Stifle thyself, dingbat?

In reading Nnedi Okorafor’s “Who Fears Death?” and Joe Abercrombie’s “The Heroes” I was struck not simply by their wordsmithing and world-creating abilities, but by the sheer scope of their imaginations, their characters, the themes.

At one point last night after a particularly excellent chapter, I put down the book and wondered (yet again) if religious absolutes stifle creative insecurities. Like Grimnebulim’s crisis engine in Perdido Street Station (another remarkable novel) is metaphysical uncertainty the catalyst for imagination? We’re moving beyond the perfunctory mechanics of handling of restricted/forbidden topics like profanity, sex, violence and sorcery here. My question is does holding a definite, established worldview limit artistic struggle and expression? I mean why go searching for answers if you already have them, right?

Now you’d figure people in spiritual relationship with the Living, Almighty God, indwelt by the Holy Spirit – the very Agent of Creation – would be among the most creative people on the planet. I mean, for starters, glance through Hubble images sometimes and you’ll see what I mean. Image is called “Pillars of Creation”

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” – Scott Adams

I’m not advocating casting off all restraint and leaping into madness in the name of artistic integrity. There are definite boundaries. There are absolutes. There is such a thing as quality, accuracy, certainty. Perhaps the demand, the necessity for orthodoxy in matters of faith spills over and inhibits exploration in other endeavors?
Given the Biblical mandate for righteousness, holiness, and general testimony, Christian artists will always struggle with self-censoring, but I’ve read that the Western European church in the Middle Ages had laws against technological innovation and invention in trades, fearing such mechanisms would grant one laborer an unfair advantage over his peers, as well as increase idleness and dissipation. Polyphony (mixing two melodic voices) was forbidden by the church in 1300s as demonic. And I assure you the Pharisees were singularly unimaginative. Restraint easily folds out into a strait-jacket.

“Above all, we are coming to understand that the arts incarnate the creativity of a free people. When the creative impulse cannot flourish, when it cannot freely select its methods and objects, when it is deprived of spontaneity, then society severs the root of art.” – John Fitzgerald Kennedy

“Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” 2 Cor. 3:17

Why is it that Christian art is considered insipid? Worse, why is the indictment often painfully accurate? I know there are exceptions, but Thomas Kinkade is no Rembrandt. (Props to TK. At least he’s sold a ton of paintings) Recent Christian artistic endeavors are often pale imitations – things copied, not created – and often painfully dated as if struggling to catch up to their respective medium sporting a groovy ‘fro and polyester leisure suit.

13 For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,
and declares to man what is his thought,
who makes the morning darkness,
and treads on the heights of the earth—
the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!
Amos 4: 13

“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” – Albert Einstein

Exodus 35 mentions a Hebrew named Bezalel, son of Uri, whom God “has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, 32 to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, 33 in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. 34 And he has inspired him to teach…”

Not that I want to hide God, or steal the credit, but rather than always trying wax exegetical and steer their audience to a predetermined conclusion, (artistic Calvinism?) why can’t Christian artists of all stripes “let go and let God?” i.e. build on the firm foundation, but allow people their free will to respond to the creation as they would? That means trusting God will help them, their art, and their audience.

Ah, but that’s much harder, isn’t it? It risks failure, misunderstanding, vandalism, rejection…

But isn’t that what God did?

2 Replies to “Stifle thyself, dingbat?”

  1. “Recent Christian artistic endeavors are often pale imitations – things copied, not created – and often painfully dated as if struggling to catch up to their respective medium”

    I listen to music more than I read, so I’m more up on musical trends. This is something about Christian music that’s always puzzled me. I think the Christian music industry is growing and improving, but if I buy an album, it’s 10 to 1 a mainstream band.

    I tend to listen on the fringes, perferring things that are experimental, innovative, or unique in one way or the other. It’s very very difficult to find these qualities in a Christian band. A lot of them are good, they just don’t take it to another level. What’s the next level? Celebrating music as a gift from God, and finding new and exciting ways to use that gift.

    It’s as though Christian artists think if they explore within the medium, that’s somehow…sinful… It has to be all about the message in the lyric (which has to be plain and obvious). The music supporting the lyrics becomes nothing more than a hollow utilitarian support system. Boring.

  2. “The music supporting the lyrics becomes nothing more than a hollow utilitarian support system. ”

    Ah yes. And there it is. It’s almost as if they misunderstand, or are afraid of embracing their vocation and chosen medium as confident Christians. Instead, they stay on safe ground and get didactic.

    But you can’t discover any new lands if you never leave sight of the shore.

    Thanks for commenting.

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