Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Arty Thoughts...

I'm reading a brilliant little book at the moment, called Imagine by Steve Turner. It deals with the place of Christians in the Arts, and outlines a vision of Christian artists using their unique perspective to get stuck into culture and engage with the big questions everyone is wrestling with. I haven't finished it yet, but so far it's been really thought-provoking.

I'm reading it partly to help me in encouraging arty students I'll be working with next year, and partly for my own interest. I've found myself getting artier over the past few years, and this book has been really helpful in thinking it through. It's also pulling together a lot of strands of thought I've been tugging on recently. Questions about how to engage with a culture which likes asking big questions but is suspicious of anyone who claims to have an answer. And if the gospel is relevant to every aspect of out lives, how does this work out in practice, and is it visible to those outside the church.

Turner explains that, for a long time and for various different reasons, there has been suspicion amongst Christians when it comes to the arts. And so Christian artists have largely either been confined to "Christian" versions of their disciplines, or been made to feel like sell-outs (or possibly like they had to sell out) if they joined in with the wider arty world. As the world has changed, the arts have addressed the big issues people have been wrestling with (and which the church has perhaps failed to address).

Last week I had dinner with some new friends in Reading, and we were talking about this over the dinner table. Someone pointed out that we tend to treat art as something to be consumed - we watch films, look at paintings in galleries, and read books. But, actually, we should see it as a conversation - every piece of art says something about the world, and as Christians we need to engage with it. Surely that's a much more constructive way of seeing things - art as an opportunity for dialogue, rather than as an attack on the things we hold dear. And it also elevates the role of Christian artists. Rather than using their medium as a platform for preaching (probably with little impact), they provide another voice in the conversation, challenging assumptions and asking questions. Only they are getting stuck in with the "renewed mind" they've been given (Romans 12v2).

A broken world has sold its soul
and filled the hole with miserable things.
Weary children chase worn out dreams.
And what is left?

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