Three Reasons Why Christians Are Creating More “Edgy” Art

If you are an artist who also happens to be a Christian, expect to be judged and misunderstood.

If you are a Christian and an artist, you live in the tension of creating art that is neatly wrapped up with a “happy ending,” art that is propaganda, and art that is shallow and without layers of meaning. In my experience, most of the Christian industry gatekeepers insist on one or all of these aspects of what I call “safe” art.

But there is a new generation of artists that happen to be Christians who refuse to bow to the almighty Christian dollar. They have decided to create “edgy” art not in order to be edgy but in the search for art that is true.

Why?

1.) Because they are not afraid of the darkness in themselves. Rembrandt painted his self-portrait 63 times not just as “a model for studies in expression” but as a “search for the spiritual through the channel of his innermost personality.” Rembrandt felt that he had to enter into his own self, into his dark cellars as well as into his light rooms, if he really wanted to penetrate the mystery of man’s interiority.

Rembrandt realized that what is most personal is most universal. While growing in age he was more and more able to touch the core of the human experience , in which individuals in their misery can recognize themselves and find “courage and new youth.”

We will never be able to create true art if we are not willing to paint and re-paint constantly our self-portrait, not as a morbid self-preoccupation, but as a service to those who are searching for some light in the midst of the darkness.

2.) Because they understand the healthy tension between art and propaganda. Author Philip Yancey, who also happens to be a Christian, writes, “Counterbalancing the literary tug away from propaganda, many evangelicals exert, an insidious tug away from art.

They would react to Tolstoy’s statement, ‘If someone were to tell me that it lay in my power to write a novel explaining every social question from a particular viewpoint that I believed to be the correct one, I still wouldn’t spend two hours on it. But if I were told that what I am writing will be read in twenty years time by the children of today, and that those children will laugh, weep, and learn to love life as they read, why then I would devote the whole of my life and energy to it,‘ with disbelief — to choose a novel that entertains and fosters a love for life over a treatise that solves every social (or, better, religious) question of humankind!

How can a person “waste” time with mere aesthetics — soothing music, pleasing art, entertaining literature — when injustice rules the nations and the decadent world marches ineluctably to destruction? Is this not fiddling while Rome burns? Currently, novels written by evangelicals tend toward the propagandistic (even to the extent of fictionalizing Bible stories and foretelling the Second Coming) and away from the artful.

Somewhere in this magnetic field between art and propaganda the Christian author (or painter or musician) works. One force tempts us to lower artistic standards and preach an unadorned message; another tempts us to submerge or even alter the message for the sake of artistic sensibilities.

Having lived in the midst of this tension for over a decade, I have come to recognize it as a healthy synthesizing tension that should be affirmed. Success often lies within the extremes: an author may succeed in the evangelical world by erring on the side of propaganda. But ever so slowly, the fissure between the Christian and secular worlds will yawn wider.

If we continue tilting toward propaganda, we will soon find ourselves writing and selling books to ourselves alone. On the other hand, the Christian author cannot simply absorb the literary standards of the larger world. Our ultimate goal cannot be a self-expression, but rather a God-expression.

3.) Because they know life has layers. Even Donkey in the movie Shrek knows this. Writer Madeline L’Engle states in an interview with Time magazine that one of the reasons she loves reading the Holy Bible is because it has layers—layers of meaning.

The artist writers of the Old Testament did not shy away from portraying the depths of depravity and heights of redemption. If the Old Testament were a movie today, it would be considered edgy at the very least. With scenes of incest, murder, lust, child sacrifice, magic and much more, the Bible does not shy away, as the typical Christian artist does, from vividly painting the layers of real life.

My thanks to Jeff Goins Christians Writing Edgy for the Wrong Reasons? for inspiration for this post.

What do you think?

Should Christians create “edgy” art?

23 Responses to “Three Reasons Why Christians Are Creating More “Edgy” Art”

  1. Thanks for this post Randy! I too feel drawn to more edgy art rather than the safe, “happy ending”, pastoral art that so pervades the Christian culture today. I don’t see anything inherently wrong with this conservative art concept – some folks do enjoy it immensely (i.e. Kinkade). However, should I be criticized for enjoying the grittiness of the urban landscape depicted in street photography, for enjoying the experience of the tension of good and evil in a well written book or movie or listening to the challenging and expertly written tones and lyrics of musical artists struggling with their own questions of spirituality and culture.

