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May 06, 2008


Adam D

Probably, there are a lot of answers to this question, and I've got my suspicions generally about evangelical Christianity and what its influence might be on artists, but I'm not really deeply in that culture, so shouldn't propose anything really. But I can certainly speak to at least one part of the problem and that's money and control of money.

I have a couple good friends who are devout Christians through and through and brilliant musicians and Christ shines through their music, but they're not going to get signed to a major label. The people who run the big industries that pay artists to make art, they're hostile to deeply religious sentiment, by and large.

For my own part, as a painter, I'd love to start work on some contemporary reinterpretations of classic themes ... Holy Family portraits, biblical narratives and such. But there's no funding behind such a thing, and such work is expensive! Costumes, models, settings and materials and the time of one's labor. Nobody is going to pay me to do such work. At least, nobody that I presently know how to get in touch with.

Artists used to have patrons like the royalty and the Church. That's kinda dried up these days though. The people who patronize the arts would prefer Godless work.

So there's one tentative answer.


It's partly due to the camera. It has greatly shrunk the market share for traditional and more expensive forms of art and thus has greatly shrunk the number of seriously talented artists.

Matheus F. Ticiani

Perhaps the problem is the very concept of "Christian Art" as it is understood today. I don't think Michelangelo, or Dante, or Mozart would generally regard their work as "Christian Art", but just universal, "regular" art, enlightened by their Faith. If those great artists have been regarded as pertaining to the realm of Western art, and considering the alrmingnly disproportionate worsening that Western art has been experiencing, I think that the "Christian Art" will also become lame. And the crescent secularization of the culture compels the Christian artists to confine themselves to emulating secular culture, slightly modified for the clique. That seems to be the modern concept of Christian Art. Just my two cents, which I think add up to the great point made by Adam D. above.


Coincidentally, Diogenes at CWNews's Off The Record just blogged on the role of one "Corita," FKA Sister Mary Corita Kent, in the "disfigurement of Catholic art."

I have often written about how artists who are skeptics or non-Christians often portray the world of faith more movingly than artists who are believers: Robert Bolt's A Man For All Seasons, Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew, Franz Werfel's The Song of Bernadette, Mark Twain's Joan of Arc, Marc Rothemund's Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, Volker Schlöndorff’s The Ninth Day, and so on.

Present-day counter-examples from believing artists are hard to come by.

Chad Toney

Frank Schaeffer addressed these issues for the evangelical subculture in his books "Addicted To Mediocrity" and "Sham Pearls for Real Swine", both of which I'd highly recommend. I read them in High School and I think this was the start of my search for Catholicism, something with an aesthetic and historical foundation (even if many modern Catholics are selling the birthright as fast as possible).

If I remember correctly, his main reasons for lameness were:

1. Utilitarianism - art has to do something to be worthwhile, mainly evangelize. This preachy art is generally lame.
2. Middle Class Values - the Bible is gritty and R-rated, but Christian Art is G-rated and overly sanitized.
3. A kind of disembodied aesthetic standard, where the actually quality of the art matters not at all, but "what's in the heart".

But I wonder if another reason for this might simply be the democracy of the dead, as history will work as a filter. Maybe a century from now, only the greatest few hundred works of art from our era will be celebrated.

Nick Alexander

According to metacritic.com, what was the most critically-acclaimed album (secular or Christian) or 2006? Sufjan Stevens' "Illinoise"... a Christian musician who infused incredible poetry with none-too-subtle religious themes, with a fusion of sounds and hooky melodies.
According to stellar, objective, critical review sites, who are the top Christian musicians today? Over the Rhine. Derek Webb. Sam Phillips. Emmylou Harris. Vigilantes of Love/Bill Mallonee.
NONE of these artists you will hear on Christian radio. They don't fit within the conventions of what Christian radio plays. They don't fit the market of the much-documented prized-demographic of the radio programmers--the thirty-something soccer moms (code name: Becky). Christianity Today did a very insightful article about this not too long ago.
As for Christian Contemporary Music, even its flagship magazine (from which it was its namesake, before the monicker was changed to become inclusive)... the print magazine folded (just this month) and became exclusively on-line.
Which goes to show: if you want quality, you're gonna have to dig. It exists, it's awesome, and it makes the radio programmers (and Christian music slammers) look terribly inept.
BTW... about Catholic music: if an utterly awesome Catholic album were to be released, where would you hear it? Christian radio has consistently ignored Catholic art (with the exception of Matt Maher, who is rising in ranks... Protestant Marty McCall had released "Images of Faith"--his album, to me represents one of the top Catholic-sounding albums one could ever embrace, but it was ignored entirely. Catholic Radio doesn't even play Catholic music anymore (down from the measly, laughable, half-an-hour a day), because they lack the funds to pay the ASCAP/BMI license fees, and Catholics don't tithe. And the only music you'll hear at liturgies are either traditional hymns, overplayed Glory and Praise leftovers, and Protestant-writ praise and worship songs.
Want to hear a stinging joke? A talented Catholic musician wants to write a song so Catholics can hear it... what is the fastest way for his music to be heard? Answer: convert away from Catholicism.
But the bottom line is, I don't take any criticism of Catholic music seriously if the critic displays an deficient knowledge as to who represents Catholic music today, or worse, a simpleton naivete that awesome Catholic music would be widely known and highly regarded by all Catholics, everywhere. Nope. If you want to discover Catholic music, go to www.topcatholicsongs.com, or www.gvonline.net (Grapevine Magazine), or discover Catholic Praise Cast, Catholic Music Express, and Catholic Rockers podcasts... the last of which won Top Music podcast (of all music... not just Catholic/Christian) just last year.

Nick Alexander
Catholic musician, worship leader, and Catholic "Weird Al"--the only one here who can claim to really be ripping off tunes from the secular radio.

Dave Mueller

It is an axiom that contemporary Christian music is an inferior ripoff of secular music. It has always been true, but I'm not sure it's true any more. Many of the best CD's I've bought over the last few years have been Christian ones....especially Anberlin's album "Cities" which is utterly brilliant.

Reasons why, though....well, firstly, there's a large subclass that will listen only to that, regardless of how good or bad it is. That doesn't tend to inspire one's best. Secondly, they may put more effort into writing inspiring lyrics than they put into the music itself.

Anyway, those interested in the rockier side of things will want to check out the latest albums by Anberlin and Skillet. Also Fireflight and the Afters are quite good. All of these groups are much better than the vast majority of stuff I hear on secular radio nowadays.

I have to agree with Nick, though....the vast majority of the best quality music is never heard over the airwaves. It usually spreads through word of mouth.


Many Catholics do not have an appreciation for beauty that would support an artist. This is perhaps not new.

There are some notable artists with talent that express Christian reality. I suggest that Michael O'Brien writer/painter is one. http://studiobrien.com/site/index.php


How can a largely iconoclast religion make good art?

I think that many Catholics also suffer from iconoclasm, largely influenced by the Protestant movement that have crept in and a sense of guilt for worshiping "idols."


