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Why Today’s Best Artists are All Amateur

Van Gogh Starving artist

These days, calling someone amateur is an insult. If you’re an amateur, you don’t have the “skillz to pay the billz.” By amateur, we generally mean an inept know-nothing with no expertise—a hack.

But I want to rescue the label amateur from its current dishonor. It’s my opinion that the greatest potential in the arts today comes from amateurs. We need more of the amateur spirit, not less. What do I mean?

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When Truth is Rescued by Fiction: Damien Jurado and the Maraqopa Trilogy

Visions of Us on the Land

The Maraqopa trilogy, by Seattle singer-songwriter Damien Jurado, brims over with the uncanny prescience of genuine hope and the bittersweetness of sincere nostalgia. A delicate suspension incorporating choice morsels from at least five decades worth of music, it manages to be both behind and ahead of its time in all the right ways. It is, ironically, the ideal tonic for an age that refuses to live at peace with the present.

Beginning with Maraqopa in 2012 and going further down the rabbit hole with Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son in 2014, Damien Jurado has finally (for now) completed his Maraqopa concept trilogy with Visions of Us on the Land, released March 18.

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Why the Church Needs More “Ugly” Art

thorns header

My friend Jimmy used to play guitar for the musical worship team at his church. One Sunday, after the service was over, a man approached Jimmy and said, “I don’t think you should put distortion on your guitar. It’s evil. It’s Satanic.”

Jimmy, being a well-humored and quick-thinking guy, turned the distortion down to 0% and strummed a few chords. “So this is okay? This is not evil?” he asked. The man replied, “Yeah. That sounds good.” Jimmy proceeded to incrementally increase the degree of distortion, play a few notes, and ask again at intervals, “So what about this? Is this evil?”

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Is It Right to Be Sad in Church? A Review of Bifrost Arts: Lamentations

Bifrost Arts Lamentations cover

“How long will you turn your face away?”

Lamentations, the latest release from forward-thinking music collective Bifrost Arts, encourages Christians to make room in their worship for lament and sadness, and it gives what it encourages. Few things could be a better balm for the modern church.

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Why Tolstoy Was Wrong about Happiness: A Review of Deep Sea Diver, SECRETS

cover

Wistful and fierce, Deep Sea Diver’s SECRETS submits the strength of craft to the demands of feeling to yield an exquisitely well-balanced and self-controlled musical recollection of the (sometimes broken) promises of intimacy.

Craft Riot

In an interview with the Stranger, lead singer and guitarist Jessica Dobson expressed how she wanted to push her boundaries on SECRETS:

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Tradition and Originality: Finding Your Own Creative Voice

Copying Original Tradition

Some musicians have an unmistakable sound. It only takes a few seconds to audibly recognize Billie Holiday in her penetrating rendition of “Love for Sale,” Glenn Gould and his emotive interpretation of J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, or even the Punch Brothers in their progressively intricate compositions for bluegrass ensemble. What makes these artists so distinct? This question lies at the center of every musician’s creative journey. As an artist, one is always seeking a more unique self-expression through his or her medium. Unfortunately, this search is so ambiguous and esoteric, it drives many to give up before that desire can be fulfilled. No musician is born fully realized—creative self-discovery is a rite of passage for all artists. However, by examining the elements of creativity, it is possible to demystify the process and practically cultivate one’s own distinct musical identity.

Those elements can be condensed to two broad categories: tradition and originality. Every creative output inevitably traces back to some combination of these two aspects. The specific utilization and appropriation of each strongly influences the formation of one’s musical identity. One without the other leads to stagnation and artificiality. In contrast, the artists who experience the most distinct creative success are the ones who stand firmly on the experience of past tradition in order to step forward into new original territory. Let’s unpack this a little.

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We Sin Because We Have Bad Taste

goat with bad taste

According to one study, 64% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women look at porn at least once a month. Those numbers aren’t all that different from the statistics of non-Christians. Is it at all strange to you that pornography is so popular? It’s singularly one of the most tacky things on the planet. It’s garish, badly acted, badly shot, badly directed, badly “written,” completely unbelievable, contrived, mindless, and absurd.

How do we normally condemn pornography? By calling it immoral, abusive, socially destructive, and shameful (all of which are certainly true). But shouldn’t it be enough that pornography is mind-numbingly tasteless? Somehow that isn’t enough. Which makes me think sin is very much connected to horribly bad taste. Let me explain.

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