Being creative is a risky business. It leaves you exposed, vulnerable, open to misunderstanding, scorn and ridicule. You cannot be honest in your art without revealing something of yourself. And (and this is the tricky bit) it’s not how you would like to be, but who you really are – shy away from that and your creative endeavours will be flat, lifeless and insipid.
To be a Christian in the arts is to have the courage to be this honest. It’s about using the gifts God has given you to produce works that reach into people’s hearts and connect with them emotionally. Something that makes people stop and engage for a moment as to what it is to be human. And where that leaves us vulnerable we need to draw strength from God instead of seeking the affirmation of man. He gives us the courage to be bold, to say something out of the ordinary: to shape the culture around us.
Being human is messy and complicated: each of us struggling to find meaning and a narrative to our lives. As humans we define, shape and view who we are through stories. As a musician, artist or writer you have to be ready to accept that humans are not little neat packages, easily defined and characterised by their behavior, beliefs and actions. People do not follow rules – they follow a constantly evolving narrative.
And it is when we talk about rules that we often get confused as Christians in the art world. All too often we ring fence ‘Christian’ art or writing into what is acceptable or what we perceive as adhering to Christian standards. Often though, these are just our understanding of the Bible viewed through our cultural viewpoints and influenced by our sensibilities, our gender, ethnicity and personal history. If we take our art and thrust it into a vat of acid to remove everything that might offend: etch away any violence, sex, nudity or any of those tricky messy human things, then we are left with a sterile, lifeless work. For suddenly where they might be a connection with people, there is instead a boarded up door with NO ENTRY stamped across it and our chance has gone.
That’s not to say that all our art has to have ‘adult’ themes in it – of course not. But where a narrative or picture would naturally encompass them, where they flow from character and plot then we should not be afraid of those waters. And when we do enter them we should not be coy and use flowery language or fig leaves to hide our embarrassment – no we need to be able to articulate those aspects with truth and integrity.
The alternative is that we abandon those parts of being human to people who have a compromised understanding of what it is to be truly human. Or those motivated only by the fleeting desires of consumerism. We give way to the tide of pornography, the dollar and exploitation. And even – as in my latest novel – the possibility of artificial intelligence creating our culture – the machine. And let’s face it, machines would be very good at following rules of: this is allowed – this isn’t – and creating art based on a binary understanding of human nature.
We are not machines following rules. We are a people – a messy, complicated, confusing people, with the Spirit of God within us. And novels, art, poems, music, films, photography – they are some of the most powerful means of communicating that God has given us. Our role is to be honest and to have the faith to make our art authentic, relevant and culture changing.