Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Lame Art

Jimmy Akin on his blog asks this question, "Why Is Christian Art So Lame These Days?" I'm no art expert but I gave it a shot in the comments. Here is what I said...

To quote Chesterton, anything worth doing is worth doing badly. So we should not be so hard on lame music. People are just doing the best they can with what they got. I agree in it's lameness but I would say 90% of all art is lame. The problem is that contemporary styles have the emotional range of a tea spoon. Lust, anger, and despair is about the full range but it is good in that range. But if you try to fit Christ into this limited range it is a recipe for lameness. So what are the options for Christian? You can ether create a brand new genre which is very hard to do or go back to the old stuff and sound out of date.

I think the other problem is that our taste in music has to do with our identities. With the fragmentation of Christianity into all these little churches there is not a shared Christian identity making it harder to make a workable genre.


I guess what I’m saying is that a gangster Jesus, a pop Jesus, a thrash guitar Jesus, and a country Jesus is all going to be, at some level, inherently lame. No amount of effort or skill will change this inherent lameness. But given this, there is still some value in going there because that is where people are at.

Lameness has a lot to do with what someone can relate to and identify with. The problem is with the audience and our culture as much as the artist. It is going to require a new genre and a new culture around this genre to be able to make really great (un-lame) Christian art.


A genre has unspoken rules that come from the world view of its culture. If you break these rules the audience will not have ears to hear and will not identify with the music and it will sound lame. All secular genres have as an unspoken rule that God is a private matter that should be compartmentalized outside the music. This rule is so consistently applied that people are conditioned to hear the music in this way, even religious people. A Christian that is going to work within secular genre is handicapped because he/she has to try to stay within the genre rules while at the same time express the truth in an indirect way that avoids breaking the rules. You have to be really good to pull this off.

The other option is to break the rules of the secular genre. To explicitly break the rules of a genre is to create a new genre and this only works within a different culture/community.

For example Phatmass does Catholic hip hop. It is explicit about Christ in its lyrics. For me it is not lame. I can identify with it and they are not trying to be something they are not. I would say, even from a small pool of artists, that it is just as good as secular hip hop. But if you play this music to the secular audience of hip hop it will sound lame and they won’t identify with it. Phatmass has its own culture and it is interesting to me that it is drifting toward a lot of classical instruments and sounds in their tracts. Give it enough time to develop within its culture; it would end up sounding little like current hip hop. There are a lot of talented people who are a part of Phatmass. They would love to be able make music full time but there is not a large enough audience to support this. Christian culture is too fragmented. Secular culture is not and this is why they are producing better art in most cases.

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