Monday, September 7, 2009
Christian Art -- Cheesy or Iconic
When I grew up the Sunday school leaflets included four color art painted in a fairly realistic style with faces that would appeal to this Swede/German and settings that often looked like the imagined scenes of Biblical stories. It really did not occur to me whether or not such artwork was authentic or not. I liked it. It was a picture. Kids like pictures (often more than words). As art it was neither cheesy nor classic. It was art with a teaching purpose. It was not Michelangelo or Da Vinci but it worked.
When I look through the various church supply catalogs that come in the mail (bidden or not) I am struck by the cheesy character of much of the stuff. Christians must be seen as somewhat dull or even stupid by the cheesy stuff that is sold. Classic in this genre is that statue of Santa kneeling at the manger. Gag. Or the creche made out of Precious Moments figures (or worse, Lego figures). Don't we get it? Why do people think that we are so gullible to purchase all this cheese? Well, I guess because we do buy that stuff. Art, tee shirts, statuary, and the stuff that to call them paper weights would be to ennoble them beyond truth... Christians buy that stuff in huge quantities.
We need good art -- not just in the church building but in our homes. We need good Christian art that draws us back to the faith, that inspires us, that teaches us, that ennobles us... Unfortunately we buy the crap that is produced in abundance in sweat factories far away. This is not what we need. We need good, Christian art.
To start with every Christian home needs a good quality crucifix. For two millenia this has been the premier depiction of the Gospel -- Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. My suggestion is to go out and find a decent, simple crucifix. Whether "traditional" or "modern" in style, get a good quality crucifix and put it in a place where you will see it every day.
To supplement this crucifix, you might look at an icon. The basic Jesus as Pantocrator or perhaps an icon depicting the crucifixion or resurrection would be excellent. Icons transcend time and cannot be equated with any particular era. Definitely an icon would be a great second piece.
Every home could use a copy of one of the great paintings or sculptures of the masters. You do not need to pick the most popular pieces (Michelangelo or Da Vinci) or the most copied (Thorvaldsen is popular among Lutherans, and strangely enough, the Mormons). I suggest a reproduction of one of the great altar pieces of the Reformation or later periods -- Durer, Cranach, and others. Find a classic piece that speaks well and put it up. There is a great supply of reproductions available now.
Now this is where many would stop but I suggest you look at some of the works by more modern or contemporary artists. I have seen good pieces by Sotomayor, Chagall, Lawrence, and others. Even abstract art can speak well of the faith but you know what relates to you.
The point is this -- don't go the way of Christian music which is eminently forgettable and even shallow. Art is meant for the long haul so it should speak well over time and not just for the moment. Look around. Think about it. Among the family photos and sofa paintings, find some places to display good, Christian art. Skip the cheese, however...