Art, along with the artists producing art, should be at home within the community of the Church. More than that, the community that the faith of Christians calls them to should provide valuable collaborative community so strong, sure, and beneficial that the Arts Community will turn to it for salvation from the harmful production principles of our culture and society. It is more than possible for this to be true of churches, The Church, and Christians in community everywhere. An act of culture redemption should take place as the Church changes focus and begins to incorporate art not only into its worship services and liturgy once again, but also into the daily life of its people. Christians should be in support of artists and creatives in an act of steady, comprehensive, and redemptive defiance of the fundamentally non-collaborative, harmful models of art creation and consumption that exist in the culture outside of the Church. How can such a change take place? What is it exactly that exists already that needs to be changed?
Community: There are several definitions of community that range from the broadest inclusion of all things that a people, culture, and system(s) in a specific geographical, demographical, socio-economic class, or worldview share (and do) in common to the smallest group of people doing something together for a common cause. For example, the “Christian Community” could refer to all people who share a common belief in Jesus Christ of the Bible throughout the world, while the “Community Group” in a small town or neighborhood could simply be a handful or people who get together to discuss ways to enhance their shared area of living.
A community that would benefit art, creativity, and creativesmust exist among Christians, must be influenced by the Gospel-inspired aspects of the Kingdom Community (the Church), must be intentionally created and sustained by its members, must understand the significance of cultural artifacts (including technological goods, values, beliefs, ideas, and behaviors) it generates, and it must be intentioned for the benefit of both those already within it and those outside of it.
Arts: The arts are all aspects of creative production performed by human beings with the intention of producing a product that communicates a message in a particular fashion. This can include fine arts like painting and sculpting, modern arts like video and film, dramatic arts like spoken word performances and theatre or dance, writing, story-telling, public speaking, the writing and producing of music, poetry, and much more. There usually exists around each of these and among all of them a community or sets of communities of like-minded and gifted people who will from now on be referred to as creatives. Creatives are intentional creators and producers of artistic forms of communication.
Culture: Culture is a reference to the comprehensive set of systems, values, beliefs, intentions, technologies, and preferences of a set of people. There are large cultures and small ones. There are cultures within cultures. For instance, there is an American culture that is defined as pertinent or true to all those within it that is shaped by and shapes the values of Americans as well as their behaviors, beliefs, and choices (of all things – religion, consumer goods, jobs, education, inventions, politics, etc.). Within this American culture there is a Christian culture that is different from any other geographically determined (e.g. South Asian or European) Christian culture because of the American culture that it exists within. This Christian culture, however, may have (but does not necessarily have) fundamentally different values, beliefs, behaviors, and choices than the American culture wit exists within. Each culture creates and responds to its own cultural artifacts over time, to the point that the shape of the culture as it changes and redefines itself can be observed throughout a given period of history.
There is a culture around and among the Arts and artists/creatives outside of the Christian culture. There is a response to this Arts Culture that is normative to Christian Culture. There is also a separate, but sometimes overlapping Arts Culture within Christian Culture.
True Community and the Arts Community
This article considering aspects of a functioning, local Christian community is helpful for understanding the kinds of Church-community principles that must be present in order to create a collaborative, beneficial community for the arts. We will focus our attention on how several of these aspects can benefit the members of a community, and why such benefits are better and different for artists than what the Arts Community is used to experiencing from the culture outside the the walls of the Kingdom. While it would be nonsensical and entirely less than useful to say that all art should become “Christian”, or “Gospel-centered” art, it is definitely true that artists and art itself would be better served within a community that is Christian by nature. Artists should not bear a new responsibility to be the Church or to represent it in full through their work. Instead, the underlying principles of true community which are necessary for the Gospel Community of Christians to function properly are also necessary for the arts to flourish properly. The end result should be that the true community of Christ’s Kingdom should attract, support, and benefit artists and creatives through the benefits to their person, calling, talent, and production that such a community creates and provides.
Community also exists in all areas of culture and society, and at many levels. Browse through the key aspects of community and community influence in this lengthy outline and you will find that there is much that makes a community exist and function; there is also much that plays into a community’s growth and change.
