Monday, February 21, 2005

Post-Restoration Hope #12: Art, come home!

Restoration churches and evangelical churches in general have ushered Art of out the building. Most music - gone, almost all performing arts – gone, all (but tacky) visual arts – gone. Good writing and poetry – gone.
Not only are these things obviously not present in RM church worship or architecture or spiritual formation, but the act of creating these kinds of art is completely lost.

So, what is the result? No art; no artists. Why would an artist feel welcome in a Restoration Church? No one speaks their language. No one cares about their gifts and talents. Their very best contributions would never even make it to a Wednesday night class.

Where are the concerts (and don’t even say the words Vocal Union)? Where are the art galleries? Where is the drama? Where is the communication of art? Where is the art in the worship? Where are the experienced artists teaching the novice artists? Where are the art classes? Why can we not take from good art the passion that was so preciously put into it?

I fear that our inability to appreciate art significantly limits our hermeneutic. How are we supposed to understand the art of the Bible when we are incapable of understanding any art? How will we know the power of the Psalms without any awareness of poetry? Are there not paintings of Biblical events that capture the meaning of the passages better than our cognitive processes can? Isn’t a picture still worth a 1000 words? Is there not a language in music that speaks to the heart that words cannot?

An art illiterate community loses at least of a third of the meaning of the Bible because of their illiteracy. It’s in there, we just don’t see it – or at least don’t get it when we do see it. It’s like reading a newspaper written in English and Chinese. English speakers will read every single bit of the newspaper they are able to. But English speakers are chronically Chinese illiterate. So, rather than learn Chinese, they are content to believe everything that is in English is all that is important.

When will art regain its rightful place in worship? When will we value the instructive, inspirational, motivating, passionate, meaningful aspects of art in the same way we value moral codes and propositions? When will the RM emerge from black and white into full color? When will we repent of our expelling artists from among us? When will we hear the cry of the baby who got thrown out with the bath water?

Despite all of my questions, there is reason for hope. Some churches are introducing art through banners and murals. AGain, some of these are nasty, but some of them speak a powerful message. At the Zoe worship conference, there is art. Jack and Jill Maxwell create incredible works of art that capture the meat of the passage preached at Highland Church in Abilene. The Abilene Christian University art faculty created a traveling art exhibit including pieces or art from the book of Isaiah. Call ACU to get it booked at your church (last I heard all they charge is a mailing cost). Many RM churches have enjoyed and have been moved by the Jesus Painter. More and more churches are getting familiar with new kinds of worship. I think RM churches are a few years off from prayer stations and sand tray confessionals, but many are moving in the direction of art.

What are your stories of art in church?

13 comments:

don said...

I helped cut out characters for a felt-board story one time. Does that count?

Brandon Moore said...

One of my good friends here at school is an incredible, i mean incredible artist. He's on some kind of special scholarship here for it, and his stuff blows me away. His paintings of Christ during the Passion and after the Ressurrection inspire me as much as any sermon.

TCS said...

The loss of art is not just a RM issue. It is largely lost from our culture (the modern culture anyway). Many schools no longer include it in their curriculum. No visual arts no preforming arts.. most still have band. There are generations of us that have very little exposure to MANY of the arts. But yes my best story is probably this: As an architect, when I am dealing with a RM church it is very difficult to understand those congregations that are like the one I grew up in where windows are a bad thing. It is understood that they would be a distraction. As if the great Artist's work doesn't testify to his existence. The old little building that I barely remember had windows, but the one built in the 70's had none. I still run into this. A friend's solution was to sheild the windows on the outside, light got in but no view. We recently started using a projector in worship (I know we are behind) but the elders decieded that we had to stop putting "pictures" up during the service" another story but related to art. Maybe I better get to my own blog.

Keith Brenton said...

Architecture is an interesting example. Does anyone know of any architecturally lovely edifices that are homes to a Church of Christ? There aren't that many ... a few purchased from other foundering denominations ... not many with rich texture and color and soaring height and an embracing surrounding.

TCS said...

Keith, you are asking for a needle in a haystack. Not only can you find "2 songs and a prayer" all over the country, but you can find very similar buildings everywhere. In part this is a function of when we were growing. The prevelant style then and probably illegal use of plans to save money. I posted one newer example on my blog. The tokyo church of christ is a great new building but I think it is ICoC.

Keith Brenton said...

I do remember my art-teacher mom and carpenter-engineer dad spending hours assembling a huge model of the tabernacle for a vacation Bible school display throughout an entire springtime in my childhood.

I can remember flags of different colors so that children at the VBS would flock to the right place in the auditorium and attend the age-appropriate class.

I remember making a castle-like collage of construction paper and gold foil for my mom to hang on the wall of her fourth-grade Bible classroom, so the children there would always have heaven on their minds.

And my mom designed the very modern, Mondrian pattern of the stained glass windows for the church building constructed in 1964. Bright colors: blue, red, orange, green, yellow, dark blue.

