As Christian artists making art for a “churched” audience, we often get stuck between the forces of “good art” vs. “church-appropriate”. We often feel the pressure from church leaders and audiences to offer work that is message-driven, preachy and palatable. Our struggle is that this is often at odds with our artistic sensibilities. Often, to create material that is meaningful, true and resonant, the work demands other forms. Sometimes, the story takes us places that are uncomfortable. And, as artists, to be stuck in a “nice” place is virtual death to our creative centres. It also becomes false and pretentious.
It’s our own fault.
As artists, we find ourselves second-guessing our instincts. We pull back from letting the work be truly itself, presupposing that the church won’t approve. I think we need to be bold. Of course, some individuals in the church won’t like it. It wouldn’t be worthwhile art if everybody liked it all the time. But, we need to make honest work. So that we can say, regardless of the reaction, that we are being true to our call and that our work has integrity.
Here are some quotes from Dorothy Sayers’ essay “Why Work?”, from her collection, “Letters to a Diminished Church”:
“The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.
Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly–but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made Heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.
Yet in Her own buildings, in Her own ecclesiastical art and music, in Her hymns and prayers, in Her sermons and in Her little books of devotion, the Church will tolerate, or permit a pious intention to excuse work so ugly, so pretentious, so tawdry and twaddling, so insincere and insipid, so bad as to shock and horrify any decent draftsman.
And why? Simply because She has lost all sense of the fact that the living and eternal truth is expressed in work only so far as that work is true in itself, to itself, to the standards of its own technique. She has forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred. Forgotten that a building must be good architecture before it can be a good church; that a painting must be well painted before it can be a good sacred picture; that work must be good work before it can call itself God’s work. (139-140)”
As artists who are Christian, we need to “make good tables”. And that means we need to do a better job of making bold work that is honest and fully realized.