub. If I may say this in a neutral sense, the Jewish community in America possesses an enormous amount of legal and financial resources and their influence in the art world is evident. By and large Protestants, especially conservative Protestants, don’t really believe the arts across the board matter. The amount of energy and money they devote to the business of art-making proves it.
All these efforts are fine. But they’re ad hoc and isolated. Mostly they’re parochial, even in the best sense of the term. Think about it. Can you name 50 great books on art and Christian faith? How about 25? You could probably pull that off with preaching or evangelism, or even “spiritual theology.” But at the moment we’re working with a pittance of books that set out to make sense of the arts from a distinctly Christian perspective. More need to be written. More thank God will be written. Some will be truly great.
What we need, in the end (the telos, if you will), is something far more systemic and systematic than we’ve yet imagined (possible or needful). If I can indulge in a quote from the introduction to my book, I believe what we need is “a theology capable of sustaining a long-lasting, fruit-bearing tradition of artmaking by the church, for the church, for the glory of God in the church, and the good of the world.” We don’t need only good theology. We need institutions, networks, philanthropic foundations, schools, churches, entrepreneurs, visionaries, regular folk and grit. We need loads of grit.