Could the Church Today Spark a New Renaissance?

Could the Church Today Spark a New Renaissance? August 14, 2012

I grew up with a seven-foot print of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, from the Sistine Chapel, on the wall above my bed.  I read Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy, a novelized version of Michelangelo’s life, twice in high school and once again in college.  I read deeply on Leonardo Da Vinci, both for his scientific and his artistic genius.  I knew it wasn’t the hippest era amongst the highbrow set, but I always loved the art of the renaissance period.  I’ve grown to love other kinds and periods of art, but the painting and the sculpture of the great renaissance masters has always remained my favorite.

Could the Church once again be Patron of the Arts?

The greater portion of that art was produced under the patronage of the church.  There were controversies, to be sure, and artists then as now liked to push the boundaries.  But the church was much more supportive of artistic and scientific innovation than is commonly portrayed.  Michelangelo’s masterpiece on the chapel ceiling sits inside St. Peter’s Basilica.  It was nurtured within the embrace of the Church and it has remained there ever since.

Christians today, and evangelicals especially, like to complain about the way they are portrayed in today’s works of art — in novels, television shows, movies and the like.  And Christians today like to joke about the low-budget quality of shows and films that are made specifically for the evangelical subculture.  Yet they — we — rarely give generously of our time, talents and treasures to create transcendent, piercing, defining works of culture.  Sometimes it seems like we’re waiting around for another big-money patron to appear.  Wouldn’t it be great if there were a Christian Bill Gates who would give $10B to the creation of enduring works of art from artists of faith?

Yes, it would be great.  And there are some interesting efforts afoot, such as the Wedgwood Circle, and in particular areas, such as the Act One program to nurture writers and directors of film.  But the good news is, with modern technology, we have some excellent means available to us to support the creation of culture that honors what is true and good and beautiful.  Just like Kickstarter supports the launch of new ideas and products, or Causes or Razoo or Crowdrise (or, to which I am particularly devoted), the combination of digital and social media technologies makes it possible for us to gather small amounts of money from many people at once, for the production of art.

We can crowd-source a restored church patronage of the arts.

That’s the idea behind As1, launched by Jonathan Bock, the founder of Grace Hill Media.  I’ve come to know Jon and GHM through the process of creating the Patheos Movies Channel, and I’m excited by the vision he articulates for this new initiative: “As1 seeks to restore the church to its historically traditional role as a Patron of the Arts. Through our demographic size and collective buying power, we will unite to impact the culturally influential art of our time – film, television and music. As we have throughout history, we will generously reward the artists who tell our stories. And they will make more. In addition, As1 seeks genuine relationship and renewed partnership with the Artistic Community. Artists: you are not the enemy, and we were wrong for saying you were. As1 wants the greatest artists telling our stories again.”

I’m aware that, in the odd assortment of people who read this blog, some will be inclined to criticize from the start.  But I would love to see this flourish.  Here’s the video introducing the concept:

Perhaps we don’t need a big-money patron.  Perhaps we just need ourselves, committed, creative, and collaborating.

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