    What’s wrong with Christians enjoying the works of Mann, Pollock, Kandinsky or Warhol? Is there harm in Christians enjoying Radiohead, Mumford and Sons or Zero 7? As long as the Christian is aware that these are not necessarily founded on the basis of the Christian faith, and that he must be careful to view and listen with a critical eye and ear rooted in Christ’s truth, then he should be able to enjoy God’s gift of creativity to all.
    Jonathan´s last blog post ..A Narcissist and a Stalker walk into bar – Did Someone Ruin Foursquare for Me Yesterday

  2. LOVE this post! Viva la tensions!

    Shouldn’t Christians automatically be considered edgy by society’s standards? Shouldn’t we be creating tensions begging for cathartic resolution in society?

    Edgy simply means exploring the fringes. And the fringes are where the least, lost and lonely hang out. Where doubt and fear thrive. Where sadness perpetuates.

    Our job, as creatives, is NOT to deny, ignore or naively believe we can “fix” these problems. Our job is to name them. To embody them. To say the unsaid. To give voice to those without a voice.

    And our primary job is to do this in ways that bring beauty (God) out of the unlikely.
    Keith Jennings´s last blog post ..How to tell if you are a weed

  3. My added reason:
    How else can we communicate in such a high shock valued society.
    There is so much numbing going on, I think people want to feel again, and I’ve felt the most when I have witnessed authentic and transparent Art. If I’m authentic and transparent with my Art, then some of it will be edgy, hahaha…

    • @Ramy-Man, Powerful statement, Ramy!

      “There is so much numbing going on, I think people want to feel again, and I’ve felt the most when I have witnessed authentic and transparent Art.”

      I can tell you have lived and live in the real world.

      Thanks!

  4. Interesting thoughts Randy. I suppose a lot of it comes down to the motivation for creating and what the artist considers “success”:

    Success often lies within the extremes: an author may succeed in the evangelical world by erring on the side of propaganda. But ever so slowly, the fissure between the Christian and secular worlds will yawn wider.

    If by that you mean “commercial success” then that feels like one conversation…that success is externally driven and measured. But if we’re talking about personal success, something more internally measured and driven, then effectively capturing a mood, executing a technique, or just creating something that pleases me as the artist then I would be surprised if an artist who happened to be a Christian shied away from any subject.

    If the market wants “propaganda” then I am equally as confused by the artist who provides nothing but as I am by the artist who angrily pushes to the extreme. I tend to lean more in the direction of “give the people what they want now while gently broadening their horizons in the direction you want them to go.”

    Forced education creates rifts, divisions, and denominations where art as conversation can move people to deeper, broader, richer understanding.

    • @Curtis, Thanks, Curtis.

      You give us another powerful quote: “Forced education creates rifts, divisions, and denominations where art as conversation can move people to deeper, broader, richer understanding.”

      From me, an amen!

  5. i long to tell people the truth. and the truth is brutal and edgy. look at the prophets. i believe that artists who are true to themselves today are the modern day prophets. and prophets never shied away from the truth. thanks Randy. lots to think about today.
    Chuck Harris´s last blog post ..this might be…

  6. When I was writing Christian fiction, I had a critique done by a few people who are in the Christian publishing business. I had written a crime novel with a serial killer targeting people who had wronged him in his youth. The opening chapter had a woman squeezed into the cheerleading outfit of her high school being killed.

    Their objection? The cheerleading outfit was too sexually suggestive and unnecessary.

    The reason for the outfit? The girl was a cheerleader in high school and used that status to seduce and deceive the killer. The outfit was entirely appropriate because the killer was trying to silence a demon in his head…the image of this girl from her earlier days.

    But none of them could tell me what I had written wasn’t realistic. Just that the Christian market isn’t for something like that or a killer who seemed to enjoy what he was doing. To me, evil is real and it’s not always the stereotype within which it’s presented. Ted Bundy wasn’t a raving lunatic on the outside but a monster inside.

    I could go on and on with my dissatisfaction with “Christian” entertainment being sanitized for the real world impaired but I don’t want to take this thread negative. :) Great post Randy.
    Jason´s last blog post ..Day 80- Taqpp

  7. As Christ followers why do wonder about being edgy? Look at the life of Christ. In my opinion one of the edgiest and most radical influencers of his day. That is probably one reason he took so much “heat” from the religious and pharasitical leaders of that time. We need to rock our world to cause people to think and be open to different ideas, perspectives, art, music and not be numbed by the norm. We don’t have to compromise our faith to be different/edgy from those who live conservatively but we can choose to be open to the truth that many times brings that uncomfortable edginess that we should never be afraid to express.