Sunday morning sunlight would project the colors on the opposite walls.

Milton Stanley said...

When I was still in the instrumental, independent Christian churches, I was once part of a service in which an artist drew a large chalk sketch while the tape of a hymn played. The whole thing took less than five minutes. While the music played, this woman drew a large (3 x 4 ft) chalk drawing of Jesus. Although I don't support entertainment-oriented worship (and I don't think Jesus had blue eyes), I found the experience very memorable and moving.

The problem, I think, with art in worship--including things like videos and PowerPoint--is that we ascede to the cultural preference for the visual over the spoken. As a historical fact, the OT prophets were surrounded by a culture in which religion was primarily visual (i.e., idols). Yet JHVH chose to manifest himself through the spoken and written word. While I don't think that fact necessarily prevents us from including visuals in our worship, I think we need to give it some pretty serious thought before simply following the cultural, tv-saturated paradigm in this matter.

On the other hand, art in all areas of life is neglected by members of the RM and evangelical Christians in general. Human beings are created in the image of God, and creative arts are a unique expression of that image. Franky Schaeffer makes a strong case for the value of Christian art in his book, Addicted to Mediocrity.

Keith Brenton said...

I've seen Jack and Jill Maxwell work behind Mike Cope while he's speaking. I'll never forget how the artwork actually reinforced the spoken word ... once while he spoke about the resurrection; once when he spoke about David and the shepherd's role.

Fajita said...

God revealed Himeself in the to the fullest extent through Jesus. The Word did not remain Word, but it became flesh. There is never going to be a lack of need for the Word, but there is a need for the Word to be more than words.

Jesus' stories subverted the objections of the Pharisees. Jesus' miracles subverted their legalism. Jesus showed in visual ways the truth of the Word.

The visual should be used to make known the Word, not replace it.

Clarissa said...

My mother, who is an artist in many ways, would never have thought to connect Art and Faith in the ways you speak of. However, she paints massive murals that are used in the windowless, cookie-cutter church building in rural Alabama which became her new church home almost 6 years ago.

The murals are part of the experiential Vacation Bible School week she oversees each year. She can see that when the children feel they're a part of the scenery in which their story-of-the-day might have taken place, they'll be much more likely to remember it. She uses her gift of decorating to make the foyer and classrooms more welcoming, inviting, and updated. She makes sure there are live flowers in the auditorium and foyer on occasion, thereby bringing in some of the natural beauty and art that God's amazing creation provides.

She does all of these things out of a godly, servant-heart ... and the way she shares her gifts IS a testament to God's creativity, whether she realizes it or not. And I daresay such hints of artistic ability and generosity are hidden in pockets inside many a dark, paneled church building spotting the American landscape, and those pockets are bursting at the seams to do something ... they just don't know what.

Fajita said...

VBS is one of the rare exceptions. Lots of talent is poured into VBS in 1000 of churches. Art drama and music are somehow acceptable for those 3-5 days. Lots of people show up. But if they do come to a church service or event, they do not see there what they saw at VBS. I wonder if we expect people to just understand there is a time and place for art and the "real" worship time and the "real" church is not the place for it.

I think sometimes VBS serves as a bait and switch, wheter it is ever meant to be that or not.

On the positive side, I am glad for it. My church does this terrific event that has over 1000 participant on each of it 4 nights. Music, drama, a huge set, murals, costumes, crafts, art and on and on.

But, isn't that mostly for kids? We expect that there is this magical age when we grow out of that sort of thing. Well, we don't - we just let social expectation kill the wonder.

Clarissa said...

My mother, who is an artist in many ways, would never have thought to connect Art and Faith in the ways you speak of. However, she paints massive murals that are used in the windowless, cookie-cutter church building in rural Alabama which became her new church home almost 6 years ago.

The murals are part of the experiential Vacation Bible School week she oversees each year. She can see that when the children feel they're a part of the scenery in which their story-of-the-day might have taken place, they'll be much more likely to remember it. She uses her gift of decorating to make the foyer and classrooms more welcoming, inviting, and updated. She makes sure there are live flowers in the auditorium and foyer on occasion, thereby bringing in some of the natural beauty and art that God's amazing creation provides.

She does all of these things out of a godly, servant-heart ... and the way she shares her gifts IS a testament to God's creativity, whether she realizes it or not. And I daresay such hints of artistic ability and generosity are hidden in pockets inside many a dark, paneled church building spotting the American landscape, and those pockets are bursting at the seams to do something ... they just don't know what.

TCS said...

Keith, you are asking for a needle in a haystack. Not only can you find "2 songs and a prayer" all over the country, but you can find very similar buildings everywhere. In part this is a function of when we were growing. The prevelant style then and probably illegal use of plans to save money. I posted one newer example on my blog. The tokyo church of christ is a great new building but I think it is ICoC.