3.02.2006

"Addicted to Mediocrity" - book review


Ever wonder why art was so great a few hundred years ago - and done mostly by Christians or those operating in the Christian consensus - but today's "christian" art is pretty bland and boring? Franky Schaeffer's book "Addicted to Mediocrity" does a great job explaining how we as Christians have lost our artistic prominence and settled for droll sofa art.

The High Renaissance in Italy and Reformation-era in the Dutch/Flemish/German region had a basic understanding that creativity came from God, was good, and needed no justification. You create because you were created in the image of the Creator. But with time a Platonic understading of spirituality developed, separating it from daily life. It was a religious end in itself. Certain things were seen as either spiritual or secular. That developed alongside of the utilitarian mindset of the Industrial Revolution. People started evaluating themselves and the world around them through a screen of pure utilitarianism. What does this person/talent/object contribute (monetarily/evangelistically/etc)?

As an artist, I see this to be too true today. The church, as an earthly organization, rarely values artists (visual, written, musical, dance, cinematic, etc.) unless they are 1) bringing more cash into the coffers, 2) actively evangelizing through their medium, or 3)contributing in some way to the contemporary christian subculture as seen in the Christian book market and music industry. I've never been asked to do a drawing or artwork for the sake of beauty. But I have been instructed (by a pastor, no less), to make a church logo look something Nieman Marcus-esque to draw the upper-middle class white collar demographic.

Any art you find in your local christian bookstore would bomb in the market at large. The only reason we see so much of it in our bookstores is because we keep buying it! We, as the Christian culture, have settled for less than quality work, most likely because it's been sanctified with a bible verse or Christian symbol.

"Cultural endeavors, the arts, and the media are truly the marketplace of ideas." We have settled for mediocrity in our Christian art, music, writing, even preaching and teaching. When Christians withdraw to their own little ghetto and offer toothbrushes with bible verses to the world, it's no wonder the state of affairs our culture is in! For the millions who profess to be evangelical Christians and all the Christian activity, programs, money spent/raised, bumper stickers and national programs, Schaeffer asks "why then is the culture moving in such a devastating speed in an Anti-Christian direction?"

So what can you do? Schaeffer offers some great advice: First, be addicted to quality and integrity in artwork. Second, those around you in their creative endeavors (this doesn't have to be financially). Lastly, free yourself from the mindset that we must tack on a few Christian slogans at the end to somehow redeem our work. "Christ redeems what we do.... There is no Christian world, no secular world...there is only one world, the one God made."

I would encourage you to look around your home, your church, your garden, your place, whatever that may be. How can you bring beauty and glory to God in that area? For practical ideas on how to do this, I highly recommend Edith Schaeffer's book "The Hidden Art of Homemaking" put out by Tyndale Press.

8 comments:

  1. I agree in some ways, and disagree in others. I agree that what is called Christian art, is far from great art, largely for the reasons you said the book points to. And, I would hope that Christians start to use the talent God has given them to glorify Him, not with the stuff we find in the Christian bookstores, but by, for example, showing His glory as displayed in the creation around us as they portray it.

    However, while I think the loss of a Christian worldview bears some blame for the current situation in society, I think the fact that Christianity was the accepted religion of Europe and North America bears the blame at least as much,

    Also, what I have seen recently is a move among evangelicals who want to affirm these artistic gifts, to want to use these things in worship, which will eventually lead to the breaking of the 2nd commandment.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sad thing about Cranky Franky: He laments mediocrity everywhere else but in his own screenplays and anti-daddy screeds, er novels.

    It is far easier to tear down than to create a positive superior alternative.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Rileysowner (what does that mean?), it's my understanding that much of the Renaissance art could only happen because of the Christian establishment in government and politics funding the geniuses. While not a full-fledged theonomist, I'm not so allergic to lots of Christian influence in the civil government...

    I agree about the art in worship thing - this can be overdone. But too often we under-do it! Had a Calvin Seminary prof do a chapel service on Abraham sacrificing Isaac once, and he had Rembrandt's painting on an easel in the aisle as he preached. A good balance, I thought...

