Over the years I have been apart of a variety of Christian art groups and with consequent bated breath, the question is conventionally posed: Does art really change things?
Does art really change things? A question that was never raised by my nonreligious art colleagues. Though, I think this is a beautiful question. There’s a sense of agony, disbelief, brokenness, and hope all surging through this simple sentence–all in which resemble the mind of one whom has come from a Westernized Christian origin, so I theorize.
From my limited understanding, it seems as though our Puritanical ethics have wound themselves around our arteries, pushing and pumping from the heart outward whereby movement is constant; productivity is endless; and salvation is counted. Everything must mean something, everything must generate indisputable changes, everything is a means, which must lead to the end–heaven or rather a possible appeasement of anxiety, a deep unflinching desire to please, something certain to be and depend on.
Crowns of rubies, gold streets, a big big house where we can play football. A place where we our merits are tallied, directing us to the appropriate placement of responsibility and pleasure in the ethereal afterlife.
This is reduced to mere jests, of course. I do believe there is much more here than what my flippancy suggests or what Audio Adrenaline postulates through their song writing.
Does art really change things? Change onto what? My thoughts narrowly range to salvation, a more lucid understanding of God, or a transformative awareness of humanity as criteria for effective art. I don’t dislike these guiding questions, I actually find them hugely important as they develop our anthropological, Christological, and cosmological perspectives that shape our be-ing and our be-coming.
However what I think has happened within Westernized Christianity is that utilitarianism, function and efficacy have dominated over beauty, form, emptiness and resting points.
Where there is “the natural,” we pervert/convert; where there is lack, we fill; where there is pleasure, we control; where there is demand, we supply–especially if it syncs with our worldview.
Moreover, art is in some ways a dangerous, dangerous thing, more specifically for the Western Church. For instance, the Italian patrons regulated it during the Renaissance through highly religious imagery, subversion came, for the Dutch at least, through coded symbols in still life paintings, and the Church has progressively distanced itself from this increasingly unbridled, ungirdled, unmarried thang.
Art in many ways is the black sheep of the family. Prophetic, yes, but unruly and unpredictable. This inevitably induces a good dose of anxiety and uncertainty.
Although, there currently has been a growing consciousness of art in churches, insofar as it gives credibility and relevance to the congregation (I’m a bit of a cynic here). Thus, the question is posed more than ever: does art really change things?
And, for me, this just isn’t the question to ask. This question is poorly disguised–turtlenecks, apple cider, and anxious hands are easily glimpsed at when asked this. I don’t mock those aforementioned things (no, I’m quite fond of the mock variety of turtlenecks), yet I passionately want there to be a more daring, truthful, honoring way in creating. I’d rather find artists with answers of, “I don’t know what this means, but I do know it came from within me” or “I just have to do this (creating), it’s apart of who I am”. Art that pleasures and pains the artist, rather than the artist who manipulates and schedules art is far more beautiful, true, noble.
I also don’t want a whole exegesis of an artist’s purpose, maybe later, but for now I want allowances: for silence, for only one part of the whole to connect with, for the frustration of disconnect, for space to admire beauty for beauty’s sake, for restraint from meaning-making–not forever, but a little while.
And, as an artist I hope to resist the temptation to redeem or qualify something that might seem unfavorable by certain figments of authoritative figures in my life. Let things be and surprise might come.
This leads me to the human body–the beauty and the grotesque.
This leads me to the unnerving qualities within nature.
This leads me to hushed, unseen realities of you and I.
This leads me to color.
This leads me to lines that wind.
This leads me to scratches and the crude.
This leads me to spectacular, accurate representations of today.
This leads me to your face, your eyes, my hands.
Will the messiness, darkness, and beauty of here or there be brought, absent of an agenda for change?
The paradox for me is that when we do what we have to do in life, in this instance create, then the honesty in those gestures will be the possible catalyst for transformation. And yet, maybe the arts is the one branch in our pysche that is in opposition to moving, changing, modifying, clarifying the world in and around us, but rather it requests presence and honesty, reminds us of our pleasure and pain, and requires not for clear and concise answers.
May the scattering, the confusion, the bits of truth, the madness, the staggering light, the face all be places of inhale, places of exhale, places for coughing, places for anxiety, places in heart palpitations, places in ecstasy…
Do what you have to do and do it because you’re crazy mad about it, and not because,