Good Christian art is not an oxymoron, although anecdotal evidence and a survey of the statistics might make it seem that way. The fact is that there are good Christian artists making good art, but they are the exception rather than the rule, and the leaders in the fields of art seem to be non-Christians. Why? There is no single explanation, but rather many forces that have contributed to the present situation.
1. Christian churches have largely failed at teaching people how and why to love art. This results in masses of people who are stirred up in good ways, but are not being moved to the world of art. In so many instances, they are actually being moved away from the world of art or from cultivating a knowledge and appreciation of it. Simply put, lots of Christians are ignorant of art. What makes it good? What it is saying? What is the history of the conversations that have occurred in the world of art?
2. The Church is known for sending out missionaries into the mission field in pursuit of obedience to the great commission, but it is not known for viewing the art world as a mission field. We have not sent, trained, and equipped new artists. Young people are not being sent into the world of art with a commission to embody the gospel and create works of art informed by their faith. Artistic young people must find answers to the questions in their mind about art elsewhere. They have to learn their craft from “secular” masters, and they will not only learn the fundamentals of their craft, but they will also learn the worldview that comes along with it. They will sometimes find sharp disagreements with the Christian worldview and they have not been taught how to think through those questions Christianly and deeply.
3. The Church has often held a false dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. In this view the “spiritual” activities such as prayer, church attendance, Bible studies, and read the scripture, hold a higher, honored position than all the other activities of daily life. The Bible doesn’t leave room for such a division. It calls Christians to live their spirituality out in the warp and woof of daily life and in every human activity, including art. If this is true then an artist is practicing a spiritual profession and if that artist is Christian than she should bring a Christian worldview to bear on her art.
4. There is a lie abroad that Christianity makes a person less creative and less artistic rather than more. The false dichotomy of sacred and secular contributes to this because the world notices the exodus of Christians into a spiritual Christian bubble. The Church has also largely believed that lie of itself! This is not the way it should be. God is an infinitely creative creator and mankind is made in his image. The goal of Christian spirituality is to become conformed to his likeness, and that includes his creativity. If there is any truth in Christianity then we should also become conformed to that aspect of God. The more Christian a person is, so to speak, the more they should crave beauty like food, and the works of their hands should bring it into the world whatever they do. Christianity should make you more creative, not less! Christian artists should be the ones who most relentlessly pursue goodness and beauty through telling the truth in their art.
5. Christian art is undercut by an inappropriate ideal of sentimentality. Walk through a Christian book store and you will see what I mean by this. There is a sense that the works of art that you see are disconnected from the real mess of daily living. It seems like Christian art sometimes paints a picture of life as though it believed we were already living in heaven and it was a sin to make something ugly. But there can be beauty in making something that is ugly if what you are making is telling the truth. We live in a fallen world and artists who set out to tell the truth must tell this part of the story also. We do not live in heaven yet. We live in a world where there is much sadness and brokenness and hurt. The fall has fractured every area of life and the Christian artist must be present in that brokenness and bring all their creativity and sensitivity to bear on it.
6. Christian art is all to often driven by the market. When artists do not create new art and fresh thought they abandon their field to the market. Art still sells even if it is bad or unoriginal, but the questions the market asks are not the ones that will bring human flourishing. The market asks what people want to see and what they will pay for rather than what people need to see and what it true. When the market speaks the voice of the artist is drown out, and it is exactly the voice of the artist in the role of prophet that the world needs. When the market rules, everyone suffers.