    On the overdo side: sacred dance isn't our cup 'o tea. I think Franky's point is that dance doesn't have to be justified by doing it in church. Ballet, folk dance, etc. outside of church should be enjoyed instead.

    Ken, I haven't read this book yet, and Sara and I are not all that familiar with Franky's other work, so we'll trust your judgment on him. But if he offers positive advice in the book, can't we take that for what it's worth, even if Franky's own stuff isn't so quality?

    ReplyDelete
  4. By saying that Christianity as the accepted religion resulted in the situation we have today, I mean that in the previous few generations if a person was going to be a respected member of society, they needed to be part of the church. That meant that many people had a form of religion, but without the power. That was true not just in the general membership, but also among the pastors, elders and deacons. Where will a church go when those in leadership are no more than nominal Christians? It seems that it will end up where we seen things today...little difference between the church and the world. When it is culturally expedient to be Christian, the church gets filled with unbelievers who are generally moral in their actions, but have no real faith or understanding of grace.

    As for how to transform culture, it strike me there are two ideas as to how to do it.

    One--to influence various cultural movers and shakers (ie have a good Christian president/prime minister) and establish a whole host of Christian alternative institutions (Christian schools, labor unions, political parties, etc) and so change the whole of culture. That was and seems to still be the general approach of the CRC at least in my experience growing up CRC. I'm not sure which view prevails in the RCA.

    Two--to have believers live their whole life in whatever their vocation is with a Christian worldview (ie. function within the existing structures as followers of Christ). This approach brings change by believers modeling the Christian world-life view, and so being used by the Spirit to bring others to Christ.

    These are not mutually exclusive, but it strikes me that people tend to one or the other. And at least what I have found (remember my CRC upbringing) is that the push it to use process one. What seems to have happened to all those alternative organizations though, is that they have all become corrupted by seeking intellectual approval to what they do.

    I'm not sure how clear I am making this, with an baby recovering from a throat and ear infection getting up every hour and a half through the night, I am a little mentally unfocused today.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Oh, I do agree that art by Christians does not need to be what we tend to find today. I usually call the things that they have in the Christian 'book' stores a fine selection of graven images or idols.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Interesting post. I have not read this book, yet. But I have often quietly wondered why there tends to be a mediocre quality to mainstream "christian art."

    One would think that with "Christ In Us ~ The Hope of Glory" ... we would see greater magnificence manifested and revealed through all expressive acts. God certainly provides the inspiration to each of us daily!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Feeling miserable, but had to comment again. Part of the problem was mentioned in the review, the idea of a divide between the sacred (church stuff/private stuff) and the secular (everyday stuff/public stuff). When that division exists, doing art is not seen as a vocation of service to God. No question is asked how one glorifies God and enjoys him forever by being an artist, or if it is, the answer is to do "christian" art. BTW the same could be said about any vocation, doctor, lawyer, scientist, automotive mechanic, etc. To do that job without looking at how God is served in it, and changes how you view it keeps the division and works against a christian world/life view. A good book on this is Total Truth by Nancy Piercy(sp?).

    ReplyDelete
  8. Right. This isn't just a problem with art. It involves our whole view of living.

    It's distressing to think that the evangelical church by and large has returned to the Roman Catholic view of a dichotomy between religious life and secular life. The RCC demonstrates it by its multiplication of religious duties and sacraments, and its affirmation of the monastic lifestyle.

    Evangelicalism demonstrates this by the often unstated assumption that you can't REALLY serve Christ unless you're in a "full time Christian ministry".

    One of the accomplishments of the Reformation was reestablishing the dignity of all work done in the service of Christ. As a personal example, I have no problem telling people that I build nuclear submarines for the glory of God. That sort of association between God and the military gives many evangelicals fits! How dare I think that God wants to have anything to do with the Military-Industrial Complex?!?!

    ReplyDelete