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?
Is it possible for art to be unjust? In this installment of our “Whatever” series on aesthetics (drawing from Philippians 4:8), I discuss how to make just art. Because we can’t just make art. We need to make just art. (Groan.) But what does it mean for art to be just or—as most translators put it—right?
The word “right” (δίκαιος dikaios) used in Philippians 4:8 is mostly translated “righteous” or “just” in the rest of the Scriptures, and it indicates guiltlessness or innocence. For our purposes, the phrase refers to art that defends and promotes God’s legal perspective. The first and most obvious denotation of law-keeping would be that just art does not break, or encourage breaking, any of God’s Law(s). But the criterion drives deeper than that.
In just a moment, I’m going to reveal my one simple trick for choking good art and starving good artists, but first, I just wanted to say… Congratulations. We’re already doing it!
How? By declaring with our dollars that entertainment is the main purpose of art. In the course of this article, I will unfold why this is not a biblical idea, how it suppresses good art and harms good artists, and what we can do to undo the damage we’ve done with our “entertainment” budgets. Unless you were really here to learn how to destroy good art. In which case, good news—all you need to do is carry on as usual.
First, I must say that I won’t be seeing the new Left Behind movie. Ever. I don’t think you should see it either. In fact, I beg you not to see it. It may be “Christian art,” but it isn’t Christian. An article in Christianity Today sums up my perspective on it pretty well:
. . . Hollywood producers now know that American Christians feel that way about their faith [that Christians want their faith included in the mainstream discourse]—that Christians so desperately want to participate in the mainstream, that they’re tired of having sanctioned music that’s like other music and movies like other movies and politicians like other politicians but always still being on the outside, that Christians just want to feel identified without having to carve out little alcoves or niche markets that exist alongside the Big Boys. And, now that they know it—that is, now that they know they can make back 5x their initial financial investment—they want to exploit that, by pumping out garbage (not moral garbage, just quality garbage), slapping the “Christian” label on it, and watching the dollars pour in.
One of the most frustrating parts of my job as president of the NFfCR is the fact that we have very few resources and almost no support from the larger Christian community. In the six years of our existence, I have fought hard to get recognition from mainstream Christian reviewers and distribution giants. But to no avail. We have yet to have one breakthrough.
Even though almost every one of the Christians I have talked to agree that the Christian arts are in crisis, mainstream Christian producers and distributors have continued to pump out the same old cotton candy without a thought that anything might be wrong. And for many years, it was looking like all our work was for naught. But then things started to change.