Art, Aesthetics, and Christian Faith Values

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I find myself mildly nervous whenever Christians try to ramp up any art category with a sacramentalizing intensifier: Christian Music, Christian Novel, Christian Poetry, Christian Painting, Christian Aerobics, Christian WhateverElse.

Now, I understand this need—I think—to lay especial claim to Christian this-or-that in opposition to Secular this-or-that (all those rampaging demons going to and fro in our culture looking to devour us unwary sons/daughters of the True Aerobics). But I’m still nervously heading for the door. Or baring escape, making ready to hold my nose against the wafting odor of cheesy-to-trite theology, rampant sentimentalism, and likely disregard for any recognized essentials of craft or aesthetics in whatever the hallow-intensified art.

Christian Aerobics aside, we Christians seldom find it necessary to integrate with sacramental upgrading other noteworthy but apparently overlooked art forms: say, Christian Surgery, Christian Snowboarding, Christian Orchid Growing, Christian Bull Riding, Christian Kayaking, Christian Barbecuing, Christian Scrapbooking, Christian Dog Grooming. . . ok, ok, infinite-art-forms-point overly made.

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I could be wrong on some of this. Maybe there is a supporting theology for Christian Snowboarding? Or other art category in need of spiritualizing. Who’s to say? A defending of the faith, an apologetic reflex, a piety aesthetic? I was once at a rodeo in Texas where they invoked Jesus to protect the bull riders—not exactly Christian Cowboying, but since this was Texas the linkage was unmistakably there. Then too there was the Inquisition’s auto-da-fé, a kind of artful integration of faith and barbecuing. I suppose the cultural and historical precedents are somewhat long-standing.

But don’t get me wrong, we Christians hardly need embrace (or create) art which is antithetical to our faith. And obviously individual Christians have and do make various kinds of art, even highly regarded religious-themed art. Yet if we are to interpret and evaluate the world in light (as Light?) of our Christian faith we must be willing to struggle with the thought, value, and aesthetic patterns of our day. Willing to interact with those forms and modes of artistic expression speaking to our contemporaries—even if and when our ultimate points of reference differ. For the Christian practitioner of whatever kind of art, integration should never be a reductive veneer of the conventionally sacred. Or the conventionally easy.

Art may not be redemptive but for those who insist it at least try to point in the direction of Truth, art is an endeavor in which the thoroughly honest search for values ought to avoid the easy answers or stock assumptions that can pre-digest and sully Truth with shoddiness. Christian shoddy is still shoddy, no matter how faith-filled your aesthetics.

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Clearly, all designated Christian art isn’t shoddy or necessarily super-sized with spiritual cheesy. Still, I remain nervous. I prefer the latent over the explicit. Any directly apologetic work needs to show me the difficulties we are up against. Like faith itself art ought to struggle. Maybe more so if produced by a Christian. We don’t need superficially Christian Art but rather art by Christians that needs no apologetic label to be recognized as genuine aesthetic and spiritual Truth.

By Ed Higgins

Ed Higgins’ poems and short fiction have appeared in various print and online journals including recently: Peacock Journal, Uut Poetry, Triggerfish Critical Review, and Tigershark Magazine, among others. Ed teaches literature at George Fox University, south of Portland, Oregon and is Assistant Fiction Editor for Brilliant Flash Fiction.

Connect with Ed on his website.

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