The premier entertainment electronics show in the world is going on as I write this and one of the feelings coming out of this year’s E3 is that it’s decidedly underwhelming. Dig this quote from a Wired article:
“As the E3 Expo, the videogame industry’s annual bombastic show of force, begins anew Tuesday, it’s getting harder and harder to tell one game from another. This is not simply because of the unceasing epileptic blasts of light and deafening cacophony of sound that fill the darkened halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center all week — although those help. It’s because as gamemakers come to grips with the ever-riskier business of building big-budget entertainment, more and more of them are playing it safe just to survive, feeding in the same narrowing pool of game genres.
The article goes on to make some observations about why gaming finds itself in a creative rut and the most persuasive idea seems to revolve around simple economics. Gaming has become a riskier and riskier industry (the AAA space anyway – more to that point in a moment) and studios thinking about investing $50M tend to play it safe. I can understand that.
But this observation of E3 makes me think about something else that has been scratching at the back of my mind for years, something that’s been hard to put words to but it comes to something like this. As Christians we claim to be in contact with, indeed to be individually lead by, the Creator of Creation. How is it that the state of Christian art has suffered so much diminution that with precious few exceptions Christian creativity has become almost entirely an enterprise of copying secular art and then pasting a fish over the top?
The majority of Christian history has included a strong impulse to truly and universally excellent artwork in every discipline. Paint, architecture, music, playwriting, literature. I’d bet that a majority of the truly great western artists of the last 2000 years were either Christians themselves or they were largely creating Christian art. But somewhere, perhaps around the time of the Reformation, that vein started to run dry in the church. There’s probably a great and fruitful conversation about why that happened but it’s beside the point for me today.
In “On Moral Fiction” John Gardner states that all true art is moral. That its function in a civilization is to beat back the trolls of chaos and darkness and futility that constantly threaten to unravel society. He also suggests that in the relatively recent past we, as a culture, have forgotten what art is for and therefore resort to portraying the simply entertaining or the plainly trivial. To build on Gardner’s thesis I say that art can be, at its best, one of the Truest and most Spiritual things we can do as human beings.
By virtue of our identity in Christ, Christians ought to be the most creative, innovative people in the world.
To be less is to live beneath our station.
It’s been said that the way in which we are most made in the image of God is in our ability to be creative. That creative capacity is endowed in all humanity, Christian or not, as the place we can most invest our hearts and souls; perhaps more than any enterprise beside having children. What’s more, beauty has always been one of the core virtues that the church has understood as a pure revelation of God’s nature.
For this to happen, it’s critical that we stop looking to the secular world as our primary source of inspiration. We need to look to God and His Spirit.
We can’t be only reacting to what is new or cool or successful in the world. We need to be learning from the creator of everything from planets to petunias and leading innovation in every medium.
We (on the Protestant side of the equation anyway) must regain our appreciation of mystery and the simply lovely and loosen up the exclusive value on factual truth. Art cannot be seen as nothing more than a pretty teaching aid.
And we must give up that silent, nagging fear of the world that keeps us from celebrating excellence regardless of the artists faith or lack thereof.
Let’s reclaim this part of our identity as Sons and Daughters of the Living God and pursue creativity and innovation in such a way that the world comes to us not because we are believers, not in spite of our belief, but simply because our work is demonstrably the most creative, the most unique, the most powerful. Every man and woman is graced with this profound ability to create and it is in no way limited to those who call themselves Christians, but as those who sit at the throne in regular contact with the source of all creativity ti seems reasonable that a believer may have a certain creative edge. In this way, as we create and innovate and explore with the wind of the Spirit in our sails, we do more to show God’s love and life to the world than in most any other enterprise – when we enrich the hearts and feed the souls of all who see.