my broken family (Church vs. Art)

my broken family (Church vs. Art) January 26, 2012

I love art. I teach it. I try to preach it to others. My faith is truly alive due to artists – both old and new. They imbue hope, life, and peace. Rembrandt and Michelangelo, Goya and Picasso, and more recently Wooster. These are my commentaries upon the Scriptures.

As a Christian this often lands me in two worlds simultaneously. One foot in church related things and the other in creative arts. I’ve found the bridge is most often me. I enjoy mixing it up in both worlds, but it would be truly fantastic to see the church and the artist working together, inspiring one another.

It’s been that way for centuries leading up to the Industrial Revolution. The most beautiful and inspiring art was religious. I’d like to think that religion inspired the art that beautified the religion. This symbiotic relationship flowered for centuries making a glorious worship environment in which artists could dream, pray and live.

J. M. W. Turner Rain, Steam and Speed c.1844

But something tragic has happened and I don’t know what will become of this sullied marriage. Like the rapidly approaching steam engine depicted by J. M. W. Turner. Something changed in the blink of an eye. My family splintered in two. One left the other I have been told over and over again. Often religious folks see the church remaining steadfast and faithful – a Hosea figure – while the arts played the role of Gomer, prostituting herself with those “dirty” and “worldly” subjects. That’s the version I heard growing up. But as I looking into this relationship myself I saw another side of the story. The “pornography” was frequently a reaction to Victorian priggishness that stifled human sexuality. Any parent knows that the forbidden fruits always seem the sweetest. Rather than navigate through the changing times the church tried to be an all-controlling partner who suffocated the life and liberty out of the arts. It sought to conform the other into itself. But church needs art to be art and art and vice versa. This connection has to be mutually reverent.

And so, the rift remains.

Since the mid-1700s the two have grown further apart. Every once in a while a toe tips from one into the other. W. David O. Taylor is one of my favorite elder brothers in this torn family. He sees better than I and has written about it so very well.

But this divorce has been long and hard and bitter. I am a child of a broken family. My parents have chosen sides. And, I am the bridge.

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  • Michael,

    I feel your pain. We posted re: art at the exact same time. I’d love your thoughts on my post and how you see our thoughts intersecting…

  • Thank you, thank you! I completely agree that the Church has lost its intimate connection to great art, and that great artists often do not find freedom or space to express their connection to God through their gift within the Church. Then there’s the whole “Christian art” vs. “art by Christians” which I won’t get into. I think a lot of the schism between church and art has to do with the Christian tendency toward both denial of or struggle against the physical and overemphasis on the spiritual. I wrote a little about what embracing the Incarnation can do to promote remarriage (to borrow from your analogy) on my blog. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to check it out if you’re interested: and

  • Michael M

    I hear you. I’m an artist and former art teacher who recently graduated seminary out of interest in ministry. My secret hope has been to be a bridge as well but the heartbreak has been the attitude from the local church that art is just for decorative purposes. I also feel my feet planted in both worlds and honestly, it’s tearing me apart to have love for two entities that have a lot of animosity for each other.

  • Michael D. Bobo

    Joe and Michael, thanks for sharing. It’s great to feel some sense of solidarity in this battle. Maybe we can impact our little spheres of influence to make a dent in this unfortunate state of affairs.