Principal characteristics of the Church community that ought to define the art community within the Church are all based on collaborative effort on the part of each for the good of all. These characteristics are:
1) The community must be characterized by voluntary redistribution of time and resources for the mutual gain of all who are part of the community. This is collaboration for the purpose of physical success.
2) Those within the community must exercise consistent, associative discipleship of the more junior community members by those more experienced. This is collaboration for the purpose of community development.
3) Those within the community must share and exercise a singular, shared focus on bringing those outside the community into it. This is collaboration for the purpose of community expansion, so that the community’s positive influence increasingly reaches more creatives.
In order to demonstrate the possibilities of such a community, take a look at Life in Deep Ellum. Life in Deep Ellum is a Faith Community that exists as an art gallery, creative space, and coffee shop in the heart of an arts district near Dallas, Texas. On the nature of the Christian Community’s purpose (regarding point #3) the founders wrote, “It is our conviction that the Church is the only organization that exists primarily for the benefit of it’s non-members.” You can read more about Life in Deep Ellum here.
How the Arts Will Benefit From Collaborative Community
Collaboration for the purpose of creativity will prove to be a positive influence on artists and their productions. This is not a new thesis. It is actually a very old one. There is a history of collaborative art communities that continues to this day. Why imagine that there is a problem today, then? These collaborative art communities often do not fulfill their own purpose, or they often exist for the wrong purpose, or they are simply the minority when faced with the non-collaborative, consumeristic structures of the surrounding culture.
There is, however, a number of relevant, positive results of these arts communities of history that can be applied to the community that the Church needs to create today. For example, During the rise of the fine arts in the Renaissance era, cities like Florence, Italy became almost entirely devoted to artistic endeavors. Many great works of art of that time, along with the great artists who created them originated in Florence. Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Botticelli all lived, studied, and worked in Florence. Art flourished there for two main reasons that ought to be considered for today’s art community. The artists of Florence were able to teach other, build upon each other’s work, provide leads for new work, and practice mutually encouraging studies together with the same purpose in mind. Also, The Medici family, which provided the primary support and rule of Florence, was a great patron of the arts. Patronage is a way of identifying the fiscal sponsor of an artistic endeavor. Because of their patronage, artists were able to focus on their craft and skill with avid abandon.
The most impressively focused, locally engaged, mutually beneficial, voluntary, accessible, and edifying community that can be found is only found within the Christian Community. Only in the community where God the Father is in the Son, and the Son is in His disciples (John 17:20-23) can such a uniquely united community ever hope to exist. Do the church communities you have been to resemble this kind of community much of the time? Probably not. For now, though, let us continue to discuss the defining characteristics of both the one (Church Community) and the other (Arts Community) as they ought to be.The strength of the Church community in relation to the Arts is that it provides the collaborative community that is necessary for creativity to reach is greatest potential.
Harmful Forms of Non-Collaborative Creativity
To reach a full understanding of what must change in the Kingdom for the Arts to be drawn to the Church, we must look at what kinds of communities exist for artists right now. There are modern patrons and modern artistic communities. Culture (with a focus on Western Consumerism within the American Culture) has distorted their purpose and value to artists. The reason for this is simple: Corporate America owns the spheres of creative production and attaches a dollar value and investment potential to creativity, thereby changing the goal of doing creative things. What is the goal of art supposed to be? Effective, authentic, visceral communication of that which is or ought to be true. What is the goal of art in the Corporate-Patronage model of production? Money by way of influencing a public toward a certain interest. TV, music, books, and paintings all represent a world in which art has been manipulated into a new existence as a purely consumer-oriented good. While art has long been supported and commissioned by those with wealth and influence, the end goal was often to adorn a public space or other significant location, or to reveal the value of the art itself to people. It was not and ought not to be to commission art for the sake of resale in order to gain a profit.
Why is this important? It is always true that the intention that determines the creation of any communicative medium or art also governs the nature of the message being carried. For example, as Neil Postman might tell you, the end goal of a Television program is not to inform you so much as it is to cause you to stay tuned. Television networks need viewers to generate advertisement revenue so they can stay on the air. Because their programs are being crafted to cause you to want to keep watching and not simply to benefit you in a particular way, the message, the medium, and the resulting affect on you are all conditioned by the end-goal (money, revenue) – not by the desire to serve you as a customer.