ALso, there are some young people , coming out of traditional Catholic liberal arts colleges, that have an idea of what Catholic art should be. An example of this would be : http://www.thealexandrian.org/

Clavem Abyssi

In Catholic circles, I think our art became bad when "triumphalism" became a dirty word. Triumphalism has its negative aspects, true, but on the other hand, it produces fantastic art.

I don't think anyone is going to paint a Church's ceiling with the theme "We're a learning Church". "Last Judgement" - maybe. "All Knees Bowing to the Holy Name of Jesus" - yes! "Learning Church" - not a chance. "Joint Declaration of Faith" - never!

Casey Truelove

As an artist and graduate of an art school, I agree. Most of Christian art is pretty horrible [audio, visual, functional, and multimedia]. This is because too many Christian artists are trying to merely "Christianize" contemporary styles and/or learning from teachers who laud such styles.

When I was in college, the fine artists weren't taught to strive for the true, good and/or beautiful. I remember a discussion in one of my first classes about what "art" really was and we were basically taught that it's whatever we want it to be. The more commercialized fields, depending on the professor, were at least more concerned with visual aesthetics--I'm glad I stayed in Illustration.

A subjective definition of art doesn't lead one to strive toward true art, rather it pushes would-be artists to try to define art by experimentation: "With what can we get away? Let's see how far from classical definitions of art we can get before people realize that we're not really making art anymore." Many of today's fine artists are nothing more than shock charlatans, pandering to an uncultured public.

Architecture used to be an amazing art--especially in the Catholic Church. However, today it has been reduced to the questions of: "How much is this going to cost?" and "How fast/simply can we build it?" Very little thought (if any) goes into the questions of: "How will this design aid in lifting people's minds and hearts to God?"

Let's also consider today's popular music. When compared to Mozart and/or Gregorian Chant, one can begin to see that our culture's music really isn't striving for the true, good and/or beautiful. It's just trying to get our emotions running high.

Our movie industry... well, is Hollywood... Although often visually stunning and emotionally moving in one way or another, what of it really leads us to the true, the good, and/or the beautiful?

Granted, there are exceptions to all of these, but the general overview shows very little true art in our culture.

Unfortunately there is a theme among many Christians [especially in music and architecture] that if we just do things like the rest of society but polish it with a Christian veneer, people will find it familiar and will accept its Christian adjustments.

We [all of society, particularly all of Christianity] need to thoroughly re-examine what true art really is and base all of our artistic endeavors on pursuing that goal.


"Perhaps the problem is the very concept of "Christian Art" as it is understood today. I don't think Michelangelo, or Dante, or Mozart would generally regard their work as "Christian Art", but just universal, "regular" art, enlightened by their Faith."

Great answer, and I think that's the root of the problem. Most of the mainstream "Christian" artists (both Catholic and Protestant) are not interested in making great music or works of art, they are interested in being hip and evangelizing in a way that is attractive to the public in general. I've seldom seen or heard a Christian song or work of art that talks about taking one's cross, making sacrifices, challenging the culture, etc. Most of the things on the Christian pop market are all about accepting Christ and be happy, cool and smart. You certainly don't have to change your lifestyle THAT much, just substitute the ungodly things in your life for something G-rated and Christian-like and voila! To be sure, not all Christian artists are like this, but a great many of them are, (or at least the ones you're most likely to hear in your radio station).

If the mainstream Christian pop market supported things that may not be G-rated or sugary (and may in fact drive us out of our "comfort zones"), but are able to remind us of what Christianity is really all about, much more people would be attracted to Christ's message instead of just shaking their heads at the lameness of the Christian culture in general.


I think there are a couple of forces at work here, both of which have already been touched upon. Art no longer serves the community as it used to. Artists are not exempt from the two great commandments to love God and to love your neighbor. In the last hundred years or so the focus of art has shifted from serving something greater than itself to serving the artist's own ego. Secular society encourages this by lauding "installation art" which gives us urinals in art galleries and tableaus of a dead pope apparently fallen through a skylight. "New" has replaced "beautiful" or even "good" as the defining hallmark of quality in art. Artists are not classically trained, indeed sometimes they are encouraged to not learn their craft and just make art from their heart because, after all, society cannot presume to judge them or their art. As an aside this is reflected in commercial art as well, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a graphic artist that can actually draw. So one problem is that artists are not trained, they are not trained in the history of their vocation or its technical aspects and they are not trained that their gifts are like everyone else's, to be used to build up the Body of Christ.

The second problem as mentioned above is money. Churches no longer patronize artists. When occasionally a church does need art they more often than not turn the project over to a committee that is poorly formed and makes a poorly formed decision in selecting the art. Artists who produce work informed by their faith mostly have to hold down other jobs and make art in between. This is also why so much art is a secular rehash, many artists find work in the secular field and the requirements of the market begin to show even in their "personal" work. Add to that the attitude that to make a living as an artist you have to adapt your style to one that "sells."

I agree that we should lose the term "Christian art." We have art. The art that the art that is informed by faith, that turns hearts and minds to God, encourages us to look past the image to the truth that is being conveyed, that is the art that should be patronized and encouraged. The art that, to paraphrase John Paul II, shows us a world without God, has a place but that place is not alongside the other or in our churches or in our homes.

So what do we need to do? We need to train artists. We need to provide schools where the artistic gifts can be properly formed in the context of faith. As stipulated by Vatican II our priests should be trained in art appreciation and our dioceses should have art and environment committees. And we should patronize our local artists. I know of one cathdral on the west coast that was remodeled, beautifully, but the task of art and decoration was given to an east coast studio and little or no effort was made to reach out to the artists of the diocese. The result truly is stunning but what a wasted opportunity.

But there are some bright spots. The Diocese of Austin has a Sacred Arts Committee that holds shows which connect the artists of the diocese to the priests and laity that may be looking to add to their church or the home. Austin is also one of several places that hold an annual interfaith arts festival. It's a little harder to find the artists but they are there. For visual arts many of them gather at www.smallpax.com a "sketchblog" for Catholic illustrators.

My own poor contributions may be found at www.StudioRampant.com and www.GryphonRampant.com

Matheus F. Ticiani

And coincidentally, Barbara Nicolosi suggests and comments the very same article linked here in her latest post.

Mark Scott Abeln

Excellent post and comments here!

Here is some new Christian music, even though it sounds timeless: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENHsE1_Ye7g

David B.

as the insipid folk-esque musical spoutings of Oregon Catholic Press

No disrespect to Catholic singers, but I am the only one who doesn't like the fact that some male Catholic singers don't sound, male?
It seems that some Catholic dudes think that belting it out is irreverent or something.

If I hear one more guy gasp out 'here I am, LORD,' I'll break the radio (and the song won't be the only reason). :-)


Another problem is that Art isn't a subject well-taught in either grade school or high school. It's easy to teach kids how to dabble and do arts & crafts -- and necessary -- but I'd pay real money for good high school level art history, architecture, and art appreciation texts. Some grade-school level supplements would be nice, too.

If they're out there and I've missed them, point me in the right direction!

Tim J.

The reasons for the crappiness of modern Christian™ art are many.

For one thing, art can't be wholly divorced from culture, and we live in a microwave culture... we want it fast, and above all cheap. Good art (let alone great art) takes time - a lot of time, and it doesn't fit readily onto a profit/loss spread sheet. Poetry doesn't keep the lights turned on or the gas tank full.

