The Church Supporting Art

The correlation between this post and the interview I posted earlier is entirely coincidental. This is another brief excerpt from Why We’re Not Emergent and one that I’m posting primarily because it made me laugh. My father, a hard-working landscaper, has often wondered aloud why Christians are so apologetic when it comes to artists. Why do Christians give latitude to artists that they wouldn’t give to anyone who works a simple trade? Well, it seems that Ted Kluck has wondered the same.

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Almost everyone here looks like Sufjan Stevens—which is to say skinny, hip, and misunderstood. This is something that almost everyone here would probably also consider a huge compliment. Here is Grand Rapids, Michigan, the city that invented conservative, on the campus of Calvin College, the Christian college that is trying very hard to shed the conservative label.

If you don’t know who Sufjan Stevens is, you must, like, live under a rock or something. All kidding aside, he’s the pomo guy that pomo Christian kids have latched on to, much like my college classmates latched on to U2 for being interesting without being too naughty back in the day. Christian music for people who wouldn’t admit to liking Christian music. And he’s also, by the way, a truly great and creative musician.

Sufjan is here to perform this weekend, as well as “engage in an ongoing discussion of Christianity and the arts”—a discussion that has been going for at least ten years now, since I left a Christian college a lot like this one, filled with well-to-do artsy Christian kids trying to “out-dishevel” one another at gatherings like this one. The conference is called FFM, or the Festival of Faith and Music. Its official purpose, I’m told, is to “explore what is worthwhile in today’s popular music scene.”

The event’s emcee is a faculty member at Calvin, who explains that the conference, in essence, is “a profound apology from the Christian community for doing such a poor job of engaging art and culture in the public square.” He adds, “We don’t have a lot of answers.”

This is an apology I’ve heard made several times before, and I’m still a little unclear as to the reason. Is it because churches aren’t displaying art on their walls? Neither are insurance companies, but nobody is up in arms about that. My hunch is that there is this feeling that churches aren’t adequately “supporting” artists (musicians, writers, visual artists) in their midst. However, I don’t exactly see churches “supporting” software designers, salesmen, or farmers either. That’s not the church’s purpose. And it seems that the artists who are making the most noise about “not being supported” are the ones who may not have the talent to really cut it in the marketplace anyway. I don’t know of any working artists (musicians, actors, writers, painters) who complain that their church doesn’t “support” their efforts. Art is tough. Making a living at art is tough. It’s tough on families and marriages. That’s simply the nature of the game.