Evangelicals & the Drought of Art

By: Kate Wallin

Ruminating on the recently mentioned Mars Hills’ “8 things to convince you of a man’s character”, I notice something was convincing me. And it wasn’t the article. If you haven’t seen the Mars Hill website as of late, I have three words: Check. It. Out. It’s beautiful. Now, I’m not much of a Mars Hill (Seattle edition) advocate, especially since Mark Driscoll’s comments on marriage and submission hit the interwebs, but there is something that kept me perusing the site for a good (slightly embarrassing) twenty minutes: the design. The site is clean, easy to navigate, and eye catching. But, more than all of that, it’s been designed for and by the Christian subculture. Something rare altogether.

If you’re anything like me, born and bred in the bread and butter of American Christianity, you have no doubt experienced the conferences, the t-shirts, the posters, the music. Maybe even the well-loved Bible-verse-as-cover-photo. So, its unusual to find a Christian website, let alone a church website, that is so well designed and intuitive to use.

Throughout my design and media classes at my Christian liberal arts college, an unmistakable understanding has emerged: that we, in many parts of American Christianity, we have shot beauty in the back. We have been tranquilized into accepting media as long as we are assured it is Christian. We no longer expect good art. We may appreciate good design but we don’t empower it. Instead of communicating, we’ve begun to trivialize the most powerful message ever to encounter humanity with our t-shirts, our coffee coasters, our easy slogans and lifeless lyrics.

Don’t believe it? Go for a drive, turn on your local Christian radio station, the announcer broadcasting, “Does what you’re listening to make. a. difference?” Or take a long, good look at the next Christian concert poster you run into. Does it catch your eye like the one for the Coldplay did? Does that Christian living book speak to the real things in your life? The beauty and the pain and the tension of the two? Or is it easy answers and slogans like “kiss dating goodbye!”? Do the Christian tshirts and Christian conferences start real conversations like we hope they will, or do they reinforce a dividing wall?

Just yesterday a friend of mine remarked how every time something new hits the Pop/Rock station, a Taylor Swift sound-alike comes out on the Christian channel. It’s like the South Park experiment, where Cartman – upon realizing that Christian rock is a consistent top seller – decided to take all the generic, vague pop songs and change every “baby” to “Jesus”, selling a million records and becoming a hit act. There’s something wrong here.

As I was writing down these initial thoughts about quality and art and design and its absence in Christian circles, a friend posted this. The author – with thoughts about pain and art and Good Friday – says this, “we need art, that cloudy, undefinable thing that cuts like a laser into our souls. We need more than just worship songs, we need music, beautiful and complex and haunting and loud. We need more than how-to books on Christian living. We need poetry and fiction, the stories and songs that move through our dry hearts like rain.”

What would it look like if this drought of art – quality, thoughtful, risky, soul-stirring art – ended? And what can we – the thinkers, the students, the dreamers – do to make it rain?

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