quotes... Christian Aesthetics

Due to the recent and worthwhile discussion generated by the last entry, I thought it would be a good idea to give a sample of the work of one evangelical philosopher/theologian who has contributed immensely to the conversation about defining art. Consider these thoughts:

There is no purpose which art serves, not any which it is intended to serve. Art plays and is meant to play an enormous diversity of roles in human life. Works of art are instruments by which we perform such diverse actions as praising our great mean and expressing our grief, evoking emotion and communicating knowledge. Works of art are objects of such actions as contemplation for the sake of delight. Works of art are accompaniments for such actions as hoeing cotton and rocking infants. Works of art are background for such actions as eating meals and walking through airports… The purposes of art are the purposes of life.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Art in Action, 4


Surely it is time for us to break out, to start over, to somehow find a way of approaching art which no longer focuses successively on artist and work and receiver, but instead holds all these in view simultaneously, and does so in such a way as to answer the call, now increasingly heard, to take account of the social embeddedness of whichever of these one has in the center of one’s attention: artist, work, receiver. I suggest that we approach art from the angle of the social practices of art.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Philosophy of Art After Analysis and Romanticism,” 158.


music... Derek Webb

Mockingbird by Derek Webb

Sadly, it seems Derek Webb has lost his faith in the power of art.

From all accounts, the progressive trajectory that characterized Webb’s I See Things Upside Down has diverged from its artistic course and instead proceeded toward pure rhetoric. In this way, Mockingbird could have made excellent source material for a series of magazine editorials, commentary for a bible study, or maybe a book of poetry. But it should not have been recorded as an album. How did it all go so wrong for the most promising Christian singer-songwriter of this generation?

Webb has always worn his influences on his sleeve, and that sort of honesty has worked well for him in the past because he chose superior influences. I would recommend that Webb return quickly to his influences, namely Dylan. A secondary viewing of No Direction Home might reveal for him more clearly the genius behind Dylan’s legacy. In a time when the country was torn in two by conflicting opinions of grave political matters, Dylan refused to let his art be subsumed into the prevalent ethos of topical songwriting. It’s the reason that the world will never forget Bob Dylan and never remember Pete Seeger. Dylan launched a legacy in the 60’s while those around him launched campaigns. Ironically, Dylan’s music unquestionably had the greater impact on society and culture. Webb would do well to follow his mentor’s lead in this area.

By any standard, art should show and not teach, dream and not dictate. Not even the best intentions or the truest sentiments can adequately replace the visionary abilities of art. Unfortunately, this is the untold story of kitsch. Usually thought of purely in terms of overly sweet or saccharine sentimentality, kitsch actually has a dark side as well. You see the earnest convictions of Webb’s newest cd are no different than the sappiest CCM love ballad to God because both rely on pre-digested content. Sadly, political credos do little more than Hallmark slogans in the end. Both are easily dismissed for the simple fact that neither evoke wonder and deepen the questions upon revisiting.

Even in truly difficult times, people still want sermons from their preachers and songs from their artists. Art will not change the world on its own, but it must be allowed to do its individual and unique part. If Webb wants the choir to sing so badly, maybe he should stop preaching to them and start modelling for them a better approach to art-making. We don't need another mockingbird.