Saturday, 31 May 2008

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


Hannah Ebrahim said...

Hi Ally,

That's real food for thought. It is easy to think of Art as being from the world, a way of expressing oneself, but creativity is an attribute of God as the first and best creator. So we can do it, praising Him that we are made in His image. :) thanks for posting life DVD, unfortunately didn't get to me in time (my postman is very temperamental) but event went very well. Will send it back soon. Hannah (E)

Rechord said...

Awesome point and well made. I long for the day when I hear more bands, artists and designers (whose members are Christian) making music/design/art which attempts to be good in and of itself with a style that just *is* rather than following a trend (usually a couple of years after the music scene has left said trend and moved on). Sufjan Stevens, Sparks Art, Mortal, Chaz Bayfield, Jo Mango, Henningham Family Press... thank you all!

However, I do think there's a big fat "IT DEPENDS" going on here. Some art/design/music *needs* to ape in order to respect its audience and/or its commissioners, and therefore fulfil its purpose in a loving way.

The Wesleys and later Moody and Sankey wrote new words to the popular music of the day, so that when ordinary folk came in to churches, they could express their feelings to God and learn doctrine without having to concentrate on learning a new song as well. Instead, we have a lot of music worship leaders composing second-rate original songs and adding lyrics as an afterthought without paying much due care and attention to crafting the words.

I actually *long* for the day when we have have Arctic Monkeys / 50 Cent / Usher / CSS / Klaxons* songs in church with new words. Maybe then the praise+worship lyricist in question would actually spend some time to put together words with real poetry and meaning that don't just rehash tired metaphors or relate to difficult Biblical language or stories, the meaning of which they can barely grasp themselves.

* insert Latest Big Thing here

Rechord said...

Hmmm that was a spot of waffle.

I guess my main point is... it is actually possible to make the opposite mistake and try to be original / individual for the sake of it, which has pride at its root.

Sometimes the best option is actually to ape, if done in a knowing way, as loving service.

Ally Gordon said...

Hey Rechord. Thanks so much for that... this is exactly why I started this blog project: for this kind of discussion. A very fair point and I concede! Perhaps the tension lies in the difference between appropriation and plageorism. I agree there are times it's good to ape (after all, the arts evolved from the greatest ape of all - Adam - who first imitated God, right?). If I imitate, I want to acknowledge those I imitate and somehow build on what they have done, not detract from which I feel is something we see too often in dee church.