And then, we have been so culturally dumbed-down that we mostly lack the capacity to appreciate great art, preferring momentary titillation, which is much easier. Art of beauty and subtlety doesn't compete very well with a Wii.

There has also been a very unfortunate trend for modern Catholics to weigh in on the side of the old Protestant canard that the artistic treasury of the Church is only wicked wastefulness... "It could have been sold for more than a year's wages and the money given to the poor."

As Mother Teresa pointed out, though, there are all kinds of poverty.

In the case of my own art, I tried my hand at religious imagery once and haven't returned to it since. Why? Because the first function of art is to move people, and I didn't feel I was accomplishing that, and wasn't sure how I *would* do so in subsequent work.

So I've been stewing on it. I've been thinkin'. My next foray into religious imagery will be much different. I badly want to get my feet wet again, but I would rather wait and let my ideas ripen and mature than fill the world with mediocre religious pictures "too conventional to be sincere... or too primitive to be popular" in the meantime (nod to G.K. Chesterton).

My job is to find a new wineskin for the ever-new wine of the Gospel, an imagery that is at once fresh and yet timeless and able to carry the ancient truths of the faith. Something culturally relevant, that engages the world without pandering to the fads and fashions of the world. Something that will be as powerful a few centuries from now.

My head hurts.

Some might figure I'm setting the bar impossibly high, but I don't think so. You don't end up with Beef Wellington by making pancakes over and over.

I'll close by saying that the arts - drama, literature, painting, music - all melded into a new art form during the last century... cinema. That is where the point of the spear is, now. If I were twenty again, I'd be into cinematography so fast it would make your head swim.

I'll be happy though, if I can leave behind a few good examples of the more-or-less dead art form that I practice - painting.

james mary evans

Who says Christian art is lacking...

Check out the great Mr. Potato Head Jesus Puppets who came alive during the "closing liturgy" at the 2008 West Coast Call To Action Conference held last week in San Jose, California...

Site: www.fratres.wordpress.com
Click on: "Mr. Potato Head Concelebrates Holy Mass?"

Note: After viewing you will have a strong call to pray deeply.

The Masked Chicken

I have been thinking very hard about this problem for many years and, although, on the surface, it seems like a problem that has many causes, at the heart of it, at the real heart of it, I think that there is only one cause and the ancient Hebrews had a word for it: chokmah, which translates as wisdom - but understand what wisdom meant to an ancient Jew: it was not only knowing the will of God and following it. This word also related to the practical "knowing" of how to do a job properly, with skill based on an appreciation of accumulated knowledge.

Michelangelo, Dante, and Mozart, for examples, all made lasting break-through contributions to art based on Catholic ideas (an important distinction from Catholic art), but it is necessary to note that before an artist breaks away from something, he must first have been held by it. All three artists served severe apprenticeships (Mozart's starting at the age of two) and were grounded in the wisdom of the past, before they superseded it. Wisdom - that is what all three gentlemen had - the wisdom of the accumulated knowledge their art.

Most artists today who serve this kind of apprenticeship can only shake their heads and wonder at the gullibility of the modern audience. Why do you think that the music of the Oregon Catholic Press took over so fast? It was not simply because of economic factors (underpricing other music sellers), but it was because there was no foundation of musical wisdom in the culture when it was introduced to serve as a buffer. The musicologists who were trying to do what was asked of by Vatican II - produce elevating art, were literally shut out of the discussion by liturgists who had no concept of the wisdom of the art. The result was a music that became the shrill cry of an experimental liturgy, not the blending of all that was best in the experience of music for the Mass through the ages.

People bought it. They didn't resist. It was new. Anything new was good. Wisdom was dismissed.

That is the cause of lame art, today: wisdom has been dismissed.

Flannery O'Connor, remarking on the state of reception of Catholic literature once remarked:

The average Catholic reader is a militant moron.

This is not to say that one has to be elitist to produce "wise" art. One merely has to be wise. We have too many elitists in the art circles today and too few really wise artists.

What does it take to be wise? Answer that question and find out how to apply it to the common man and you will have your solution to producing good Catholic art.

Okay - in my next post on this topic (if there is one), I will try to be more historical and realistic as to why there is so much lame art, but I had to do the philosophy, first. This subject really ticks me off. It is to the point where I am considering it a form of scandal for me to sing during Mass, because I have an advanced degree in music (among other things) and if I look like I'm supporting the music, I could give others the impression that it is good music.

Take deep breaths...calm down...got it...

The Chicken

Josh Miller

Some folks nail it here, just like Flannery O'Connor nails it:

The sorry religious novel comes about when the writer supposes that, because of his belief, he is somehow dispensed from the obligation to penetrate concrete reality…But the real novelist, the one with an instinct for what he is about, knows that he cannot approach the infinite directly, that he must penetrate the natural human world as it is.

So, when we get some cheesy picture of Jesus looking like he just threw on a white robe after surfing the California tide, now playing a game of baseball with a couple of third graders, we see exactly what O'Connor is talking about.

When we hear some sappy, uninventive Christian pop song rambling on about how Awesome God is, we know what O'Connor is talking about.

The great masters of art all knew that even though they were painting Jesus, they had to display the human in order to point toward the divine. When you don't do that, however, you're left with pure junk.


Christian art is a ghetto. (Like SF/fantasy -- especially as it used to be.)

Tolkien and C.S. Lewis didn't write Christian fantasy; they just wrote fantasy.


Good filmmaking: http://www.grassrootsfilms.com/

David B.


But Tolkien famously said that LOTR was revised consciously as a 'Catholic' story.

Adam D

I find somewhat curious the contention, put forth a few times here, that there's a problem with the very idea "Christian Art" because, so to paraphrase, "the old masters wouldn't see their art as 'Christian Art.'"

Certainly, there wasn't until recently a dichotomy between the Christian and secular cultures. So all the major artists of the past (in the West) were Christian. But there still existed clear distinctions to the kind of artwork produced. It's not as if every painting or song was a biblical narrative. There were portraits, landscapes, still lifes and other mundane things painted then, as now (or poems, songs, novels, about mundane things). And then there was sacred art. Painted by Christians. Certainly, though they might have different terminology, the old masters must understand that sometimes they were painting Christian Art and sometimes, something else. Take William Bouguereau as an example ... he painted mostly beautiful figures (often nudes) and sometimes a Christian scene. The distinction in his paintings is glaringly obvious.

Today the same distinction stands. I am myself a Christian and an artist. But I make very little Christian Art.

This is all meant just as a defense of an assumed proposition (that there can validly exist a category in the arts called Christian Art) in Jimmy's question to which we're all offering answers.

Matheus F. Ticiani
...the old masters must understand that sometimes they were painting Christian Art and sometimes, something else.

Dear Adam D.

Of course you are right about that. I (and, from what I could gather, also the others)wasn't denying that when I mentioned the issue with the concept of "Christian Art". The difference between then and now was that the old masters were Chistians among the best in their profession, regardless of the theme of each individual work they made. Today's "Christian artists", in general, are far behind their secular conterparts when it comes to artistic skill and sensibility, and then just restrict the scope of their art by labeling it "Christian art", in the modern sense.

