I’m doing doctorate work in the area of faith, art, and the pastoral imagination. One of our conversations revolved around art and creativity and people of faith. I wondered aloud why Christians in the realm of the arts were minuscule in Protestant circles. Yes, many artists are making “Christian” art and selling and sharing with predominately niche Christian subcultures. Not a problem.
But why don’t we see more Christian artists in the mainstream, like Flannery, Walker Percy, Corita Kent, C. S. Lewis, Makoto Fujimura, etc? This conversation led to Flannery O’Connor and her essay: “The Church and the Fiction Writer,” (146). Here is what she said:
“When people have told me that because I am a Catholic, I cannot be an artist, I have had to reply, ruefully, that because I am a Catholic, I cannot afford to be less than an artist.”
The Catholic tradition, and Protestant traditions ground their theology in the incarnation and humans made in the image of God (imago dei). The divine, Jesus, taking on flesh and speaking and living in the world and taking part in the broken creation, suggests physicality and culture and bodies and dirt and art matters. Jesus is the Word, which also suggests words matter and language and every story is rooted in the Grand Story of God.
Second, the imago dei suggests we take on the likeness of God. If God is a creator, and we're made in his image, to create things is to display something of God’s divine imprint. When O’Connor suggests that to be an artist and Catholic makes all the sense in the world because of these two grounding theologies of incarnation and the imago dei.
But with one more uniquely Catholic doctrine added.
O’Connor also grounded her life and work in a sacramental theology. In simplistic terms means all of life is sacred and God is at work in everything, including art. Protestants don’t have such an overt sacramental theology, but something similar. Protestants claim “Jesus is Lord” suggesting he cares about every nook and cranny of creation, life, and culture.
Some have also used the words “common grace” suggesting God doesn’t favor a Christian over a non-christian because the rain falls on the just and unjust. God provides for all. This also says God gives talents, gifts, and abilities to Christians and non-Christians to beautify and help the world flourish, including artists.
Another way of saying we can’t separate out the sacred and secular by merely naming it “Christian.” Common grace and a sacramental theology are helpful for enlarging our view of God and his creation and everything in it rather than narrowing it down to what we deem spiritual or religious or Christian. Dare I say, limiting what God can and can't do in the world?
Somewhere in the church's history, we determined the arts are bad. The only safe place to make art is inside the church. If we go outside the church, it must be obviously Christian and only used to indoctrinate and lead people to salvation. Any art that doesn’t explicitly say Jesus, point to Jesus, or have a cross in it doesn’t count. I exaggerate.
I don’t have solid answers, but something needs to change. We need more artists like O’Connor making honest art for the world. Art that is tinged with darkness and hope and rooted in the actual world in which we live. We need Christians making art because they’re made in the image of their Creator and are rooted in a theological vision of a God who takes on flesh and enters the magnificent creation with a word to speak.
The world needs more beauty, truth, and righteousness. The world needs more artists helping us see the source of these things. I think O’Connor believes the world needs more artists of faith. And so do I.