Can Evangelicals Make Great Art? (Part II)
Pop quiz: How does one write about art when a Pakistani Muslim cleric has just issued a $1 million bounty on the head of a Danish cartoonist? Does this not seem absurd, out of tune, uncouth? How does a man sitting at his kitchen table in a little house, numbered 1002 Arcadia Ave, looking through his red-painted french doors out onto a thickly grey day in the north of Austin, Texas, some 9,600 miles away from the durm und strang, the storm and stress and angry fire, react but laugh? Be appalled? Do we stop and pray, and ask God to remind us why each of us does what he does, to re-rationalize my occupation, to re-connect my dot of a life to that other life, the comprehensible to the incomprehensible?
Yes, all the above.
I cannot keep writing pretending that nothing has changed in our world, or merely that one bad piece of news is no different than any other. A great bile of wickedness has been released into the human bloodstream. It is all very complicated, very sobering, and we Americans are not above blame, but I cannot write as if the brokenness of this world is simply "over there," irrelevant to me, here in my quiet 1955, pecan tree-shaded, lawn-trimmed house, far, far away from the flag-burnings, mad riots and death-threats. Death-threats. Either it matters that I write about art today or it doesn't matter. Either I must continue my "good works" (Eph. 2:10) or I must find a better, "more relevant" work.
I believe I must continue. Either it matters on the bad, horrible, no good days or it matters not at all. Art cannot only matter on the good, peaceable days. It cannot only matter when we have nothing else to do. Why? Because it is not a hobby, like scuba-diving or stamp-collecting, it is a calling. It is not a luxury. It is a calling. It is a holy calling that demands a seriousness that plows through all the distractions and terrors that surround us. It is a calling that demands, yes, even this: a playfulness, a terrible playfulness that fires into being light and joy despite the chaos that threatens to despoil us our faith in a God who redeems us from within the darkness, not without it, through the cross not apart from it.
Either I make art because it has turned into a conviction or I make it because it is simply my opinion. It is the former. I make it out of and in the conviction that it will lead to the shalom of this world, not just for me and my friends, but for that Muslim cleric and all of his friends. I make my work, I write my aesthetics, I pastor artists mindful of that man and all those who suffer, praying that God will take my art to heaven like the prayers of the saints and release it for the good of this earth however He deems fit.
I'm keeping my laptop open.
However . . . I've spent more time on this tangent longer than I imagined and I've run out of time. I need to get back to the office. But I'd like to download my original thought, which was this:
How does a great artist become great?
The answer, it strikes me, has everything to do with cultures: one's personal culture (talent, ambition, divine endowment), family culture, religious culture, professional/guild culture, and the broader, social culture. I guess in what has become Part III I'll unpack what I mean by this, that great art does not simply happen, it is cultivated.