Go Do Art

Chicago, like most cities, is no stranger to street art. And in May of 2011, the southeast corner of Washington and State in the downtown area saw this new 6-story mural. An article in the Huffington Post from that summer described the message behind it:
The mural is a work of Midwest-based designer and artist Kay Rosen. It's also the emblem of a new initiative by the Chicago Loop Alliance in conjunction with the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, which is hoping to inspire 100,000 good deeds by Chicagoans this summer.
In a city that's recently become the country's murder capital, inspirational projects like this are greatly needed. And I think it acts as a nice companion to CeaseFire's "Stop. Killing. People." ad campaign. But unlike the Chicago Loop Alliance's 2010 eyeball sculpture, I have a hard time calling three black words on a yellow background art. And that's because in this case, the message obscures the transcendence.

"Art" by Kay Rosen
By transcendence, I mean this: art has the ability, and is so designed, to lift the person experiencing it out of their normal reality and into another one--usually a greater one.

Novel lovers understand what I mean. They're the ones who say, "the movie isn't as good as the book." That's because the writing in novels is so good that it feeds the imagination and lets it run wild with its own unique perspective of the story. You're immersed in a world that only uses this one as a frame of reference, and then given the freedom to construct the rest as you see fit.

In this way, art is almost relative and individual. Composers understand what I mean. I sometimes ask my wife what comes to mind when she listens to some of the pieces of music I've written. And quite often, what she imagines is very different from what inspired me.

This, I believe, is what contributes to the beauty of art. Because if art was purely about aesthetics, about portraying beautiful things, we'd be forced to say that medieval paintings of Jesus' crucifixion are beautiful. In other words, we'd be saying that what happened to him was beautiful.

To the contrary, it's the thought the image elicits that is beautiful: Jesus died for my sins. So art isn't necessarily about the portrayal of beauty; it's about conveying a transcendent reality. And man's ability to see beyond himself is both God-given and beautiful.

Christians should take note of this. As I've said before, I remember being expected to be in a "Christian band" that proclaimed the gospel in every song. And while I reserve the term "sellout" for anyone in the Top 40, I've heard plenty of people use it for bands that didn't write music with a bold-enough Christian message.

In their minds, good Christian art had to explicitly portray Jesus and the redemption he offers. It makes one wonder if David's frequent complaints about his enemies would have qualified. And it makes me wonder if Christians are better marketers than artists.

That's not to say that we must discard our witness. But there should be a difference between a mural and an advertisement. Because if we can't find the line between being inspired by our faith and regurgitating it, then Christian art is nothing more than propaganda. And if we can't transcend or see beyond this physical life, how can we expect anyone else to?