Who Needs the Arts?
- 2010 21 Sep
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.
All the casualties were now descending on the hospital we were at because it was the closest trauma center. Several years later, when I became a paramedic during college, I had a much greater appreciation for how absolutely terrible that event was and must have been for the devastated families, the horrified rescuers, and the survivors who had to live with the aftermath. All because someone decided to point his car in a direction it was not intended to go.
Some of you already see where I'm going, but hang in there a few more sentences. In all the coverage on the news after this event, the one thing I never heard was an attack on cars. "Cars are evil! I'm never going to let my family in the car again! How could you drive a car . . . don't you know cars are bad?" That would be ridiculous. Cars aren't evil. They can be used for evil purposes, but they are not in and of themselves evil.
It's the same with the arts. The arts can be used for good; they can be used for evil. It all depends on who is controlling them and for what purpose. Rather than a wholesale abdication of Christians from the arts, maybe there is another way?
A theologian named Calvin Seervald once said, "Whatever arena Christians withdraw from goes to hell." Think Hollywood is either there or well on its way? How about animation? How about the music industry? My wife's unsaved friend recently read her the lyrics of a song her daughter listens to that are so sexually explicit I don't hear talk like them from the biker gangs that fill up at the same cheap gas station we use. But that doesn't make the arts themselves bad.
So what's the answer to our question? It's that the arts are neither inherently good or bad. It all depends how they are used. They can glorify God, proclaim Christ, and point people to their need for a Savior, or they can denigrate His sacrifice, promote evil, and point people to hell. Which would you prefer they do?
Let's take a few minutes and talk about the power of the arts. A few years ago we worked with a very large church to incorporate some Christian art into one of their services. They tied it in with the sermon, printed it in the bulletin, and put it on the stage. A few days later we followed up to see how it had gone. Their answer told us volumes. They said that usually after a service it looks like it has snowed, because everyone drops the bulletins and walks out (and we're talking about thousands of bulletins). Except for that week's service—they did not have any bulletins to pick up. Why? Because people took them home so they could keep a visual reminder of the message that had been presented.
Here's another one. A huge church had a debate with an atheist published in a major news magazine. The cover picture for the article was the pastor and the atheist with a painting of Christ behind them. The response to the article? A deluge of calls asking where to get the painting of Christ behind the pastor. That's the big picture.
Let's get personal. I received a call from a director of a local foster care program that does an amazing job of working with some of the most abused kids in the county. He told me that one day a 14-year-old girl who had been in the program only a short time came in and announced her intention to commit suicide. They brought her into a conference room to talk to their staff therapist, and by "chance" they positioned her under a painting of Christ called In the Wilderness by my father, Ron DiCianni.
While the girl was trying to explain her decision, she finally pointed to the painting and said, "I can't explain it any better than to say this guy in the picture knows how I feel. He's had the same kind of day I've had."
When queried on whether she knew who the "guy in the picture was," her answer was "No, but I know he gets it." (He sure does!) And the therapist had the privilege of using that painting to point the girl to Christ. This is just one of thousands of stories we know where God used an arts-based presentation of the gospel to point someone to His Son.
Folks, make no mistake: the world knows the power of the arts better than we do. Especially the visual arts. That's why so many groups infuse movies, songs, videos, and TV with their anti-God, anti-family messages. That's why ad time on TV is ten times more expensive than advertising time on the radio. That's why beer companies spend hundreds of millions each year on TV advertising and a small fraction on print and radio advertising. The arts are a powerful force. So how do we use that powerful force for good and for the glory of God?
Many of the families I talk with, especially in the homeschool community, are great people who are as frustrated as they can be. They've thrown out their TVs. They use Internet filters, boycott the movies, and screen every show or book before the kids see it. In concept I applaud much of that. But there is a flip-side that few engage in. Let me offer one more story.
We held a Christian Art Outreach event at a very large church in fairly prominent Midwest city last year. It was an incredibly blessed show that God used powerfully. Turned out that we had more people through our show that week than the new aquarium's grand opening week. But the church we were at was very concerned that someone would steal the paintings (after all, it was a show with a few million in original art). So they developed some very strict security protocols. They had uniformed security guards, armed police officers, only three keys that could open the doors, and strict rules about who could be in the venue and when. And there were a few times when they had to actively deter folks who looked like a problem. But as ferocious as all this security was, it actually made my life easier. Why? Because in addition to keeping out the people who were a danger, security also admitted those people who should have been there. Every time they saw me coming, they had the doors open before I got there. You see, their second function was one of admittance. Helping to let in the people who did belong.
That's our two-sided function as both parents and Christians: keeping out the bad but encouraging and admitting the good. The arts are a powerful medium for communication, either good or bad. So while you are keeping out the bad messages, let me encourage you to let in the good ones via excellent artistic presentations of the gospel. Can't find any? Then encourage your local church, your local Christian bookstore, your local ministry to create them. And just like you wouldn't settle for a pair of jeans that were poorly made, don't settle for Christian books, films, music, drama, décor, prints, etc. that are poorly executed. The gospel, the greatest message ever proclaimed, should be excellently and powerfully presented.
That's what I, my family, our Tapestry Productions company, and several others like us have been dedicated to for years. Using the arts to powerfully and excellently proclaim Christ. As our mission statement says, "Going into all the World . . . through Art!" My father has said many times that part of his calling from God is "to reclaim the arts for Christ." But how can we reclaim them if so many Christians misunderstand the arts and refuse to get involved?
We talked to a Hollywood movie executive a few months ago who said, "If we thought Christians would support good Christian movies, we'd make more of them."
That's the crux of this series of articles. Recognize the power of the arts. Encourage and support their use for good. Integrate art into your homeschooling environment. We'll help show you how to do that and do it effectively. Til then . . . God richly bless you.
Grant DiCianniis the son of Ron DiCianni, one of the world's top Christian artists, and is president of Tapestry Productions (www.TapestryProductions.com), the nation's only dedicated Christian fine art publisher. The mission of Tapestry Productions is to excellently and powerfully proclaim the gospel of Christ through visual means. With his unbelievably wonderful wife Amanda, he has two children, Nicolas and Catelyn (and one on the way). He can be reached at email@example.com.
This article was originally published in the Jul/Aug 2010 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Sign up now to receive a FREE sample copy! Just click here: http://homeschoolenrichment.com/magazine/request-sample-issue.html