Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A conversation about Christians and art

After sending to some friends this link to a series of articles about Christians and making movies, a writer friend and I had the following conversation via e-mail:

Friend: I don't think we should even be asking the question "How obvious should the message of a movie be?"; rather, we should be asking "How can I tell this story most effectively?" Storytelling is probably the most powerful mode of communication we have, but if we stop worrying about telling the story and start worrying about the "message," then we will artificially warp the tale and rob it of its power. Some stories are best told with faith in the background; others with it as the central issue, just the way it is in life---in either case, if the *story* is told well, the message will come through, and people will be willing to receive it, instead of resenting its presence. No one should make a movie (or write a book or pursue any other artistic endeavor) just to preach a sermon, he should be doing it because he has a story he wants to tell. If the person is honest with his story, if he tells it from the heart instead of playing to an audience, then the convictions of the person's heart will come through---maybe in the narrative, maybe just in the subtext, but it will be there. Produce art because you are an artist, not because you feel you should because more Christians need to be in the arts.

Elena: True...but the artist should be about pleasing God...that should be her recognized end in life. Not creating art merely for art's sake. When that is his or her chief aim, to please God and enjoy Him forever, then that aim will inform the art and the work of creating can reliably be said to reveal, somehow, truth/Truth. Read Sense and Sensuality by Ravi Zacharias; the book is a much better explanation of my point than I can make it.

Friend: Certainly, the artist's main goal should be pleasing God; that should be in place in his life long before he considers creating art. Then when he tells his story or writes his song or whatever, he can concentrate on making the best art he can, and that devotion to God will come through. My point was that the "message" should not be an artificial overlay placed upon the art, but should flow naturally from the heart of the artist as he uses his art to express that heart, fully integrated into his creation as it is already integrated into his life.

Elena: just stated it better than I did. I was also thinking about people who elevate art...almost to the point of idolatry.

So...if one really doesn't have anything to say and doesn't know how to say it, even if he did, he's better to stay silent till he has something to say? Perhaps the artist's responsibility to God and to his gift is to hone his craft, even if he has not much to say to the world (it may be just to God and himself, and that's still important).

I'm not sure "what I have to say," other than to relate how truth and beauty touch me---to try to reflect the light I see, so that others can see the original light and want to seek it for themselves: illuminate truth and beauty.

And I don't think in stories. I like to read them and watch them, but I don't usually think that way. I guess I'm frustrated that I can see others' stories, but I can't see mine...or that I can't make up stories.

Friend: I don't think we have to "have something to say," as in having some specific message to convey to the world, in order to create art. Art is an expression of the human heart, an overflowing of our own identities into some outer form; if there is some story, some song, some poem inside of us, then that is a good enough reason to put it into artistic form. Its existence doesn't need to be justified by some explicit theme or message. True art reflects the values and beliefs of the one that creates it, and that is what gives it purpose and worth, that is what will touch the hearts of others and convey to them the "message" of the artist's own soul. Sometimes that message is nothing more than the sheer joy of creation, transformed by the reader/hearer/viewer into the joy of receiving that creation and being part of the artist's world, of being for a while some place other than he is. We identify with stories and poems and songs and paintings and all kinds of art, and it is in that identification more than anywhere else that the heart of the author is communicated. Any more obvious message can add on to that, but I don't think it can truly replace it.

A good example of this is some of my stories. Unlike my novel, I didn't write them with some explicit message in mind, but out of a desire to explore the characters and their world, as well as to entertain. And more than anything else, I wrote them because they were inside of me and demanded to be let out, and the process of doing so gave me great satisfaction and joy. But even though I didn't write them with any overt message, who I am and what I believe are imprinted onto those stories by the very fact that I wrote them; my Christian values are laced throughout the narrative and the characters, even though those characters aren't actually Christians and the story has no overt references to religion. The same thing is there in your poetry. Sometimes it is overtly Christian and sometimes it is about your thoughts and feelings at the time without blatant reference to God, but God comes through in all of it in some way or another because God is in you, and you cannot write your heart and keep Him out of it. So don't worry that you may feel you have no great revelations to give to the world; write what is on your heart and God will do with it what He wills.