Art is affected the same way in the corporate world. In this system, collaboration is not community based, it is commodity based. People work together on projects like albums, movies, and books because they are paid to do so. They are paid to do so because a network or publishing house is investing in their work in hopes that it generates more money than it costs to produce. The end-goal is money, not great art. Of course, in order to gain the monetary return something akin must be created that resembles great art well enough to replace it in the minds of consumers. Art or something like it is often still created through this system. It is not true art, however. It is damaged. The artists who make it are damaged by the system because of the pressure to create something that will sell rather than something that communicates truth. Art as a commodity is a product without its true purpose intact. The end goal is more consumers buying corporate products, which keeps the market moving. The end goal is not to create better artists. The artists are not served best by this model. It is fundamentally non-collaborative.
Before we get ahead of ourselves and forget that benefits do exist, please take a look at this argument by Rachel Rounds. In it, Rachel argues that the (corporate) Publishing House model is better for both the author and the reader than when the author attempts to self-publish. Most of the argument hinges on the collaborative effort provided by the publishing house to help the author better craft and deliver their his/her material. This is a valid argument because it is an argument in opposition to the independent model of artistry that is self-publishing. In this instance, corporate collaboration (though inherently flawed by the profit-seeking need to stay in business) is still better than no collaboration at all. As we will see below, the independent model of art production does have some strengths in comparison to Corporate Patronage, but it is also flawed by the lack of community support and collaboration.
The second model or paradigm for art production that has stood against non-collaborative, corporate patronage for some time is the independent or self-produced model. This we will call the “Indie” realm. “Indie” is a term that quite often refers to a form of creative self-employment. In this realm, artists support themselves, take no corporate sponsorship, and keep their art pure from the mainstream profit machine (hopefully). This seems like a solution to the corporate mayhem that does not, as we have seen, generate true and beneficial community. However, the Indie model has a significant flaw. It is not a collaborative community. Despite the community of other like-minded Indie artists that may or may not be available, there are benefits missing. Fiscal support, encouragement, mentorship, security, and the external engagement of those outside the existing community are all impossible without a fully intentional community. What goes wrong in the Indie world without these community benefits? People have to eat, and money is necessary for survival. Without a mutually supportive community, the end goal of art becomes the need to earn a living. In other words, whether in the corporate consumer culture or the Indie creative culture, money quite easily becomes the driving force behind creativity. This deforms creativity.
What about the Church? Doesn’t the Christian culture provide us with collaborative efforts at music production, book publishing, radio hosting, and much more? It certainly does. Yet the largest, most noticeable model of art production in the Christian Church is the same corporate model as surrounding culture. In her analyzation of Christian Worship music and lyric, Melissa Barber briefly demonstrates how the corporate system of music production in the Christian realm actually helps detract from truly intelligent and artistic worship music. The Church is no stranger to profit-seeking, non-collaborative, corporate-sponsored art production, and the quality of “Christian Art” that focuses purportedly on glorifying God has suffered immensely as a result. It is arguable that this detrimental and devaluing view of art production is what has kept many non-Christian artists away from the security and beauty of the Christian community.
The Opposition: A Collaborative, Creative Community
Art should exist for the sake of personal expression, community benefit (even in the form of critique of the community), and depiction of truth. Art should be part of a system of collaborative community that alters the nature of creation and of consumption. Collaborative Creation benefits all participants through learning, giving, receiving, and producing high-value artistic products that exist for the sake of the value of the message they carry. In conjunction with this model of production, Collaborative Consumption is an inherently supportive model in which the audience is determined by the art and not the other way around. The audience is generated by the art community through the creative process and mutual support – especially public support and encouragement of one another. Collaborative Consumption is inherently supportive of the product being consumed. Art is truly valued and supported within this context.
Brittany VanErem argues strongly that the Church should value art in the context of worship in a new and exceedingly greater way. Her work is full of practical examples of local churches that have done well (and some not so well) at valuing art within their communities, and the benefits provided to the community when this is true. To see more examples of art communities large and small that exemplify Kingdom community principles and generate great art as a result, take a look at these: masonjarmusic.com; fracturedatlas.org, lifeindeepellum.com
How is the need for collaborative creation and consumption answered within the context of true community and its archetype, the Church?