Why So Much Christian Art is Bad

Why So Much Christian Art is Bad

For centuries, Christians were making the best music, writing the best stories and painting the greatest masterpieces. What has happened? Now we are more likely to question the quality and craft of art made by a Christian?
The truth is this: it’s bad theology, and a naive approach to art that does not glorify God, it does not engage the mainstream audience.

Learn what keeps tripping up Christians and learn what is necessary to make greater art:

 

 

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below! 

Copyright © 2022 Joel & Michelle Pelsue. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.

20 comments on “Why So Much Christian Art is Bad”

  1. Keith R Wahl Reply

    I had this discussion about my photographic portrayal of ocean waves at an art show this past summer. Most photographers have taken to blurring waves and making them look smooth as they hit rocks (sanitized). I don’t do that. I portray waves as they are. They are hard, violent, and dangerous. Waves can pull you off the rocks and kill you (and we have stories of this happening every year where we live). Even the tidal current can shift sandbars in a calm area and pull someone under (again, a reality). So, I portray waves and currents as they are in stark, hard, reality; beautiful but potentially deadly.

    • Joel Pelsue Reply

      Keith,

      I remember trying to do the blurry ripples in a stream when I was younger. I had never thought of what you are saying, but it is a perfect illustration of this. Thank you so much for sharing. Indeed, water is beautiful and dangerous.

  2. Timothy Boyd Reply

    We need a deeper theology/understanding of suffering in order to authentically portray the pain of life. Out of this humility, redemption can root and grow. Rootless redemption is shallow redemption. Shallow art does not move me.

    • Joel Pelsue Reply

      Timothy,

      So true! Too many Christians lack a theology of suffering, and fail to see Christ as the ‘suffering servant.’ It cripples our ability to understand suffering in context, and thus keeps our art from possessing any depth. Shallow art does not have any lasting impact. Great points.

  3. Tom Bajoras Reply

    I love how passionately you speak on this topic! Obviously there’s a lot more that can be said about it, but I think you’ve addressed the root of the problem, which is inadequate or flawed theology.

    One challenge that I face as a composer is that my work, which is mostly instrumental music, is what I would describe as “non-representational” art. In other words, instrumental music is inherently abstract. As a result, playlist curators don’t really know what to do with it. “Christian playlists” generally want arrangements of well-known hymns, and the broader market mostly prefers what I call “new age mush.”

    • Joel Pelsue Reply

      Tom,

      That is a tough challenge. The more typical Christian audience is still quite restrictive in their tastes when they look for “Christian music,” I wonder how we could start to change that.

  4. Ildiko Mecseri Reply

    I absolutely agree. What is hard for me is to find the best techniques to express the complexity of the central theme of the painting and draw the viewer in to think deeply.

      • Ildiko Mecseri Reply

        Dear Joel,
        Every theme is challenging. I don’t want to be an illustrator as an artist or simply paint Biblical stories with historical people. I would like to express the living faith and God’s endless wonders that everybody can reach as a never-ending source for help to live. Our own battery runs out of energy soon if our love is based on our own strength. One of my paintings is entitled “Communion”, the Lord’s Supper, where I wanted to show the need for humility and repentance and the magic of the Communion, when we have a gift from God to forgive our sins and our soul and body feel lighter immediately by the help of the Holy Spirit. I have tried to express this feeling and the core of this, but I’m not satisfied with the result. https://www.mecseriart.com/communion

        • Joel Pelsue Reply

          Ildiko,

          Maybe you should spend some time looking at Rembrandt, and just consider how he used light alone to focus our attention on one dynamic. You may be trying to express too many themes – repentance, humility, transformation, and Holy Spirit aid. What do you think of making it a series….each work focusing only on one aspect or one theme? Remember, Transformation requires us to see the darkness of before, as well as the beauty and light following the transformation. Otherwise the transformation will come across as sentimental.

  5. Ildiko Mecseri Reply

    Dear Joel,
    Thank you, but I have to find the best expression to convey a whole sentence, at least throughout my painting, not just words as a series, but I keep trying. Seeing the darkness is really important because it leads us to repentance. My characters represent this on the floor, but not as well as I want to. It is a long journey for us artists to find our best ways. Thank you for your suggestions.

  6. Kent Willocks Reply

    Thanks for this video which addresses a nearly lifelong concern I have had. The poor quality of contemporary ‘Christian’ art was a major stumbling block for me on my journey to faith.
    I appreciate your thoughts, particularly the closing idea about the term “Christian Art”. All art should be an expression of our deepest held thoughts and beliefs, without having to paste a label on it to make it acceptable to a Christian audience.

    • Joel Pelsue Reply

      Kent,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. The stumbling block for many nonbelieving creatives and patrons can often be the lack of a mature aesthetic presented by those in the church. That is a tragedy that is rarely understood by leaders in the Christian community. We have become so obsessed with proclaiming the truth, we have forgotten that the Word actually became Flesh! In Colossians 1, Christ is the Image (Icon in Greek) of God. We are visual creatures with a longing for deep and moving beauty. (not kitsch),

      Thank you for your private comment – appreciate you taking the time and care to help me improve my craft!

  7. Miriam Eva Hofmann Reply

    Thank you! Really something to ponder. Being an historian of art and also an artist I’ve been struggling with the concept of good “Christian” art for quite some time. Giving lectures but also organizing exhibitions in our church, one of the main conflicts in a Christian context is that often the Christian public rather wants the sanitized, “pretty” art and/or is unsatisfied with the missing of supposed Christian content. What we call “kitsch” here in Germany is often considered good Christian art. At least in a more evangelical surrounding. When I exhibit in a more “worldly” environment often my art is better understood. I will share this video with other artist friends who are Christians and who also struggle with the topic. It is a good basis for discussion.

    • Joel Pelsue Reply

      Fascinating. I would love to talk with you about the way kitsch is perceived in Germany.
      Here is our video on Kitsch: https://youtu.be/aAruYPnY6nw

      I have found some key illustrations to help churches understand that “Christian” art should mirror the Bible, and be free to address any topic which Scripture addresses.

      Thank you for taking time to comment.

  8. David Edward Harmon Reply

    Thanks Joel,
    I’m reminded of Bob Dylan’s song (and others) with Biblical associations which blend his tie to the earth and yet yearning for Heaven. I have followed his work for sometime. Like me ,he was saved in his thirties. I’m afraid much Christian art is so sacrosanct .Many Christian artists are afraid to honestly deal with the world in which they live, move and have their being. I have engaged much conversation in this topic as a member of CIVA for many years especially as it pertains to our place as artists in this world. We need to wrestle with our selfish, sinful human nature while embracing the divine, of course under the direction of the Holy Spirit. This can help us create /reveal honest and compelling artwork The following Dylan song is visually rich in connection with Matt. 7:14:

    I’m gonna walk across the desert, ’til I’m in my right mind.
    I won’t even think about, what I left behind
    Nothing back there anyway, that I can call my own
    Go back home, leave me alone
    It’s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way
    If I can’t work up to you, you’ll surely have to work down to me someday…

    This is what we need to do. Dave Harmon

    • Joel Pelsue Reply

      David,

      So beautifully stated, and illustrated. Wrestling with our own sin and the brokenness of the world helps us speak to the world authentically, and call our brothers and sisters to honesty before the cross….which leads to joy over His Amazing Grace.

      Thank you David

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