Given my research into Christian aesthetic judgments (my recent article in the Journal of Psychology and Christianity about what I call "The Thomas Kinkade Effect" can be found online here) I was interested in this post by Tony Woodlief at Image entitled Bad Christian Art.
Woodlief's main argument:
I’m convinced that bad art derives, like bad literary theory, from bad theology. To know God falsely is to write and paint and sculpt and cook and dance Him falsely. Perhaps it’s not poor artistic skill that yields bad Christian art, in other words, but poor Christianity.My take about Woodlief's observation is that he's being more descriptive than explanatory. Yes, we know that the theology is bad. But why? In my published work I attempt to provide an answer. From the conclusion of Beck et al. (2010):
The question of the present study was less concerned with the motives of Christian artists than it was with the psychology of Christian aesthetic judgments. Specifically, why might some Christian art be preferred over others? Recent research (Landau et al., 2006) has suggested that aesthetic preferences might be influenced by existential needs. That is, artwork might help us confront a reality we find distressing and incoherent. Thus, some Christian art might be sought out because it provides existential comfort or solace. This is a wholly legitimate impulse to bring to art, but it may have impacts upon aesthetic choices and judgments.Woodlief goes on to list various aspects of Christian art and discusses the theology behind each. The final aspect is Cleanliness:
Cleanliness: I confess that the best way to deter me from watching a movie is to tell me it’s “wholesome.” This is because that word applied to art is a lie on its face, because insofar as art is stripped of the world’s sin and suffering it is not really whole at all.Again, this analysis is of interest to me as I've done research into the psychology of profanity in Christian populations which I've blogged about before (an online version of my 2009 Journal of Psychology and Theology article about profanity is here). More, Chapter 10 of Unclean--Sex and Privy--gets into these issues. The goal of all this work has been to get past a surface-level description to shed light on the underlying psychology behind the Christian impulse toward "cleanliness" and "wholesomeness."
This seems to be a failing—on the part of artist and consumer alike—in what my Orthodox friends call theosis, or walk, as my evangelical friends say. In short, if Christian novels and movies and blogs and speeches must be stripped of profanity and sensuality and critical questions, all for the sake of sparing us scandal, then we have to wonder what has happened that such a wide swath of Christendom has failed to graduate from milk to meat.