Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Facing the Giant of Christian Art: an oxymoron?

Over on the ACFW loop there was some discussion about the movie Facing the Giants. I’m not going to rehash it here, I haven’t even seen the movie. But it’s an example of a subject that comes up time and again about Christian art. What is it? Does it even exist? Should it? Huge questions that I’m not going to even begin to address.

Pam Meyers posted a link to a Jeffrey Overstreet article at Christianity Today that I thought did an outstanding job of summing up some of the answers to these questions. While he’s talking about movies and movie reviews, I think everything he says applies equally to writing. This quote in particular really resonated with me.

"Sermons have their proper place and purpose, but art is something different. I want to encourage audiences to move beyond simplistic, formulaic gospel lessons into the magnificence of the gospel as it is revealed in the lives of our neighbors, in creation, in history, in aesthetics, in mystery, and in the darkest corners of human experience."

That might be the best quote to explain what I want to accomplish with my writing. And I don’t think I’m alone in that desire.

Later he says:
"And good art cannot be reduced to a simple, extractable message. If your movie leads up to a simple 'Come to Jesus' climax, that may make for an entertaining sermon, but don't ask us to praise it as great storytelling. That's an altar call, not art."

And this:

"I want to see that what is good is lifted up. And I want to see crass and sinful behavior reflected truthfully so that we can see it as unhealthy, and then live our lives with that understanding.

In other words, I am looking for signs of truth, beauty, excellence, and redemption in art. And that means looking closer, not putting on blinders."

Because I write romantic suspense, this is an issue that comes up. How do I portray evil in the world in a way that is truthful and glorifies God? How much to put ‘on scene’? Are there subjects that are off limits? I think the answer will vary from book to book and writer to writer, but the above quote is a good reference point to begin thinking about those questions.

"Many Christians are not comfortable with art that reflects the complexity and the darkness of the world. Many would prefer movies that make them comfortable, or that steer their attentions away from the problems in the world and the rough edges of worldly people. They prefer movies that tell them that Christians are clearly "the good guys" and everybody else, well, they're the bad guys. And they do not discern the difference between portraying/exposing wickedness—and actually condoning wickedness.

They want Christian critics to condemn movies that portray the reality of evil, because dealing with evil is a discomforting, painful, sometimes horrifying process."

This is the one of the issues that has been discussed in the CBA writing circles. Lately there has been something called “the new CBA” as opposed to the traditional, bread-and-butter CBA. The quote above I think embodies what those of us trying to write for “the new CBA” are trying to do and the challenges we are coming up against.

I’m tempted to keep quoting the whole article, so please click over and read it for yourself. For me there was just a ton of stuff to mull over. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this too.


Elaina M. Avalos said...

Thanks for the reminder about Overstreet's article. I had forgotten that Pam posted that last night.

I'll go read it now . . .

:-)Ronie said...

Wow--my husband was just talking about this very thing last night. He mentioned how we'd seen some of DaVinci's original pencil sketches at a musuem--how one of a hand drawing looked so very real. Yet, Brian said, put the pencil in someone else's hand and it's no longer art. He was using the analogy while we were talking about how I'd written this one scene that I wasn't passionate about--wasn't my idea, really--and technically, it was fine. Yet, another version of that scene (that was my idea) had, according to my crit partners, my voice and flare. Art, Brian said.

It's such a finicky thing. :-D Love this topic, Jen!

CHickey said...

Great topic today! How true.