A few recent posts from the Circe Institute blog, conversations with my husband, and a hope to finally begin this site have had me mulling over my own opinions of art appreciation.
Professing Christians today often fall into one of a few camps when it comes to the arts: Camp A says we only accept what is explicitly Christian and/or what is morally acceptable on the surface (i.e., no foul language, sex, or gore, etc.). Camp B says no, no, no, we must love the world, and to do so we must engage with the culture, and in order to do that we must know their music and their dance and their tv shows and anything else that might give an in. Camp A calls back with cries of assimilation, and so goes the conversation.
My problem with both of these camps is simply that neither is really about art. I like art. I like oil paintings. I believe poetry to be one of the greatest possessions of humankind. I have spent my life pursuing the study, expression, appreciation, and teaching of music. I like art because it is good. Or, rather, it can be good.
Art ought to be good. I believe any good art is worth my time. I believe good art is deeply helpful to any society. I believe art is an integral part of being human. In all its forms, art has a capacity to communicate truth—and to communicate about truth—in powerful, comprehensive ways. Good art does so in a manner that is beautiful, powerful, transcendent, and accessible.
In this vein, I stand believing Christians ought to be thoughtful consumers of art. Is there high art that is hostile to the gospel? Yes. Is there poor art marketing only on its stamp of Christian approval? Yes. Both should be avoided, both for the sake of the gospel.
There is a Camp C who, weary of the first two, determine only to attend to old art. Often art of the past is seen as more innocent or at least less explicit (though this is quite a rose-tinted view of the past), or as already tested for its goodness by time and thus proven worthy of a look. I understand the compulsion, but would warn against its limitations.
To prioritize the good is not necessarily to prioritize the old, but to transcend the narrower categories of age and region to serve a greater desire for quality: being that which is compelling, true, beautiful, articulate and substantial.
Be grounded in your tradition, be steeped in the art and artifact that has stood the test of time and glean what good may be had from the those gone before us, but do not forgo the opportunity to continue what is beautiful, good, and true now. Do not snub the whole of expression of your time and place as illegitimate until proven timeless. What do you have to lose? Listen to Bach and Dry the River. Read Augustine and Eliot, but also Marilynne Robinson and Mark Wunderlich. Why? Because it is good. Because it is art. Because the human expression of your time and place ought to have bearing on your life. To assume that the prioritization of good art necessitates an ignorance of anything produced in the last century is to doom your own generation.
More to come.