How to Discourage an Artist

And Why We Shouldn’t

Rating: 5.00

In a culture where the arts are struggling to rise above the silly and the profane, the church has an incredible opportunity. Are we taking advantage of it?

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John Stonestreet

Philip Ryken, president of Wheaton College and a former pastor, knows that artists who are Christians often feel like fish out of water. Ryken says, “Their faith in Christ seems odd to many of their friends in the artistic community—almost as odd as their calling as artists seems to some of their friends at church.”

This is more than a tragedy. It’s a lost opportunity. Ryken notes that “Christians called to paint, draw, sculpt, sing, act, dance, and play music have extraordinary opportunities to witness to the grace, beauty, and truth of the gospel… The arts are the leading edge of culture,” he says.

So with tongue firmly planted in cheek, Ryken asked some of his artist friends what churches do to discourage them from their dual calling as artists and Christians.

First, they said, treat the arts as window dressing for the truth rather than the window into reality it’s intended to be. Second, embrace bad art just because it’s “Christian.” Third, value artists only for their artistic gifts, but not for the other contributions they can make as thinkers and servants with a unique perspective. Fourth, demand that artists only give answers in their work, but never raise questions. Fifth, never pay artists for their work—take advantage of them in ways we would never do with plumbers or accountants. And finally, only validate art that has a direct salvation application.

Unfortunately, too often these are exactly the kinds of things that churches do. But if we want to impact our beauty and truth-starved culture with Christ-honoring art, we have to do better! Come to our website and I’ll direct you to Ryken’s whole list. It’s an eye-opener.

But there’s another side to the coin. Many Christian artists expect to be taken seriously while having bought into the dominant cultural idea that art is all about self-expression. But presenting the obscure and confusing in a trendy way does not a Christian artist make. So, we have to ask, “What, then, is art?”

Artist Makoto Fujimura argues that for the Christian, art must be more than self-expression. It must be communication, because as Christians we deal with objective reality. As one of my mentors once said, art’s job is primarily to “paraphrase reality.” I like that. We can present beauty without being trivial, evil without being gratuitous, and redemption without being hokey.

And the Christian artist is a communicator also because God created through communication—through His spoken word. The creative individual made in the image of the ultimate communicator must be one who communicates as well. Not just what we feel, but what is true and real. Art’s job is to paraphrase Reality.

Now this doesn’t mean Christian art must be preachy or obvious, but it should make us think more deeply and better about life and the world.

For example, Fujimura’s paintings are abstract. Yet because he believes his responsibility is to communicate, he explains his art in writing. He knows that art is not really about the artist—little “a.” It’s about the big Artist—capital “A.”

And we’re not just communicating about God; we’re actually participating with Him. In his book For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts David Taylor says, “Whether through paint or sound, metaphor or movement, we are given the inestimable gift of participating in the re-creative work of the Triune God, anticipating that final and unimaginable re-creation of all Newsletter_Gen_180x180_Bmatter, space, and time, the fulfillment of all things visible and invisible.”

Two other great books on the Christian view of art are Francis Schaeffer’s classic "Art and the Bible" and Philip Ryken’s "Art for God’s Sake." We have them for you at the BreakPoint online bookstore.

And, let’s commit together to encouraging, not discouraging Christians in the high calling of art.

Further Reading and Information

BP-Takeaction_60613How to Discourage an Artist: And Why We Shouldn't - Next Steps

Check out the books listed below for insight on how you and your church can integrate art individually and corporately. If there are artists in your own life, ask yourself and them how you can support and encourage them to pursue their calling. Even for those without direct friends or family in their arts, continue to ask how you can support the arts and artists in the church.


How to Discourage Artists in the Church
Philip G. Ryken | The Gospel Coalition | May 28, 2013


Art for God’s Sake
Philip Graham Ryken | P & R Publishing | April 2006

Art and the Bible: Two Essays
Francis Schaeffer | InterVarsity Press | 1973

For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts
David O. Taylor | Baker Books | March 2010


"This is more than a tragedy. It’s a lost opportunity."


I'll just pick one so as not to make this too long:

"Second, embrace bad art just because it’s “Christian.” "

You have no idea how this drives me absolutely out of my mind INSANE.

Worse yet, if you say something about this - even gently, kindly and with good intentions - you are called unloving and/or judgmental.


And "paraphrasing reality" may be the most perfect description of the purpose of art that I've ever seen.

It's a work of art in itself.
It's funny this topic should come up, I've been on a kick of reviewing several Christian movies on my blog in the last few months and have been thinking a lot about how Christendom is failing in the arts.

While it is true that the church in America doesn't focus enough on art and entertainment, especially given what a media saturated culture this is and how art and entertainment is probably the best way to reach the lost in this culture, it seems even when Christians do get out there and do it the results are usually pretty poor.

When I finally got around to watching the Christian movie Fireproof a few months ago I couldn't believe how bad it was. I could write paragraph after paragraph going through all the things wrong with that movie (and indeed I have done just that on my blog) And that's celebrated by Evangelical culture as the height of recent Christian films.

As I see it there are two major problems with the pitiful attempts at art and entertainment by my brothers and sisters in Christ. First, while it's great to have a message, it's not great to beat people over the head with it. Good art doesn't shove answers down your throat, it asks you questions and gets you to ask questions, much like Christ himself did. How many Christian movies literally end with an alter call? Second, not everything needs to be sanitized and "family friendly". Some stories can't be told in a "Rated G" kinda way. Half of what's in the Bible, if translated faithfully to film would earn a hard R rating.

Sometimes I wonder what has happened to Christendom, how did we go from story tellers like Tolkien and C.S. Lewis to shlock like Fireproof?

-The Bechtloff
Response to Sam Turall
Thanks for the comment. It's a fair question, but we hadn't seen Mr. DeYoung's article. Thanks for sharing it.

John was using Philip Ryken's Gospelcoalition.org posting (which we linked to) as the basis of the commentary. And of course he added some thoughts of his own.
Arts, culture and Christianity
In line with the art topic today, Washington State has activities where art, culture and faith come together at http://www.thekindlings.com/
July 31-Aug 3, 2013 is Kindlings Fest, see http://www.thekindlings.com/kindlingsfest/
Accreditation due?
This looks very much like a not terribly modified rewrite of a Gospel Coalition blog post by Kevin Deyoung on October 29, 2009 [here http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2009/10/29/the-church-and-the-arts-some-common-ground-and-some-common-sense/

I was surprised there was no credit given Mr Deyoung. Possibly an oversight by Mr Stonestreet?
Artists in the Church
I really appreciate this well-written article and the author’s perspective. Here's a different perspective about "bad art". I’m an elder in our church and widely known in our body as an artist. In our annual arts festival (5 years so far), we invite the entire community to exhibit their work in our gallery and the hallways surrounding the sanctuary. We accept and hang the “bad art” (whatever that is) along with the “good art”. That’s because we made the decision to honor all artists, accomplished or not, and Christian or not. You never know what you will get from whom and the results have been extraordinary every year. Hopefully artists will make better work as time goes on and they mature, and in the mean-time we will have loved them, accepted them, and even honored them while they are on their path coming closer to Christ, both spiritually and as artists.

Thanks again for this article.