Adam D

Thanks for clarifying. I probably should have been reading more closely.

Randolph Carter

Most of what passes for Christian "Art" these days is awful because it is little more than knockoffs of secular art with trite and shallow quasi-religious sentiments hammered into it. Such works are created by men who can see the draw that secular art holds for people, but who often disapprove of the content of such works. So they generally create a low-quality photocopy of it, delete any objectionable elements, ctrl+v in some religious clipart and bible-verses, print it out and try to pawn it off as something new and original. Of course such works of "art" tends to be produced with only the idea of a propagating message in mind, with especial consideration paid to how useful said works will be for "evangelical purposes", and little consideration paid to anything else.

Of course, if one wishes to do something like write a novel, one's first concern must be with writing a novel. There are certain prerogatives that pertain to crafting a story in general and a work of narrative fiction in particular, and observing these must be one's primary concern. All other concerns are secondary. If one pays no attention to pacing, or plot, or characterisation, or dialogue, or prose in the course of novel-writing, and focuses only on getting out the Good News, then the chances are that what you'll end up with at the end of your labours will not be a novel, but a propaganda tract, of the sort interesting only to those who already agree with the views expressed therein, and have some need to see them validated in the form of narrative prose.

In other words, if one is not trying to tell a story for story's sake, then one is likely to wind up with something that does not function well as a story at all, in much the same way that a bridge not built for the sake of accommodating and supporting large burdens of traffic tends to do neither particularly well, much to the dismay of said large burdens that happen to be trying to cross them (and you all know who you are). The same can be said of any of the fine arts, be they music or painting or film, et cetera.

Still, I think there is a deeper problem, which Tim J. touched on above, and that is that our culture is not at all capable of comprehending the sort of truths. It is not only that the forms of expression used by "our" (and I use the term loosely) contemporary popular culture ill-suited to convey any deep or profound truths (the kind with which the Gospels are brimming), but that our culture at large seems to be so very far cut off from the very basic truths and realities that once formed a central part of every culture, whether pagan, Jew, or Christian. The concepts of family, authority, personal loyalty, heredity, servitude, valiance, fatherhood and motherhood, have all been largely effaced -- if not entirely erased -- from our collective cultural consciences. They are the sort of things that few of us can understand or even begin to try and grasp, whether Christian or not. We don't get them, and where our faith requires us to profess them, we often do it somewhat reluctantly, as if we are embarrassed of them, or unthinkingly, without understanding just what we are supposed to be professing.

How can a people who understand nothing of fatherhood be expected to pontificate in any meaningful way about God the Father? How can a people who understand nothing of the place of a man and a woman in marriage be expected to draw any special insight on the relationship between Christ and His bride the Church? Should we be so surprised that so much Christian art is shoddy, when we are so often ill acquainted with the very truths at the heart of our Christian faith? We have so little real grasp of scripture that we are embarrassed of it, talking about certain "hard passages" that we tend to feel uncomfortable talking about, and even going so far as to make large chunks of certain readings "optional", because speaking them aloud in a crowded church is likely to raise more chaos than crying out "Fire! Fire!" in a crowded theatre. We cannot even understand the patrimonialism of the ancient Semitic, Latin, Celtic and German pagans, let alone the patriarchalism of the ancient Jews, from the bloodline of whose king was God born into the world. And it seems that as our understands less and less everyday.

Still, I do think that there is such a thing as "Christian art", which is the sort of art that is essentially steeped in or borne from a Christian worldview. I also think that there has certainly been great Christian art in the none-too-distant past, and that there is, in fact, some great Christian art being produced today (though today it is incredibly rare). We need only look at the novels of Dostoevsky, the poetry of Milton, the music of Handel to see the sort of works that are Christian both in tone and content. More recently I could point to the films of Andrei Tarkovsky as being great works of art, and dealing with explicitly Christian themes in a way that directly stems from and is united with their strength of storytelling. Gene Wolfe certainly steeps his novels in a deeply Catholic worldview, and has in fact included explicitly Catholic elements of spirituality in some of his tales -- and yet I think that Mr. Wolfe is certainly the greatest living novelist writing in the English language today (Why he doesn't get more attention from either the science-fiction community, or from his fellow Catholics, truly baffles me -- the man is a genius of the highest calibre and his novels will certainly outlast this trite and sordid age; but then I suppose that once Mr. Wolfe passes on, and once his estate licences out one of his books to a studio to be made into a major motion picture, then Christians will be quick to sing his praises as they were for Tolkien. It would seem all a great Christian artist has to do to get recognition from his fellow Christians is to become sufficiently popular in the culture at large, and also to die: aaaaaand with that thought I think it's best that I bid you good night).

The Masked Chicken

I am sorry for the dour tone of my remarks, above. I did not mean to make Flannery O'Connor sound as if she held Catholic readers in low regard.

It sounds as if many people are pointing to the same thing: the reason for the lame art is a problem of the heart, not the brush.

The Masked Chicken

Cure of Ars

To quote Chesterton, anything worth doing is worth doing badly. So we should not be so hard on lame music. People are just doing the best they can with what they got. I agree in it's lameness but I would say 90% of all art is lame. The problem is that contemporary styles have the emotional range of a tea spoon. Lust, anger, and despair is about the full range but it is good in that range. But if you try to fit Christ into this limited range it is a recipe for lameness. So what are the options for Christian? You can ether create a brand new genre which is very hard to do or go back to the old stuff and sound out of date.

I think the other problem is that our taste in music has to do with our identities. With the fragmentation of Christianity into all these little churches there is not a shared Christian identity making it harder to make a workable genre.


To quote Chesterton, anything worth doing is worth doing badly. So we should not be so hard on lame music. People are just doing the best they can with what they got.

Not necessarily. First, people aren't necessarily doing the best they can; sometimes they're just settling. Secondly, sometimes being hard on people is the only thing that prompts them to do better. I know some of my best work has been done after people went hard on me for earlier flawed work. That's part of what criticism is all about.

The problem is that contemporary styles have the emotional range of a tea spoon. Lust, anger, and despair is about the full range but it is good in that range. But if you try to fit Christ into this limited range it is a recipe for lameness.

I don't buy this. A musical style can express anger, but I don't believe a musical style per se can express "lust" or "despair." And anger can be holy or unholy. The Psalms are full of anger. Make an angry song about something worth being angry about and there's no reason why it needs to be lame.

Cure of Ars

I guess what I’m saying is that a gangster Jesus, a pop Jesus, a thrash guitar Jesus, and a country Jesus is all going to be, at some level, inherently lame. No amount of effort or skill will change this inherent lameness. But given this, there is still some value in going there because that is where people are at.

Lameness has a lot to do with what someone can relate to and identify with. The problem is with the audience and our culture as much as the artist. It is going to require a new genre and a new culture around this genre to be able to make really great (un-lame) Christian art.


I guess what I’m saying is that a gangster Jesus, a pop Jesus, a thrash guitar Jesus, and a country Jesus is all going to be, at some level, inherently lame.

