If you’ve ever spent much time in art museums – particularly in Europe – you know that much of the greatest Christian art of the past was anything BUT “family friendly.” Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath for instance. Powerful painting, raw, and violent. The most amazing thing about the piece is that it’s a self-portrait, and yet Caravaggio painted himself not as the hero, but as Goliath. As if he understood his own dark and sinful heart.
I’m not sure most Christian stores today would proudly display a painting like that, or most of the other great art of the past that often features exposed breasts, fingers being jammed into Jesus’ wounds, or a naked Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
At what point did Christian artists give up their role as provocateurs? Certainly there is a role for comfort when it comes to art, but we can never forget the artists job is to make us think. To shake up our pre-conceptions, and show us a world we never considered.
I have a feeing that we lost much of the quality in Christian art when it was determined that everything needed to be “family friendly.” I imagine the marketplace had a role to play, and certainly the more conservative Church culture here in America. But today, Christian record labels refuse provocative language, Christian publishers aren’t interested in much that’s not positive, and paintings? Well the “Painter of Light” pretty much moved into that space long ago.
Today, the stakes are too high for us to be hypocritical – to admire the great art of the past, and yet criticize artists today who are simply trying to reveal the truth. The question is – how do we change? How can we show that “family safe” art, music, books, filmmaking and more is fine, but we also have to give artists enough space to challenge our thinking – sometimes even scare us. It’s not about being controversial just for the sake of controversy, it’s about telling the truth.
To creatives, I say when your idea requires it, let’s peel away the veneers of what people expect, in order to expose them to the raw beauty of what they don’t expect. To reveal the truth of our message is the greatest service we can offer.
Because the stakes are too high to keep up the lie…..