  8. Before you evaluate this comment remember that it comes from an old guy. Albeit an old guy that loves art. I like the conversation, and believe this is a complex subject, applicable to many forms of art and therefore hard to cover in a single blog. I am not sure I am comfortable with the word “Edgy.” The word implies an effort to push boundaries just for the sake of pushing boundaries. I like the word authentic or honest better. I have seen Christian and secular art that is so bland that it is not representative of reality. I have also observed stuff so banal and low that it also misses being authentic and real. As a follower of Christ I cannot ignore the ultimate goal to glorify God with all that I do. Sometimes that means offending the “status quo” by presenting traditionally taboo subjects as they really are and sometimes that means reigning in an expression designed just to show how “Edgy” I can be. I don’t claim to have all the answers on this. There will always be and should be a tension here for us. I will always resist the idea that there are no boundaries. If “everything” is art, then “nothing” is art. I imagine the true Christ follower who is an authentic artist will forever find him/herself balancing between “Edgy and Safe” until they meet The Artist! Sorry, I do look forward to that even tho it is a happy ending.
    Ken´s last blog post ..“I Want to Live!”

  9. Randy – thanks for a post that will kick-off tonight’s dinner conversation. :)

    I’m with @Ken on the syntax. I’m not sure that “edgy” is completely accurate. I like authentic or genuine. Which then encompasses the entire spectrum of expression from trying to understand heaven to being aware of our flesh.

    I also, like the terms unapologetic and unfiltered. Which I suppose in some circles equals edgy. We homeschool/ed our children – most of them are adults now. It was a proactive decision that provided a specific approach to education. Many of the people that we schooled alongside thought that we were “edgy” because we weren’t homeschooling to “guard our children from the world” – we were in a specific pursuit of critical thinking and arts education. So, we {gasp} exposed them to all sorts of worldly things. Like Blue Nudes by Matisse and music with a back beat and literature that had bad words and bad guys. Poor them. NOT.

    In the middle of his comment @Curtis used the descriptor, “an artist who happened to be a Christian”. Seems like a simple phrase, but I think there is a HUGE difference between a “Christian Artist” and An-Artist-who-happens-to-be-a-Christian. Both in product and lifestyle… And although I am precariously close to broad generalizations; I admit, that I approach any work that bears a Christian label, with skepticism and trembling {and usually a little sadness} because often, it’s sanitized, filtered & prettied up. It feels like I’m looking at those little girls on Toddlers in Tiaras. Could we just go play in the dirt and be for real? This is gross.

    Sometimes my art is beautiful, sometimes it makes people cry. Sometimes it is born of planning, passion and a deep message and at times is an simply a messy outpouring with no huge message or focus from me… Whatever it looks like or whatever my motive in creating, once it’s out in the atmosphere, it can accomplish Holy purposes without me trying to take care of the Holy part. I am deeply aware that, that part is a Holy Spirit function. And, as usually happens with things supernatural, will probably be different than anything I intended anyway. {@Curtis I LOVE this: “art as conversation can move people to deeper, broader, richer understanding.” Yes!}
    Betsy Cañas Garmon´s last blog post ..Behind the pages- What is the difference between Flee &amp Retreat

  10. I agree with the most recent post. Edgy is a weird term, makes me think of men in tight jeans with Kate Gosselin haircuts playing guitars… If you’re an artist you make art. If you’re not you don’t. It’s a simple distinction. I’m a 24 year old art student about six weeks away from my Bachelor of Fine Arts… I work commercially, and have a fine art practice, for a time I struggled greatly with what it meant to be both a Christian and an Artist, especially when the fine art world is so vehemently anti-Christianity. I soon discovered that letting your faith inform your artwork is the same as letting your faith inform your relationships… If you have one, it will affect the other. Not, hopefully, overtly but the beauty or conceptuality that I use in my work is a manifestation of God’s creation… That’s really the beginning and end of the whole discussion.

    So why are Christians making more edgy art? Hopefully they’re not, hopefully they’re being true to themselves, and working within a contemporary viewpoint of what fine art is now.

  11. Good discussion. I would think that “edgy” really depends on your audience. Edge of what? What Christians think is safe? Or what non-Christians think is too religious, for lack of a better word? Or, to take what Ken said further, is being authentic in your art universal and attractive to both?

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  1. Christians Writing for the Wrong Reasons? | Goins, Writer - March 22, 2011

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  2. Why Christians Are Creating More ‘Edgy’ Art | Two Handed Warriors - March 25, 2011

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