Well, okay, when you put it like that. Particularly in the case of "gangster," which implies content as well as form. Yet certainly in pop or country I think it is possible to seek truth and beauty (not just lust and anger), and therefore to speak creatively from a Christian worldview. (I have to prescind on "thrash" as a subgenre I don't know enough about.)

Even in the case of gangsta rap, while the cultural milieu necessarily imposes serious limitations, I submit that if Jesus has something to say to gangstas -- and He does -- then gangsta rap can have something to say about Jesus. Nearly any form can be creatively used to subvert its own milieu, even if it is only by way of exposing its own inadequacies.

Lameness has a lot to do with what someone can relate to and identify with. The problem is with the audience and our culture as much as the artist. It is going to require a new genre and a new culture around this genre to be able to make really great (un-lame) Christian art.

I agree that there is something to what you say. Yet non-lame art is still possible within the current cultural milieu, and there's no reason why Christians should be per se handicapped relative to other artists.

Paul Rimmer

There is a difference between contemporary and modern.

Magnum Mysterium, by Morten Lauridson, and in fact any religious work by the fellow, is absolutely beautiful and absolutely modern.

Something modern that would sound good with the EF mass.

Nonrepresentational art, though, I have trouble with in Mass. All the art should represent something, and something objective, please.

Paul Rimmer

Lauredsen! my bad. Lauredsen! not Lauredson...

Paul Rimmer

Lauridsen... why can't I spell today? Sorry.

Cure of Ars

I think we agree SDG.

A genre has unspoken rules that come from the world view of its culture. If you break these rules the audience will not have ears to hear and will not identify with the music and it will sound lame. All secular genres have as an unspoken rule that God is a private matter that should be compartmentalized outside the music. This rule is so consistently applied that people are conditioned to hear the music in this way, even religious people. A Christian that is going to work within secular genre is handicapped because he/she has to try to stay within the genre rules while at the same time express the truth in an indirect way that avoids breaking the rules. You have to be really good to pull this off.

The other option is to break the rules of the secular genre. To explicitly break the rules of a genre is to create a new genre and this only works within a different culture/community.

For example Phatmass does Catholic hip hop. It is explicit about Christ in its lyrics. For me it is not lame. I can identify with it and they are not trying to be something they are not. I would say, even from a small pool of artists, that it is just as good as secular hip hop. But if you play this music to the secular audience of hip hop it will sound lame and they won’t identify with it. Phatmass has its own culture and it is interesting to me that it is drifting toward a lot of classical instruments and sounds in their tracts. Give it enough time to develop within its culture; it would end up sounding little like current hip hop. There are a lot of talented people who are a part of Phatmass. They would love to be able make music full time but there is not a large enough audience to support this. Christian culture is too fragmented. Secular culture is not and this is why they are producing better art in most cases.

Dr. Acula

To quote Hank Hill:

"You're not making Christianity better, you're making Rock worse!"

The Masked Chicken

Well, perhaps a forensic approach might help: when was the last time you saw the victim alive? In other words, when was the last time that Catholic/Christian art was not lame? In looking for reasons why today's art is so lame, perhaps one should start at that point and work forward.

The Chicken

Paul Rimmer

I don't think it's really gotten all that lame, except in certain circles.

Contemporary music is (and has been since the Middle Ages, and likely before), as the Pope has said, "utility music". It's great for many things, but not Church.

Modern music, much of it, is beautiful, and many modern choral works are absolutely stunning, and are very worthy of use in Mass. Sadly, Catholics don't seem to put much use to them (though the EF mass I attend has performed some modern works), in general.

So my contention is that the victim is still alive.


All secular genres have as an unspoken rule that God is a private matter that should be compartmentalized outside the music.

I don't listen to much music except for a little country and mostly older country on my ipod. There is a lot of pathetic country songs: content and form wise; but sometimes, some people hit it right and for me personally the faith element is a good one.

Some people might think it ridiculous, but when my sister called me once to tell me how moved she was by a song written and sung by Martina McBride. I asked her for the title and some of the lyrics. I immediately connected the song with a prayer written by Mother Teresa. And Martina McBride sung that on Primetime television if I'm not mistaken. I also liked Josh Turner 2004 song 'Long Black Train' about the appeal and destructive force of sin in our lives; and I'm partial to Rascal Flatts, for example, "Bless The Broken Road."

I doubt these songs will be remembered in a couple hundred years and they don't exactly exhibit the genius of a painting my Michelangelo but for me they do just fine when I'm driving home in my old geo metro and just want a fun song that is not totally void of any faith or an appreciation of God's hand at work in my life.

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Someone once said that every age builds the churches they deserve. While spoken of architecture, that phrase seems to fit the Christian arts that serve the Church as well. I won't even touch the musical arts, as others have done so. But on the visual... I agree it is a problem of the heart... in the artists, in the liturgists, in the clergy, in the parishioners, in the public.

I read recently of what is needed to make a thriving arts community... accomplished artists, galleries to show the art, journalists to review and make news, buying public willing to shell out for original art, schools to teach art...

We have all talked about 'Christian artists.' Where are the 'Christian Art Galleries' that are to sell new works by the elusive christian artist? (I am not talking about the bookstores with reproduction icons or resin statues cast in china.) Where are the prestigious Journals of Christian Visual Arts? How many parishioners in their lifetime have ever commissioned an original piece of art for their home, parish, school, etc? How many priests have set priorities and budgets to hire local artists? How many liturgists actually aren't afraid of Christian images and iconography? How many Seminaries actually teach significant courses in Christian visual art and iconography? How many arts faculty at Catholic Universities actually make and teach art dealing with biblical or christian themes?

We can also look at it statistically...Only 25% of the nation self identifying as 'Catholic' and weekly mass attendance (and tithing support) is far lower...

If a christian sculptor carved a tree in the woods, would anybody come to see it? buy it? Use it for public or private worship?

Mark Scott Abeln

It's time for everyone to get to work on making excellent Christian art!

St. Catherine of Bologna, pray for us!


Randolph Carter has written one of the best posts, IMHO, to appear on this blog.

This issue is very complex, and is a major part of the nexus of core issues facing Catholicism today.

In the final assessment, I believe the only way forward is an organic continuity with the past. That must start with a wholesale revival of monastic life, such as Clear Creek lives out.

Only in a Church that views unbridled and total dedication to serving God as a value will we have widespread glorious (as in, giving glory to God) music, art, liturgy, families, vocations, architecture, homiletics, catachesis, education, and ultimately-- lives.

As long as WE remain the objection of worship, we are doomed to mediocrity.


