When did art stop being important to evangelical Christians? How did we go from Rembrandt to Kinkade? When did our appreciation of a work of art become based on how it matched the colors in our living room carpet?I have pretty strong opinions about art, and my educational background included plenty of work in the pictorial arts. I did very well in my art history classes. Therefore, I can claim that I’m not entirely ignorant about the subject.
Some critical bloggerati think that most evangelicans are aesthetic barbarians. However, I must disagree with this viewpoint. On the contrary, I say that when you look at the overall picture, aesthetic barbarism is endemic to the larger society in America. The real questions to ask is why are evangelical xtians not all that different in their artistic tastes from everyone else? If evangelical xtians ought to excel in their artistic tastes, then how much so? And how important is it?
Funny, but I don’t recall any beatitude in the Gospel that started out saying "Blessed are the aesthetically sophisticated…"
But if evangelicans are supposed to have superior artistic preferences, does that mean that they must endeavor to be better judges of beaux arts than their neighbors? And if xtians were in the past good judges of art but no longer are, then who has the task of repristinating the lost aesthetic acumen? Who will do the educating? The pastors? Bloggers? The New York Times Magazine? The Village Voice? It’s remarkably easy, and much jolly fun, for people to dump on evangelicans about their deficiencies in some matter or another, such as aesthetics. But nobody tackles the underlying issues with any depth. However, we can agree that Xnty was the root and source of much great art.
As for the late Thomas Kinkade — who was marvelously successful and yet has been cited as the leading example that proves evangelical xtians are altogether clueless about the fine arts — my only real dispute with Kinkade was his excessive prices. In his heyday, Kinkade knocked out gazillions of reproductions of his oeuvres, and shipped them off, in big eighteen-wheeler truckloads, to his distribution franchises. All of this is perfectly okay entrepreneurialism. Many people do need unoffensive and colorful wall decorations. But, oh, the ridiculously over-inflated prices that were charged for each reproduction.
Just look at the little numbers in the corner of the picture. It might be something like "512/6500", which means that this picture was reproduction #512 out of a run of 6,500 manufactured from the original. Now, I have seen the prices, ranging up to several thousand dollars. So just do the math. With 6,500 reproductions of just one Kinkade, and each one being sold for more than a grand a piece, what do you have? Then multiply that by the number of separate variations of the same old cottages, which have all the indoor lights turned on. Well going by the arithmetic, Kinkade must have been a multi-millionaire, perhaps the richest Painter of Schlock™ who had ever lived. Now If xtians are to be criticize for buying Kinkadian cottages, it really should be for allowing themselves to be bamboozled because of the excessive prices they were paying. Because of the large reproduction runs, Kinkade cottages have little investment value. In fact, if anything, the Kinkadeabilia market reached a saturation point pretty early and collapsed. Who needs another picture of lit up cottages or gazebos in shady gardens? Nevertheless, let me say that not everything Thomas Kinkade did was merely cottages-burning-up-vast-amounts-of-electrical-wattage. I have seen a few of his landscapes and cityscapes, giclée on canvas reproductions, that I thought were fairly beautiful and expertly done. Underneath Thomas Kinkade's business savvy, there must have been genuine artistic talent.
Be that as it may, I think that if evangelical bloggerati want to pick on weightier issues, rather than merely complaining about somebody's garish interior decor, I could think of a few things I’d like to see investigated:
- There is the widespread, complete breakdown and disintegration of hymnody. So much of the music in church seems to be dictated by what gets broadcasted on "commercial xtian radio". This is especially a big peeve of mine, and I think it’s a far more important issue because the consequences are becoming increasingly disastrous in the community worship of the church. The hymnals were thrown out years ago, and a kind of collective amnesia has been imposed concerning the hymnody created by the xtians in the past. Nowadays so much of the music tends to be overly-repetitive and narcissistic and poetically impoverished. Somebody please tell me, why does everything have to sound like Bethel and Hillsong?
- Why do we need this glut of Bible translations? In their search for ever increasing profits, and to please the Wall Street analysts, book publishers are constantly inventing new translations and paraphrases, basically profiteering off of the Holy Bible. Now just because I ask this question, please don’t jump to the conclusion that I’m another one of those paranoid KJV-only nutcases. No, I am not. But with pastors regularly using over a half-dozen different versions during the sermon, I’m starting to wonder if maybe things are starting to get out of hand. Perhaps all this versioning is becoming a quick and easy substitute for doing the difficult work of careful exposition. I first noticed this trend back when everyone started using the Rick Warren's "40 Days of Whatever" stuff.
- Why is it that pastors who want to build mega-churches, after having accomplished that goal, end pushing their congregations into being members of "small groups"?
- Why is it that the people who painted those funny riverscape Trompe-l'œil behind the baptistries always used too much phthalocyanine green?
[Update] It is very sad that Thomas Kinkade died on April 12, 2012, due to a toxic combination of alcohol and drugs.