Engaging the Arts
Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan has begun an effort to help Christians think about their engagement with the arts. It’s an issue that is far too important to be left to the people of God who happen to live in New York City.
The arts, contrary to liberal ideology, cannot solve the deepest problems of the human race, nor, contrary to conservative ideology, are the arts luxuries unnecessary to existence. Made in the image of the Creator, human beings are inescapably creative. In the arts we explore our deepest fears and hopes, we find stories and metaphors that bring meaning to the ordinary details of life, we touch beauty in which God’s glory can be glimpsed. Human culture is not a surprise to God, it is his intention and he called it very good. Creativity will flourish in the new earth.
In our postmodern world, the arts assume an added importance for the Christian. Artists have always tended to have a finger on the pulse of their culture, so understanding what they produce helps us see where we are and where things are headed. And now, at a time when people have doubts about the possibility of truth, they eagerly yearn for a Story that will bring direction and significance to the stories they find themselves living. It is in the arts that this searching is most clearly expressed.
Which means that the questions posed by the good folk at Redeemer Preyterian are worth some careful reflection by discerning Christians. So, here are first, “Are You a Patron?” excerpted from Redeemer’s web site, and second, some questions for reflection and discussion.
*** Redeemer Survey ***
Are You A Patron?
1. Have you attended an arts event or venue in the last six months? (live music concert, museum or gallery, play, dance performance, independent film, etc.)
2. Do you have a favorite art form that you particularly enjoy experiencing and learning about?
3. Do you occasionally attend different types of arts events/venues, besides your favorite?
4. Do you have a favorite artist or arts organization whose work you follow closely?
5. Do you ever spread the word about a particular arts event or artist?
6. Do you sometimes look through the Arts section in newspapers or magazines?
7. Have you financially supported an arts organization or artist (outside of purchasing tickets) in the last year?
8. Do you know an artist, are you involved in his/her life, and are you actively supporting his/her career?
Scoring: If you answered “yes” to 7 or 8 of these questions, you rock! You’re definitely the kind of patron we want to see everyone at Redeemer becoming! Keep up the great work!
If you answered “yes” to 5 or 6 of the questions, you’re also a patron, actively supporting the arts. Maybe think about the questions you responded “no” to, and consider how you might bring that into your arts and culture experience. And let us help you become even more engaged in the arts…
If you answered “yes” to fewer than 5, well, we have lots of opportunities for you to learn and grow as a patron…
The word “patron” comes from the Latin patrōnus, meaning “advocate,” which in turn came from pater, meaning “father.” Patrons can simply be customers (when you give a store your patronage), or they can be protectors (patron saints). In the arts, we use the word “patron” to describe anything from a casual observer (buying a ticket but not engaging any further) to the strongest supporter (providing significant financial and other support).
The arts need real patrons—customers, yes, but also protectors, advocates, and “fathers.” Why? The benefits of the arts are intangible, and are therefore not easily measured or defended. The arts don’t tend to be financially profitable, and can sometimes challenge audiences in uncomfortable—but necessary—ways. Artists don’t tend to advocate well for themselves—we need those whose lives have been influenced by the arts to communicate the value of what we do to others. But the effort is worth the price. In a recent fundraising letter, Dance Theater Workshop, a NYC dance advocacy and performance non-profit, wrote:
In times of uncertainty, what we choose to stand behind can be brought into question. Is it wise to invest precious financial resources in art and the people who create it when each new day can seem more tumultuous than the last? The answer is simply, yes. It is in times such as these that art can have its greatest impact. Art has the power to change our world view, to open up and re-invigorate our perspective, and now, more than ever, the work of art-making deserves the ferocity of our attention.
Christians, and the Church, have a mixed history of arts patronage. Some of the greatest works of visual art and music ever created were commissioned to the glory of God by churches and individual Christians. But, particularly in recent times and with some art forms, the Church’s message has sometimes been less positive about the value of the arts in the world, and in Christians’ lives.
Redeemer’s mission is to “renew the city socially, spiritually, and culturally.” In a talk, Tim Keller said, “The best way to help the world is through the arts.” Redeemerite and author, Ted Scofield, writes:
Christians cannot abdicate the arts to secular society. We must consume, study, and participate in the arts if we are to have a seat at the table. Whether it has a religious theme or strikes us as irreligious, we must be patrons if we are to have an impact on how the world interprets and responds to the arts. We cannot be wary, we cannot be afraid, we cannot be self-righteous. Christians must look, listen, read, and experience the arts if we are to lead our culture to renewal.