The best sacred music, particularly that used at Mass, should not allow you to be detached. It should move you, draw you in. More often than not, the variations of music used for the Kyrie, Gloria, Gospel Acclamation and even the great Amen sound as though the notes were thrown into a jar, shaken and then dumped out on the page like jacks, or voodoo chicken bones. And then the same thing is done all over again in a week or two with regularity so that very few sing anyway, because they are not sure what is coming next, nor are they moved by it.
There is such a thing as a natural flow, a naturally expected flow that is essential to liturgy that expects participation by more than the cantor and choir. When canting and expecting a response, the response should be almost musically compelled as a completion, or at least as a natural progression. It can be relatively simple and at the same time deeply moving.
I have never experienced a complete liturgy at a Byzantine Catholic parish, but what I have heard could help inform us in the Latin rite.
As for great use of voice and choral singing give me the Russian liturgy any day over the great German composers, with its generous use of the basso profondo, all a cappella. Now that calms the soul and opens the heart for worship. I'd love to borrow some of that for our liturgy.
Just one nice example:

Jim Jankengt

I am a Christian and a visual artist. I guess it is for others to judge whether my work is lame or not. But I know many hard working artists who are Christians who have made many sacrifices to create work that in my opinion have much integrity. John Cobb, Doug Jaques, David Kroft, Tim High, Katherine Brimberry, Laura Jennings, Baker Galloway just to name a few that live in Austin. There are many more- check out the artist associated with the International Arts Movement lead by Mako Fujimura or Christians in the Visual Arts. There is much excellent work being done that you may not know about. The best thing you can do to encourage Christian artist is to buy a painting or commission a work.

Fr. Shane Tharp

I am probably repeating someone else's observation but here it is. Personally, I would say that the general state of the arts, secular or religiously informed, has slid down in the last century. How many novels have you read lately that you set down and thought, "That's going to be around and important 50 years from now?" Maybe it's my reading selection, but I haven't hit too many. Second, the reason many of the mentioned legendary artists were able to do their work was because the leadership of the Church took an active role in sponsoring these works. Some one has got to pay the struggling genius to make the genius artwork. Third, as far as evangelical Christianity goes, given that my experience is very superficial and tangential, I would only offer this thought. I have noticed that there is a disconnection in many camps between theology and practice. For example, I can go into the local major chain of Protestant run religious goods store and purchase a large framed portrait of Jesus and a stack of Jack Chick pamphlets condemning the practice of making images and statues. Or, my personal favor moment occurred when at an ecumenical prayer service in which the presiding, non-Catholic minister proceeded to claim that his people knew how to pray from the heart and not to use repeative phrases, only to follow that up with a song with one verse repeated 10-20 times before it was done. If there is lameness in the art (here "lame" being used in the sense of "not strong") perhaps this is the reason why. The faith which informs works like Dante's and Michaelangelo's makes the work more affecting and affective even beyond the preternatural talent they possessed. The talent makes it great; the faith makes it sublime.
Sorry to go on and on.


Thank you, Jimmy. It's so nice to hear Christians admit to the lameness of Christian art (music, especially, as that's what I'm most familiar with). I thought it was just me, as an "outsider", thinking the stuff they play on the radio on Christian stations is lame.

It was mentioned in other comments, but the idea that art and faith can be compartmentalized, and "marketed", and targeted to specific "demographics" has always been an odd concept to me. Perhaps the Michelangelos and the Mozarts were such great artists precisely because they were living in a time when the Christian religion permeated every facet of daily life, and they weren't necessarily focused on making great "Christian" art, though the subject matter was certainly Christian, but great art, period.

Great art is great art because it shows us something of beauty, something of truth, and yes, something of God.


The Church used to be the main patron of the arts. Then, it was the princes. Now it is the record labels and other commercial entities. They pay for what they want, so that is what we see.

Another reason is that most believers, whether evangelical, confessional or Catholic, do not have a Christian worldview, nor are we steeped in the culture of Christendom, instead, we are often of the world, but not in it. So we produce sanitized knock-offs of the secular commercial schlockkultur. We don't know any better.

We fix that through (far better) life-long catechesis. In our adult ed classes, and in our parochial schools, every field must be taught as understood from the Christian theological base, for this to happen, the teachers and administrators have to be taught this, as well as congregational leaders.

If this is to work, it may have to come from the bottom up.

One thing that makes this so tragic is that the young of today are looking for ancient truth, looking for wisdom and beauty that are -different- from the mass commercial culture. We have great cultural riches, but we don't know that we have them, or what they are.

Kevin Jones

Hank Hill on Christian rock:

"Can't you see you're not making Christianity better? You're just making rock and roll worse!"

Lots of disorganized thoughts:

Secular artists can treat talent as substitute for piety. The reverse is true among Christian artists.

The idea that anyone can be an artist, that anything counts as art, seems related to the idea that anybody can interpret Scripture. Untrained private judgement dooms us all.

Christian rock's problems possibly relate to the genre's origins as dance music. Think how ludicrous "Christian swing" would be, with a "Christian Glen Miller" or a "Christian Frank Sinatra." Such music is about snuggling up to your main squeeze and having a good time--perfectly good things, within reason. The genre is predominantly erotic, and often a rebellious, superficial eroticism at that, but is there any need to "Christianize" even the best of it? Despite Baby Boomer praises for Rock, it's really not that worthy of veneration.

I suspect because the secular space for things like parades and carnivals and processions has declined, people think folk music that used to be heard in such contexts can now only be heard in church. Because of the dominance of corporation-based talent and styles, we don't have anywhere else to put our music. So we get stuck with folksy "Merrie England"-sounding stuff, or stuff that sounds like it's from a Spanish plaza, in the middle of the Divine Liturgy.

I'll repeat another writer's endorsement of Country as a good example of secular, talented music that is open to God. I also say we need more Church songs that can be sung by baritones and basses. As it is now, I feel like I have to sound like a nasal metrosexual lest I disrupt the harmony of the songs.

The Masked Chicken

Dear Labrialumn,

You wrote that for there to be a change it may have to come from the bottom up. Unfortunately, that is partially what is happening. First, some theology:

Faith seeks the truth; the will seeks the good (there, that was painless). It is up to faith to inform the will what truth is and it is up to the will to act on the truth as this is the highest good.

The problem, nowadays is in what one might call convergence. To use the theological model, once such forces as Postmodernism and television began the march to an equality of opinion, such that everyone's opinion of what was true in art became equally valid, coupled with the decline of critics who could sway the opinion of society in the arts (with the exception of movies - critics are still somewhat able to sway opinion, there), the connection between the truth of art and the good of art became separated.

Now, even though there still are critics - specialist who can judge the true worth of a piece of art - few listen. For many people, if it feels like a good to them, then they automatically believe that it is also true.

It is as if faith and will have become detached. A man's will sees a beautiful woman (a good), but it is up to the faith to inform him that he should not sleep with her unless she is his wife. In the arts, a man hears a pleasant sound or sight (a good), but it is up to the critics and other professional artists to inform him that the painting or music, while harmless, has very little merit (note: I am not saying that sleeping with someone with whom one is not married is either exactly the same thing as music or paintings nor that it is harmless).

My point is that people want to be led to the truth, but because critics have dropped the ball, record moguls have stepped in. They are the purveyors of what is true, now. How else can one account for teenagers who have 2000 songs on their ipod by the same cookie-cutter boy bands? They have been told that this is good music and they can no longer tell the difference.

I am sort of a pessimist on this topic. As long as the forces of equality continue and sane critics do not develop a louder voice, we will continue to have lame art.

If the Vatican would step in and declare that most of American Mass music were junk, I guarantee that it would only take a few years before a revolution in Mass music would occur. As long as this does not happen, there will be no corrective, no way to establish what is good Mass music.

