Saturday, 31 May 2008

Remember... Art

Perhaps the more helpful question to the problematic, “What is art?” is “How is art...?”

One important function of art is that of memorial. Contemporary artists such as Jeremy Deller (below left), Mark Wallinger (below right) and Luc Tuymans (above) incorporate an element of memorial in their work citing events such as the minors strike of the 1980s, the gas chambers of WWII or the disestablishment of the Berlin wall respectably.

Of course, the preservation of important memories is not a new idea to the arts by any means. We could also cite Poussin, Claude, Rembrandt, Rubens and Stanley Spencer to name just a few who have all catalogued the horrors of war.

We might say that the idea of using art to remember first came from God. Think of the rainbow as a symbol of God’s promise to Noah never to destroy the earth again. Think of the Israelites who, time and again would forget what God had done for them in bringing them out of slavery in Egypt to the promised land of freedom. God instructed them to make art as a visual memorial in the form of stone pyres and monuments. In a similar way think of the bread and wine which serve as a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice when we meet together for communion.

Art can serve as a permanent reminder of historic events we should never forgot. It can help us come to terms with difficult memories and learn from the mistakes of our past. It’s important that we remember.

Air Guitar Art

Deep in the darkest recesses of my parents’ garage I recently came across a much-loved object from my childhood: sandwiched between boxes of old Wonder Stuff records and videotapes (remember those?), I found what to most people would look like an old tennis racket: A very battered tennis racket… but to me this was no ordinary Wilson Raleigh Junior. This had been my axe of power, my wielder of wrath, my chrome-plated flying V with custom pick-ups and leopard skin strap. This was my old air guitar.

If you’ve ever fancied yourself as a bedroom rock-star you too might have spent nights in front of your parents mirror raising an imaginary plectrum of power to the ceiling, strumming down with full rock furry to the sounds of your favourite air guitar hits. Come on, we've all done it.

Air guitar is escapist fantasy at it’s best. All twang and no substance. There’s nothing real about it. Beyond the ability to press the play button on your Sony walkman, air guitar requires absolutely no skill whatsoever. Air Guitar is a pretence: we pretend we’re doing something amazing when really we’re just larking around.

I've been thinking about how sometimes we Christians in the arts play the Air Guitar in creative culture.

Sometimes we play air guitar to the creative industries.

We see some really cool graphics on a billboard or the cover of an album and we copy it for our mission week publicity. A Christian band like the music of a guys like Coldplay or U2 and copy their sound exchanging but changing the lyrics to be more edifying or more ‘Christian.’ The Christian painter who likes the energy and freedom of Jackson Pollock and apes his style only saying it’s the Holy Spirit who guides his brush, not his subconscious.

In all these ways we play air guitar to what someone else has already made. We echo what everyone else is doing in a bid to be culturally relevant but in so doing, we’re always two steps behind the rest of society, rather than leading the way. The world leads the church rather than the church leading the world. Or, to put it another way, the world becomes the salt and light of the church rather than the church being the salt and light of the world.

Sometimes we play air guitar to God.

Paul encourages us to work hard in all we do as working for the Lord and not for men (Col 3:23). When we create we make for an audience primarily of one: we create for Christ: So we are to sing, dance, sculpt, design, model, write, compose and paint with all our hearts for Jesus, not just the guy who’s writing the cheque. This is our spiritual act of worship – our art!

In Genesis 1 Adam and Eve are commissioned by God with the stewardship of the earth. God tells them to “Fill the Earth and Subdue it”… taking care of all living things and the planet itself. Genesis 1:28

This isn’t just an instruction to do the gardening: this is a biblical mandate to take care of all creation. That means all animals, all humans, all culture. Christians aren’t called to play Air Guitar to culture, we are to be it’s custodians; we are to make culture, pioneer it and define it: move beyond air guitar

New Blog

It really doesn't take long to start up a new blog but it does take a serious amount of consideration to ask, 'Can I stick with it?" Time will tell, eh? So welcome to my new blog which offers reflections on the creative arts as seen through the lens of the Christian mind . If you're reading this blog, please do drop me a message to let me know.