Who Needs the Arts?
- Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Growing up in an arts-based family with a fundamentalist church background, I heard conflicting things about the arts. For my family, art was the way Dad made a living. It was the way most of my favorite toys, TV shows, food, and more were advertised. Television, movies, and video games were a primary form of entertainment for us. Never the bad stuff—the "may not watch list" was longer than the "may watch list." But we still had various visual media as part of daily life.
Many of my peers in our church, however, had far less exposure to the arts than I did. Many families in our church did not own a TV by choice. Multimedia and artistic presentations did not happen during the service. In order to hold a Christian youth concert in the church, we had to get approval from the board to move the lighting so people could actually see the musicians. It was a very large, affluent church, and my dad was a deacon.
The basic conflict back then—and one we're still dealing with in our churches and families today—centers around this question: are the arts good or bad?
Over the next few issues of Home School Enrichment, we're going to try to answer that from a Christian perspective, and in a way that directly relates to your homeschooling family.
Let me go back to the main question. Are the arts good or bad? First, let's ask the question, "What is art?" That's an age-old query itself, but for right now let's just lump it all together. The Visual Arts: Illustration, Painting, Animation, Movies, etc. The Performance Arts: Music, Dance, Theater, etc. For the sake of our discussion, we're going to sum all that up under the name of "the arts."
I've heard from a lot of people over the years, many pastors included, that "The arts are evil!" They are "bad," "unchristian," largely because the themes presented by artistic mediums have been all of those things and more. Some of the most evil, disgusting, God-hating, perverse things I have ever seen in life were artistically presented. I won't even dignify them by listing their titles here, but last time my wife and I looked for a movie to watch, I noticed that "giving your soul to the devil" seemed to be a mainstream theme (and this wasn't the horror section). I was physically revolted. After seeing that, I have a hard time faulting Christians who want to shield their families from the arts for fear of what they may see or hear.
The arts have been used, especially over the last 150 years, to propagate the unthinkable, glorify the undesirable, and encourage the unholy. But for the 500 years before that, the arts were more or less exclusively used to glorify God. Anyone remember the Renaissance? That was a direct movement to proclaim the truths of scripture in visual form for an illiterate population. How about songs? Some of the best and clearest proclamations of the gospel, of biblical encouragement, and of praise to our Savior have been (and still are) written in song. Some of the most influential pastors, missionaries, and evangelists in our world have traced their spiritual awakenings to God's using a piece of art or a song to prick their hearts into receptivity of the gospel. In modern times, the 700 Club and Wretched (TV), Fireproof and The Passion (movies), Handel's Messiah and Don Moen (music), The Great Passion Play and Toy Maker's Dream (drama), and many other artists and works have reaped tens of thousands of souls, if not millions, for the kingdom.
So how can the arts be so perversely evil and at the same time bring so many to a knowledge of Christ as Savior?
Let's dissect that question a bit more with a story. When my grandfather was in the hospital in Chicago when I was a boy, I was looking out the window and saw what I can only describe as a deluge of ambulances coming to the emergency room. As far as the eye could see they came, ambulance after ambulance. A nurse rushed into the room and cautioned us that it was about to get chaotic. My mom tried to shield me from the view outside as they unloaded child after child after child from the backs of the ambulances. A man had, from what I was later told, driven his car—probably intentionally—through a Little League baseball game, killing and maiming dozens of young players and their siblings, parents, and bystanders. I forget the numeric death toll, but it was horrific.
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