Are Artists Special: No and Yes.
The good folks over at Transpositions have generously taken on a discussion of each chapter in my book. Thus far they've engaged Crouch, Witvliet, Peterson, Winner, Nicolosi and Banner.
In a comment that Jim posed to Anna's entry on Barbara Nicolosi's chapter, he asks, with respect to the notion of artist-as-genius:
"Even though I am in agreement with what you have said, I still wonder whether or not it is possible to glean some positive value from the romantic concept of the artist; whether or not the romantic concept of the artist is correct in certain regards. So, then, one could add an additional twist to the three questions you pose at the end. How does the romantic concept of the artist make a positive contribution to the Christ-likeness of the creative person, to the discipleship of the artist, and to the critique and support of artists by the church?"
I attempted to reply in brief, but failed. I was far from brief. In the interest of further cross-pollinating discussion, I'm including my reply here.
Anna, great post. Thank you. As you rightly observe--and Jim, you as well--this is a "difficult" chapter, to the extent that Barbara makes strong, sharp-edged statements. I'm glad the chapter belongs to this book. [I respect Barbara and am deeply grateful for the hard, sweaty, bloody labors she's faithfully performed over the years.] Hers represents an important perspective; it also represents a written form of a public talk that, on the night Barbara spoke at the symposium, generated an effusion of positive response from the several hundred artists in the room. In a word: the artists felt known. That is, they felt sympathetically known through the choice and intensity of words which Barbara used. (The several hundred pastors held on for the blustery, often humorous but always unapologetically straight-shooting talk.)
I only have time for a quick response here. Hopefully I'll have more time over the weekend.
First, as with all things in the book, so much of the discussion turns on the definition and application of terms. Jim, I love the question you posed at the end of your comment. That would make for a fantastic article, dissertation, book, symposium and long night of adult beverages.
Second, Murry Watts, who lives nearer to you guys than to me, gave a nice talk at the Laity Lodge a few years ago in which he explored the dual idea of artist as servant and as prophet. Again, much of the persuasiveness of his talk hung on the use of his terms. But I appreciated the way he brought both metaphors to play in the vocation of the artist.
Third, Paul Westermeyer, in his chapter on the psalms in Te Deum: The Church and Music, engages Gerhard von Rad's argument that, from an OT context, one should not pit the priests against the prophets. They operated together, von Rad insists, for the common well-being of Israel. Westermeyer goes on to explore this idea in relation to the church musician. He notes that the temptation has been for the church musician to see him- or herself either in the priestly cast or in the prophetic cast. For Westermeyer this leads only to problematic outcomes.
Lastly, while we are right, with regard to artistic identity markers, to avoid the excesses of the 19th century Romantic movement as well as the excesses of the Pragmatic movement, we must still ask ourselves what is unique in the life and work of certain artists. I say "unique" not over against other persons or callings; and I certainly think we will be wasting our time if we want to protect artists in a more-special-than-thou category. I say "certain artists" because artistic dispositions, personalities, labors and callings are as varied as the human race.
But still. After fifteen years of shepherding artists, I cannot ignore the "trafficking in thin places" quality that I observe in some artists. For the record, I do not think this quality becomes an excuse for self-indulgent existence. Nor do I think artists are exempt from voluntary and regular service in the church nursery, or wherever they might be needed. But when artists, prophets and mystics get lumped into the same group, as they often have throughout history, I think there is something worth giving careful attention to. I think they share a "family resemblance." I think they perform an important, even down-to-earth service to the church. And I do not think we are better off by presumptively, and thoughtlessly, dismissing that claim as chauvinist nonsense.
That, Jim, is why I think your last question deserves serious thought and a serious answer. A discussion like this, I imagine, would take us far beyond Romantic philosophy into discussions (or disputes) around theological anthropology, spiritual theology, psychology and perhaps even cultural or ritual studies. But it sure would make for a great evening of conversation. If we all agreed to be humble, to count to ten when we felt provoked and to not take ourselves too terribly seriously, then ... well then I'd have to move to Scotland with my wife and turn it into a long weekend.
As always, thanks to the Transpositions crew for thoughtfully engaging the material.