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More on Christian Artists

May 13, 2005

As to the issue of those who “took me to task” for my views on Christian art, I don’t mean to suggest they were angry with me. They just disagreed with the concept of Christian art defined by the person who produces it. They defined it, rather, by its content. They wanted art that was proclamational.

That’s fine for books and music which have “messages”, but it is much more nebulous for instance when we talk about the visual arts. Can a painter be said to be “Christian”? Obviously, from his many books, we have come to understand that Thomas Kincaid is a believer. Does that mean his paintings are “Christian”? I believe so. Christian music was much harder to define by content in Classical eras because it had no words. But by listening to it with your spirit, you can tell the difference between Bach and Wagner…or today, between John Cage and Christopher Parkening. It is the spirit of the person who produces the music that defines its nature.

Btw…to answer Jeremiah’s comments (see the comments under the previous posting) …Christopher Parkening is a tremendous example of someone who is a strong Christian and yet leads his field of music (he is a classical guitarist). However, I also agree there aren’t many Christian artists who have made it in the much more discerning world outside of Christendom. We do accept mediocre work, simply because it has a Christian message. What pains me is that several of the most skilled, talented writers today are patently anti-christian in their approach. No one can paint a character like John Updike. But try reading him to find any sense of moral or ethical truth and you’ll be sorely disappointed. Annie Proulx has the craft down pat; but I’d like to see you get much truth out of The Shipping News.

One Christian writer however that deserves mention is Annie Dillard. She won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for the book, “A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.” That book may be the best-written book by a Christian in the 20th Century. In addition, several of Madeleine L’Engle’s books are considered classics and they contain biblical truth everywhere (in fact, it is hard to turn a page without finding some). Her book “Certain Women” is a reference to the female followers of Jesus. But she paints a story involving a man dying who is surrounded by his wife, daughters and ex-wives in a wonderful tale of reconciliation, repentance and forgiveness. Hooray both for L’Engle’s craft and heart.

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6 comments

  1. My greatest concern has two aspects: Are we in the Church settling for art that is second best when what we could produce is far better; and, are we failing to see the logical outworkings of our ideas. Let’s ask ourselves this: What would be the practical consequences if a talented Christian, who could produce wonderful art, put my ideas into practice? Praise God for the talented individuals who put all of their heart into producing excellent, long-lasting works of wonder and beauty in a world that can be so jaded and ugly. Thank you for your post on this subject.


  2. I love Annie Dillard, have read all her books but her label as a “Christian Writer” is questionable… well at least in the since that term is commonly used. She is not restrictive in her theology but I think too often people only read her in short quotes and get the wrong idea. If you haven’t read them ‘For the Time Being’ and ‘Holy the Firm’ are two of her best books dealing with religion. Also ‘An American Childhood’ covers her decision to reject the church…

    I guess that actualy goes against your point even if a work is not produced by a Christian but yet people take away christian principles from it the label sticks. She is amazing though, just wish unthinking christian hungry for a sound bite would read more from her than just two lines on their page a day calander, no way you can get a grasp on here just from that. (Sorry, not talking about you – just in general)


  3. Well Sean, I do agree with you that Annie Dillard can be a challenge. Having a friend who was taught by her up in Bellingham, I have some perspective on her journey with God. During the time when she wrote “Pilgrim”, she was very evangelical. Then she went through a phase when she explored a lot of different beliefs and practices; especially those of the medieval Catholic monastic orders. I believe “Holy the Firm” was written during that season of her life. The last fifteen years, or the season since she wrote “The Writing Life” have shown an Annie Dillard that has settled into a nice Neo-Orthodox groove.

    As to her rejecting the church, she attended a church in Bellingham (New Life Community Church which was pastored by a mentor of mine) while she was there, so she can’t have rejected it that far. That is not a defense of Dillard, since she does distance herself from anything mainstream (an old hippie??), but it may show that she isn’t as pedantic in real life as she is in her writing.


  4. Sorry…that was Christ the King Community Church in Bellingham. My bad.


  5. ‘An American Childhood’ is about her youth, but yes she also talks about attending church in Holy the Firm as well, just making the point that such labels are far too limiting and I would sooner die than see her lumped in with the likes of Tim Lahaye.

    For the Time Being, her most recent work, takes up her problem of reconcling god & suffering once again.

    I by no means mean any of what I said as a bad thing about Annie Dillard – think its great, wish more people wern’t so easily satasified by the simple answers to the big questions


  6. I didn’t interpret your comments as disparaging her in the least. She is a “skilled” writer and that is what I appreciate about her. The fact that she also wrestles with big theological issues (even if I disagree with some of her conclusions) doesn’t take away from her art and skill.

    My friend Tim, an accomplished guitarist, told me once that Christians confuse God’s anointing power with the necessity to grow in the skills we are trying to attain. He said, “I can lead worship in God’s power and people can be blessed by that, but it won’t make my skill level much better. Only practice and instruction will do that”. I agree completely. I like writers who practice their skill and hone it to a fine point. Others (like LaHaye) bank upon the Christian buying public being thrilled that someone is representing their theological viewpoint, even if the story has to be hokier than a Graphic Comic. It is especially hard for me as I disagree with his theological position. At least with Dillard, I like her skill. That makes disagreeing with her theology less irksome.



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