What gives life to the best Christian art? Death.
At the end of C.S. Lewis’ novel Till We Have Faces a wise man council’s the main character, “Die before you die. There is no chance after.” This is what Lewis calls “good death,” the sort that “baptized my imagination.” It is not bodily death (although in art it might be that), but figurative death: a character’s death to self, death to dark loves, death to vanity, death to all things apart from the joyous life: Jesus Christ.
In a recent interview, Christian artist Sufjan Stevens put this call to death in art more positively, “I think the Good News is about grace and hope and love and a relinquishing of self to God. And I think the Good News of salvation is kind of relevant to everyone and everything.” Stevens rightly points out the need for salvation out of the death of the self. It is a call for darkness, then light.
All art points to a savior–communism, atheism, drugs, comfort, etc.–but in Christian art the savior must always be beautiful, joyous, full of pomp, and radically transformative. Must it be Jesus himself? No, this is why our depiction of the darkest, most bitter death (figurative or not), and the brightest, most hardy life matter so profoundly.
Our lamentations must never seem cheap, this is where much Christian art fails. Depict brokenness as it is: family disfunction is not laughable; lust for success is unsettling; manipulation and hatred must sickenthe reader/viewer/listener. Make your audience long for death–the death of this brokenness, selfishness, and evil.
Only after death should life truly spring, the sort of life which makes the flashes of goodness in your art (prior to death) seem weak and pathetic. Yet again, it cannot be simple, it must not be easy, because it comes from raw provocative death.
Emulate your own death, the death of your old self upon the cross with Christ, so that you might emulate your own life, the resurrection of Christ full of undeserved grace and mercy.