There is not so much doubt about art in a subject like figure skating, because, for the most part, people still trust the judges.

When I tell people that On Eagles Wings is treacle, and although I am qualified to say so, no one listens. No, their opinion is not just as good as mine. That is not elitism. I have about thirty years worth of study in the field of music. I could be a music critic (I prefer to make my money in the sciences).

The bottom is partially fueling the lameness in art because they don't know any better. The top is partially fueling it because they either cannot be heard or they have their own agendas.

Look at television. In the 1950's there was one sponsor for each program. The sponsor wanted to be associated with high quality broadcasting, so many of the shows featured high quality programs, such as Playhouse 90 and yet, even here, Newton Minow and Marshall McLuhan could call tv a vast wasteland or say that the medium is the message. In 1960 or so, tv became deregulated. Now, producers had to find their own funding and the sponsor system became a seller's market. Producers had to produce programing that would attract sponsors, not edify viewers. This began the slide towards schlock programing, which has continued, today. Is American Idol really good tv? I finally stopped watching tv when I realized that I was nothing more that a mark for a con game - let us sell you the junk food you crave, not the health food you need.

Historically, this trend began in the 1950's with the introduction of the 45 rpm record. The only way these could be profitable is if they were sold in bulk, so record producers had to produce an audience that would crave their records. They became wildly successful in using every underhanded advertising technique in the book. They recruited the aid of the new social psychologists. Records became more about appetites than about beauty.

Sadly, this was known even in the 1950's. Although there were lines of women waiting to see Frank Sinatra in the 1940's, the difference is that they only heard Sinatra once, at that concert. They did not have a 45 rpm record that one could play over and over and over again until that sound became their definition of the art.

Do you want to see a return to good art? The solution is simple - make art scarce. Get rid of the dvd, the stereo. If a person could only see a performance once, I guarantee he would remember it and would seek the highest art to be associated with because it would have such an impact on his life.

Chant is good art because chant is scarce. It was originally song only by a few and few could understand it. The problem, today, is that many people produce Christian music and they all say the same, easy to understand thing - God loves you. Fine, but oh, let that person be exposed to evil or unanswered prayer and then they begin to find out that they have no idea what God's love is all about. Only then will they begin to seek out an art that can point them to a higher understanding. Ultimately, it is the poor, the suffering, the lonely, and the joyful who understand why art is art. We have far too many rich people today. They do not understand art. The people who created chant had taken vows of poverty. Wesley's hymns were first sung by the poor. When the Lord said to sell all that one had and one would have treasure in heaven, he could also have been speaking about art, in a sense, as well.

[Copies of the above tirade may be obtained by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to: The Soapbox c/o The Masked Chicken at Chicken Headquarters, PO box 1313, Imsowhiny Plaza, Chickenville, USA.]

The Masked Chicken

Jared Weber

A lot of good analysis here. My two cents:

Veronica wrote: "I've seldom seen or heard a Christian song or work of art that talks about taking one's cross, making sacrifices, challenging the culture, etc."

I've been listening to the exceptions lately, particularly since the distinctively ANGRY songs make REALLY good workout music. Such is some of the music of Creed (who, though they tended to shy away from the term "Christian" had some very Christian themes) and a Catholic HIP-HOP artist named Akalyte.

A sampling of lyrics from Akalyte:

"You perverts can laugh when you hear these words, but Holy Matrimony was designed by God."

"The Pope is so Dope, everybody wants to sit in his seat, and everybody wants to be a Saint Pete. Korah gave Moses heat, saying everybody had the right to lead but those who chose to revolt were swallowed by the earth. You see
Numbers 26:9, now you read. You contend against the Lord, when you protest the one he sent to feed the sheep, the line he blessed for keeps.
The only mortal man who ever walked on water.
Happens to be, the first man of the Holy See."

"Bring it on. It's naught compared to the strength we bear. ... The evil one and his army don't have a prayer. Holy father after holy father givin' Hell the cold stare."

Mike Johnson

Wow.... that IS incredibly cheezy. "The pope is so dope"...and it just goes downhill from there. Of course, I'm not particularly fond of secular rap or hip-hop either but corny lyrics seem more appropriate to that realm. Isn't it sacriledge to treat something sacred as if it were ordinary? Sacred THINGS are "set apart" from the ordinary things of the world. You wouldn't use a crucifix as a doorstop or holy water to clean your bathtub. I grew up in the 80's but never once did it occur to me to describe the holy sacrifice of the Mass as "totally bitchin'" or "knarly". Words fall short, especially trendy words as the "zeitgeist" is perpetually passing away, unlike the eternal. It seems to me that this is the heart of the problem with much contemporary Christian music. I think there should be a clear distinction between secular and sacred music because they serve 2 different purposes. When we try to mix the 2 it is often treating the sacred music as if it is "ordinary". It loses it's sense of sacredness and therefore comes off as goofy. I believe that many contemporary Christian music composers have lost sight of this as they chase after contempoaray secular musical trends that are really not appropriate for sacred art. You can't accurately express the eternal through the things that are "passing away"... When they sing about God it shouldn't remind me of my last trip to the shopping mall, but lift my heart and mind beyond these things. The art of Michaelangelo does this. Most contemporary Christian art, sadly, does not.


Lots of good comments here. I don't think that "Christian" art is lame. Most art today is lame.

I had dreamed of being an artist since I was little. Then in college I got a taste of "real" art. Everybody was so busy trying to be different they forgot to be good. And heaven help you if you disagreed with the Prof! I made the mistake of speaking my mind once. My drawings had been compared by my instructors to those of Matisse-- right up until I questioned them. Then everything I did was "sophomoric."

It is any wonder that art of all kinds- visual, musical, architectural, or utile -- is so lame?


Hmmmm, when I see the "Divine Mercy" portrait, which is every time I walk into my church, I see Lisa Simpson sitting on her bed reading a magazine called "Non-threatening Boys".

Tim J.

"Do you want to see a return to good art? The solution is simple - make art scarce."

Lot of truth to that, though it isn't that simple.

Look, why would most people think about patiently commissioning and collecting original works of art for their home or office when they can get a whole raft of framed prints for a fraction of the cost? And they can fill rooms with it and have all their decorating done at one whack, cheap. Then, when they get tired of those pieces, they can just throw them away and buy more.

What they may not know or appreciate is that the viewing of original art is an experience of a much higher order, like the difference between listening to a classical music CD in your car (which is nice) and attending a real, live concert by a full orchestra (which can bring tears and make your hairs stand on end).

Why would a church launch a building program that could take decades (and cost more, to boot), when most of their parishioners won't be around that long and want results NOW?

I was on a parish building sub-committee once. It started out with a lot of "town hall" type meetings to determine what people wanted from their new church building. Not surprisingly, this was a hodge-podge with no real consensus. Farther along in the process, one came to understand that the building WOULD be designed by the Liturgical Consultant and the architects hired by the diocese (which was providing the loan) the desires of the pew-sitters be hanged.

When the meetings came down to questions like "What color concrete would you prefer, beige or tan?" I knew they didn't need my input (or anyone else's) and I stopped going.

