And I got to thinking about what a simple trick it plays on the mind: “I’m smelling something that makes me think of sweet fresh fruit, so this soap must have made my hands very clean and thoroughly sanitized!”
But here’s a fact: There is no relationship between the artificial scent added to soap and whether or not the soap actually made my hands cleaner than ordinary water.
This reminded me of how I used to think that if a movie or a song included “an agreeable message,” then that movie or song must be praiseworthy and good medicine for the world. Boy, was I wrong. The fact is that the beliefs or convictions promoted by a work of art do not improve the art itself. On the contrary, the more a work of art makes obvious and paraphrase-friendly its “message,” the more its quality has been compromised. Art’s purpose is to engage the imagination, teasing the mind into vigorous thought — not to deliver messages to which we respond “I agree” or “I disagree.”
No bumper sticker improves a car’s ability to do what it was meant to do.
No engraving on an apple tree makes that tree a better apple tree.
No political protest sign or slogan displayed in a garden improves the garden.
If we want to give the world great cars, apple trees, and gardens, we should become students of the art of the automobile, the apple tree, and the garden. If we want to give the world meaningful art, we will study that art that has proven to be meaningful.
And if we believe that God cares about excellence — the Scriptures repeatedly insist that he does — we will not settle for mediocrity in any discipline.
Great art invites the viewer’s head and heart to become healthy through exercise; it does not come in the form of a vitamin or a supplement.