Friday, February 12, 2016

The Vanity of Art: The Relation Between Christendom and Bad Art and Some Other Meanderings

"But we are not unaware of the identity of those who are at work behind those displayed names and images, who exult in the homage paid to them and pretend to be divine, namely, the evil spirits, the demons. We see then, also, that the arts are consecrated to the honor of those who appropriate the names of the inventors of those arts, and that they are not free from the taint of idolatry when their inventors for that very reason are considered gods."
~ Tertullian, De Spectaculis, Chapter X

Many of the artists in our days are scoundrels. These imperfect beings making imperfect objects, and yet their products are interpreted as being "perfect." Are the appetites of some actually satisfied so easily? And even if the objects of their making do seem quite "good," how does one properly separate the art from the artist? What I mean to say is, how does one observe the creation without being reminded of the sinful humanity of the artist? Especially in this era, where we have ease of access to the pagan details about the personal lives of nearly everyone. How can one just overlook those details if they've seen them? It's better to have naive eyes to begin with, I suppose. But, if one does know of the wrongdoings of the artist whose work they admire, that admiration cannot be committed apart from some form of naivety. The question is whether or not this naivety is of an innocuous nature or if one's conscience needs to be brought to a more alert state.

On another note, what is to be made about the sterile complaint that "Christians produce bad art?" It's not so much that the statement is necessarily inaccurate - it's just that it's not an important matter. Kierkegaard had three stages that composed the becoming process of the true self: the aesthetic stage, the moral stage, and the religious stage. Art, when placed in isolation from the intentions that bring the art into being, is of sensory importance. If one is at the religious stage, a Christian, how much more important is that compared to composing fine projects that serve sensory purposes?

If one doesn't find my initial response convincing, there is another thing worth mentioning: the controversy about Christians creating bad art is less about bad art coming from Christendom as a whole and is more about bad art coming from particular branches of Christendom. Of course, this is not usually explicitly mentioned because the complaint sounds a lot less entertaining. Consider the art of the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, those of the catholic tradition have not been given enough credit from those who choose to make such glib comments about christian art. What about the robust icons? What about the wonderful paintings in the cathedrals? What about the stained glass windows? Perhaps those of the Protestant tradition are more worthy of blame when it come to criticisms about Christian art? of course, it sounds ridiculous to infer that all art from Protestants is lacking in quality.

And then there's the whole notion of bad art having an impact on evangelism. I have doubts about the validity of this idea. Art is merely a medium in which greater things are transferred through. If one rejects the substance of Christianity, which is Christ, based on art, that is the result of disordered priorities, something quite far from the direct effects of the Christian artist. But what about the question of whether or not the unbeliever rejects Christ himself because of the artistic archetype (of Christ) that was projected by the Christian artist? It seems like a conceivable occurrence. If one does happen to reject Christ in the process of also rejecting an unworthy archetype, it is the fault of the Christian artist. But this is not a matter of mere aesthetics; it's a matter of theology. That said, there certainly are both beautiful and lackluster ways of projecting one's doctrine. However, it seems to me, that what is intrinsic to the problem of bad art having an impact on evangelism is theology in addition to aesthetics. The two should not be rearranged. Theology is the telos of the topic at hand (at least in this paragraph). Really, the subject can be broken down into three basic steps: a) meanings are transferred through art; b) meanings reach others through art; c) others evaluate meanings through art. Truly, this problem is less about art and more about theology because theology is a thought structure, which is to say that it is a type of meaning, and meaning (as it follows from the thought pattern operating here) is what brings art into being, or is ultimately what art points to.

At the end of the day, art doesn't really matter, especially if I am right in my definition: a medium in which greater things are transferred through. It is time for the critics to bury the dead horse and lay waste to their clubs. Does all this pride and care really need to be directed toward something as fleeting as the arts? How long until we turn our eyes from the things of this world and instead look unto the Heavenlies?

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