The definition of “Art” has been problematic in a Postmodern age. This is particularly true in light of earlier definitions which are Modern in their roots. I had a professor once who told me that “Good art challenges people. Otherwise it isn’t art.” While I’m not sure I agree with the latter part of his statement the former seems solid.
I have a friend who is an organist and he takes great exception to the idea that the organ is a boring instrument. His argument is that the organists (not all but the majority) who are boring. He says that the organ is an instrument of almost infinite complexity; it is built to challenge and create. The problem is that somewhere along the way organists became “curators” instead of “innovators.” “They were so concerned with losing precious traditions that they stopped trying to move people” (there is a metaphor here for mainline Christianity).
I have had many conversations recently about a band called Mumford and Sons. There are quite popular with the demographic that I do ministry with, and I like their music. Mumford has a tendency to use biblical themes in their music and it baffles people. From Rolling Stone to a mediocre Christian blogger people have been speculating on whether or not the band is a “Christian” one. This is the wrong question, largely because it obscures the content of the album. The question should be: “Is this good art?” If the definition of “Good art” is that it is both 1) aesthetically pleasing and 2) that it challenges people then I would argue that it is. The album “Babel” makes almost constant use images and themes from Genesis 1-11. Several people I have talked to have claimed that I am imagining this, others believe that it is an accident and that the lyrics are bewildering rather than deep (this may be true as well). Folks outside my faith group have asked many questions about my opinions of the album. Mumford for their part has said “the only thing we feel evangelical about is music” and I am sure they mean that- many Christian labels produce a remarkably low amount of good art.
Yet, despite their objections, it is obvious that growing up in the Vineyard UK has had a profound impact on these musicians. As a result they are producing some very good art. People are trying to put a box around the music (something which tends to happen to challenging art) because for the several years now Christians make Christian music and the rest of the community makes music. Yet like U2 before them they are wrestling with Christian themes in a far deeper way than non-Christian musicians are capable of. The pastor in me loves listening and wondering what exactly they are trying to say with lyrics like
…We will run and scream You will dance with me They’ll fulfill our dreams And we’ll be free
And we will be who we are And they’ll heal our scars Sadness will be far away So as we walked Of fields of green As the fairest sun I’d ever seen And I was broke I was on my knees But you said yes as I said please… (Below my Feet see Revelation 21:22 and following)
…Touch my mouth and hold my tongue I’ll never be your chosen one I’ll be home, safe and tucked away You can’t tempt me if I don’t see the day … And oh, my heart was flawed I knew my weakness So hold my hand, consign me not to darkness. Crawl on my belly ‘til the sun goes down I’ll never wear your broken crown I took the road and I (expletive) it all away. Now in this twilight how dare you speak of grace…. (Broken Crown see Genesis 3:1-14)