In my first post on this issue, I got some great comments and have done some more thinking about it. Actually, I’ve been thinking and reading on it for better than a year now. So I am a rookie at this. I am no art critic, by any means, although I’m trying to learn a bit more as I’m able. I find it fun and challenging. I find that it enlarges and enriches my soul.
Which brings me to where I left off: using discernment in enjoying art and entertainment. My (formerly long-lost high school) friend and fine artist Derrick Durham made an excellent point in his comments by distinguishing between “encountering” art and “enjoying” it. He said, “Art should be encountered and reasoned with.”
I agree wholehartedly! I think that that is the first step a person should take. But too often it isn’t. Too much of our consumption of art and entertainment is a thoughtless absorption of it. We allow ourselves to be amused, in the truly literal sense of the word: “a-“, meaning “not”, and “-mused”, meaning “to think.” Not only do we not think hard about the things we expose ourselves to, we really don’t give it much thought at all.
That’s a tragedy. And it’s dangerous.
It’s dangerous because we can mindlessly be exposed to both evil things and less-than-edifying things that really do diminish our love for Christ, our eternal-mindedness, and our commitment to holy thoughts and acts. We should think hard about and examine and discern the things we encounter in media and art. We should be sensitive to our consciences and to the clear commands of Scripture to avoid that which defiles.
It’s a tragedy because our thoughtlessness leads us to miss the fingerprints of God’s glory in the art and entertainment that’s good. We miss the glory. We fail to feel the awe of it, and enjoy the good in it. Simply because we’re not looking for it. Which is exactly what the will of God is for us in enjoying the gifts of both divine and human creativity: to encounter and enjoy that which is good. To seek to derive intellectual, emotional, and spiritual benefit from the things we encounter, and allow it to uplift us, to deepen us, to enlarge us, to challenge us, to sweeten us.
But, those effects of God’s beauty and glory is muted when we don’t pay attention to it. Too much of the time, I’m afraid we are too lazy to exert the effort to think about what we’re looking at in a painting, or watching on the screen, or listening to on our iPods, or reading in a book. Instead, we want to rush past the thoughtful consumption of these things straight for the emotional effect.
But that actually diminishes the emotional effect and our perception of the very good that we are after. We’re too impatient. And we’re too lazy. I think that this is one of the effects of popular culture. As Ken Myers says in All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes, “Popular culture encourages a mood of expecting everything to be immediate, a mood that deters greater depth and breadth in other areas of our lives.” (p. xv)
Depth and breadth is what I’m after here. That’s what I crave when I watch a movie, or read a piece of literature, or look at art, or listen to a song. That’s what heightens the enjoyment for me. At least most of the time. Sure, like everyone else, I sometimes just want to listen to a “feel good” song, or watch a “feel good” movie. But the older I get the more sick I get of the pervasive triviality and emptiness of so much “art.” It just leaves me wanting something. Something glorious and good. Something nourishing and soul-enriching. Something that when I leave it, I leave a better man.
I think that’s the effect of art and entertainment when it has glory in it. That’s the effect every good gift from the hand of God is intended by God to have on us. God’s gifts have glory in them. His glory. A taste of His goodness, His love, His beauty, His justice, His holiness, His bounty. When we taste and see those things in beautiful expressions of both divine and human creativity, we taste and see Him.
And the only thing that makes our joy in it better is telling someone about it!