Here’s a question for you:
Could The Godfather, one of the most acclaimed films of all time, be made without the bad language.
Without the violence?
How much of the “bad” stuff could you take out, and still have a movie about the mob?
It will probably be an eternal debate among Christians. How much is too much bad language? How much violence and sex and sin and dirtiness is acceptable? How worldly is too worldly for Christians to be?
On the other hand, we want to be “relevant.” We fear that Christianity is becoming irrelevant to the culture at large.
It turns out, to be relevant, sometimes you have to get dirty.
Sweet, Innocent, Bland Art
If you let little kids draw or paint whatever they want, you’re bound to get a bunch of animals, superheroes, and lots of other things in bright colors. If you ask kids to write a story, they’ll write stories about those things.
That’s because kids write and draw what they know. Their worlds consist of ponies and fantasy heroes and cuteness.
You aren’t going to get anything that’s controversial,
It’s all going to be sweet and pure, and rather bland. Kids’ art doesn’t provoke discussion, deep thought, outrage or self-reflection. It will be the kind of art that parents are most proud of, but no one else will really take notice of. It’s value is mostly sentimental. Kids give me drawings all the time. I keep a few of them. Not that they’ll ever be worth anything, but because of the child who gave it to me.
Art Reflects the World We Know
Kids draw ponies and spaceships because that’s what their world consists of. Their perspective is small, formed by cartoons and storybooks. It hasn’t had time to form. Whatever opinions they have about the “adult” world, they mostly parrot what their parents or teachers have told them.
You aren’t going to get The Godfather from a second grader. It’s not part of their world.
Now that you are not seven years old, the world of seven-year-olds is probably not that important to you. You don’t care about the things that you did then. You have new, adult priorities, knowledge, wisdom, and goals. You have insight into the world around you. Your perspective has widened.
Keep It Clean, Christians
Here’s the thing. Go into a lot of corners of Christian culture, and there is a massive effort to keep things sweet, innocent and pure, to “protect” Christians, to keep us from being too “worldly,” to depict the world as a children’s cartoon with no problems at all. Christians are terribly sensitive to being offended. We don’t want to be around people who provoke deep thought with contrary opinions. We want to listen to people we already agree with. We want our culture, to be sanitary.
To put it another way, a lot of people want the Christian world to look like the world of seven-year-olds. Pure, innocent, child-like, bland, lacking anything that would be controversial or provocative…or worth paying attention to.
Does Your Art Belong in a Motel?
And we wonder why Christianity is becoming more and more irrelevant.
The world is full of sin, darkness, doubt, sex, violence, and, yes, even swear words. Those thing are relevant to the world. It’s what people are thinking about. The world is not sanitary. It doesn’t look like a child’s bedtime story.
And good art, literature, film and music addresses the soaring highs and the deepest lows of human existence. It’s not sanitary either. Sanitary art goes in motel rooms and Christian book stores. Tell me the last great piece of art you saw in a motel? You can’t. That’s the point of motel art. It’s there, but it’s not there to really be seen.
If you want your life and your work and your voice to be relegated to motel rooms, and be so limited in relevance that only other Christians will take notice, play it safe. Don’t provoke thought. Keep it innocent.
But to make good art,
the kind of art that will make people pay attention,
you have to know your audience. You have to relate to their problems.
You have to get your hands dirty.
What do you think? If we’re going to touch the world, do we have to get our hands dirty, or is our primary job to keep ourselves insulated from the world?
[photo: Richard-G, Creative Commons]