The session this blog is based on is now available to download here. –LJ, 6/8/12
If you’ve read very many of my posts, you know that I closely follow arts policy – the area of arts practice that looks at how communities, institutions, and governments engage with and support the arts through funding, educational initiatives, community development projects, and other programs. So I was particularly excited to see that one of the sessions at the Forum would have guest speakers from the arts policy world, addressing the question “Why do the arts matter?”
You’d think we would have answered that question, many times over, right? So why ask it again at the Forum? Why would policy people, in particular, be asked to tackle it? And why do I keep asking it on the pages of this website?
Too few people really do believe that the arts really do matter. If they did believe, we’d be seeing more action. Action follows belief.
Isn’t this what James’ letter is talking about throughout chapter 2 when he writes that “faith without works is dead”? Or, as The Message paraphrases, “Isn’t it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works?”
What I believe is expressed in my actions – and in my inaction. If the actions I want to see in myself aren’t there, I have to ask myself if the belief needed behind it is really there, if it is “alive” and even growing in power. If I mentally assent to an idea, but don’t then behave as if it’s true, then it isn’t really a belief at all – or, at best, is so weak (and even dying or dead, according to James) that it has no ability to act.
If I claim to believe that everything I have is God’s, and that he will provide for all my needs, yet I hoard money and fail to ever financially give to God’s work in the church, do I really believe?
If I claim to believe in compassion, yet I refuse the homeless man the dignity of eye contact and a smile, or pretend not to notice the pregnant woman on the bus so I don’t feel obliged to give up my seat to her, do I really believe?
If I claim to believe that the arts are important, yet I never attend arts events, or volunteer with an arts organization, or pray with and for a discouraged artist friend, do I really believe?
The arts policy world has recognized, during a time of financial anxiety and resulting cuts to funding for arts organizations and educational programs, that the real problem is not a lack of money, but a lack of belief in the importance of the arts to society. Money doesn’t equal action; belief equals action. Lots can be done in the arts without money, but not without belief.
That lack of belief – asking “Why do the arts matter?” or even “Do the arts matter?” – is what the arts policy world is tackling now, through commissioning research, through refocusing organizational missions, and through developing new programs. Through taking action.
What does this have to do with the faith-and-arts realm?
The closing session of the Forum was entitled “What about the role of the church in the arts?” In it, theologian Nicholas Wolterstorff said, “No one is hostile towards the arts in general.” He took that thought in a very interesting direction, which I’ll talk more about in the next post.
But his idea hearkens back to our “belief = action” premise. And he’s right. The research and statistics show that almost everyone mentally assents that the arts are important. But is an absence of hostility the same thing as belief? Does an absence of hostility lead to action? Nope, sorry. If it did, we’d have an abundance of vibrant, interesting arts activity going on all over our communities, churches, and schools. An absence of hostility might lead to “tolerance,” that most inert of modern buzzwords, but it doesn’t lead to action. Only living, growing belief leads to the sacrificial commitments – of attention, energy, time, resources, and more – needed to make something happen. To act.
I’m not suggesting that every church, Christian school, and faith-based organization needs to make the arts a top priority. But if our faith communities are not active in the arts, at all or enough, is it because they don’t really believe that the arts are important to God, to his Kingdom, and to his children?
And if they don’t believe, is it because we haven’t told them?
[You can find other things I’ve written about arts policy at Cardus online.]