Art - the experience of fine art - just is not the priority in our culture that it has been for some others. Artists will just have to do what they do, anyway.


I would have to say that Christian art today is lame because all art today is lame. But when I say that, I mean all art that is meaning promoted in the galleries and such.

I am the webmaster for a classical modern photographer. She studied under Anzel Adams and has taught and some of the finest art schools yet she is routinely rejected from galleries. He work is too nice.

You take a look at what they are showing. The most recent gallery that rejected her in New York called her work beautiful and compelling but too charming and genteel for their gallery. When I look at the photography they are currently showing, the best way I can describe is Creepy. The purpose of popular art these days is not to build up but rather to tear apart.

Dr. Eric


It's good to see you around. :)

In my undergrad days, I was the lead singer/lead guitarist for a rock band. We were in a "Battle of the Bands" in the college town where I attended the University. We were up against a very heavy Heavy Metal Band.

I remember that the singer said, "This one's called 'World Without Sin.,'" and proceeded to bark out a skull crushing tirade ala "Head Bangers Ball." I mean all screaming and growling with the bottom E string dropped to C and the rest of the strings all dropped a whole step. Really dark sounding it was.

To which my bass player replied, "Yeah, it really sounds like a world without sin," in his usual sarcastic tone.

It turns out that it was a "Christian" "Goth-Metal" band.

I am coming to the conclusion more and more that rock is the devil's music. I'm not totally sold on the idea yet.


like the difference between listening to a classical music CD in your car (which is nice) and attending a real, live concert by a full orchestra (which can bring tears and make your hairs stand on end).

And there are many appreciators of classical music who experience tears and hairs standing on end while listening to classical music CDs in the car, or on a walkman, ipod, TV or whatever. There have also been many a "real, live concert by a full orchestra" that has had peoples’ hairs standing on end and itching to leave.

The Masked Chicken

Dear Tim J.,

You wrote:

What they may not know or appreciate is that the viewing of original art is an experience of a much higher order, like the difference between listening to a classical music CD in your car (which is nice) and attending a real, live concert by a full orchestra (which can bring tears and make your hairs stand on end).

I agree, for the most part. Unfortunately, some of today's popular music has been "sweetened" by mixing to the point where sometimes the live version sounds disappointing. Sometimes, the recorded version sounds too good to be true. I once made a recording for Columbia records that was released overseas and when I listen to the CD, I know the group I was playing in did not sound that good. I was in the recording session.

The thing about original art and live music is that it is always on the verge of disappearing, just like real life. People today do not want to be reminded of the shortness of life. They want a picture that will always be safe. They want music they can play over and over again to pretend that their life will always go on.

This may be the first period in history where that is so, The fear of death is so great in modern culture that it is no wonder that people don't want to take a risk on art. I suspect that the reason there is so much bad art (not just lame art, bu the really insulting kind) that is labeled as good art is because people know in their heart of hearts that it IS bad art and by accepting it as good art they can say, at least temporarily, that they cannot die because they haven't see the really good stuff, yet. It is a way of running away from the transcendence of life and real art. If they choose banal art, they never worry have to facing what lies beyond it.

Catholics in the modern world are no different. Many do not know why they baptize infants or why they should call a priest for the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. They want to be safe. They want to pretend that nothing bad will ever happen.

Real art has a sense of urgency. So does life. There is a famous movie called, Enchantment, which is based on a novel by Rumer Godden called, Take Three Tenses: a fugue in time. It did not do well at the box office, but that is besides the point. It is a complicated and well-worth watching love story that connects two different time periods during two different wars (Civil War and WW II). I highly recommend it. At the end of the film, when the WW II war officer is about ready to catch a train to go back to the front, the old man who lives in the house and has the history of unrequited love during the Civil War (which is played in flashbacks as sort of a commentary on the modern story), says to the young lady (an army nurse) who has fallen in love with the officer, but is afraid to make a commitment:

"Young lady, don't every stop to bargain with happiness...for in one wasted moment a train might leave, a ship might sail...a man might die. If you love him, go after him or forever be content with never knowing."

That is the current predicament in art. Too many people are stopping to bargain with happiness. They do not realize that this is the only life they have and they must go after life and go after art or forever be content with never knowing it.

The Mass of today does not adequately prepare people for death. There, I've told the secret for why there is so little good Catholic art. We are not just steeped in history as Cardinal Newman recommends, we are positively drowning in it. When history, the repetition of things, becomes confused with a life that must end and is lived only once, then we have bad art. Let people dwell on death for a day and it would be enough to rid the pews of every bad song and the churches of every bad work of art.

My, what a cheery topic for a Friday afternoon!

The Chicken

The Masked Chicken

I wrote:

The Mass of today does not adequately prepare people for death.

What I meant to write was:

The Mass of today does not adequately prepare people to think about death.

Of course, the Mass of today prepares people for death as well as the Masses of the past, since they are all the same Mass. It is just that in the older Masses the thought of death was more front and center.

The Chicken


Don't we need to distinguish here between mass culture and fine art?

Tim J.

"And there are many appreciators of classical music who experience tears and hairs standing on end while listening to classical music CDs in the car, or on a walkman, ipod, TV or whatever. There have also been many a "real, live concert by a full orchestra" that has had peoples’ hairs standing on end and itching to leave"

My point was that the SAME classical performance, heard live, will be superior to the canned version, and I'll add "every time". There is something lost in the translation.

There WILL be depths to the performance that CAN'T be translated to a recording, especially a typical digital recording, which often lacks the organic warmth of old analog methods. Not that those methods are better, or even preferable, but modern techniques have their shortcomings, too.

The performance of pop music is accomplished as much at the mixing board as at the mic. Maybe more so.

Long and short; any good painting will be more rewarding to view in person than in reproduction. Period.

Tim J.

Let me clarify with this observation; a really bad classical music concert will be EVEN WORSE heard live. The recording will keep you from appreciating how truly awful it was.


Adam D

I'm happy to get behind Tim on the subject of reproduced paintings, but think the comparison to music is a tricky one, as they're not perfectly analogous. I think it's actually okay to consider recorded music as a form unto itself, even one with certain benefits over live-performed music. So a couple people immediately take umbrage to the broad generalization that live music is always better. So recorded music can often be meant to be a work unto itself where there's no analogous thing for paintings. Prints belong properly to the realm of photographs, etchings and digital drawings, not paintings. The analogy can be stated somewhat more strongly in music if restricted to classical pieces, as Tim has done in clarifying comments, but, as I say, the analogy to painting isn't quite parallel.

Tim J.

"...but (I) think the comparison to music is a tricky one, as they're not perfectly analogous."

No, not parallel, and that is partly why I restricted my analogy to classical music performances.

I enjoy a good deal of modern music that is obviously made *for* reproduction. It is manufactured piece by piece, carefully assembled and tweaked, and then mass produced. That's more analogous to television than to painting or sculpture.

Orchestral concerts are not that way. It's partly about acoustics and the way the sound envelops the audience at a live orchestra concert... but as you say, the analogy is imperfect.

Good paintings reward close inspection, and reveal more depth as a viewer approaches. This is part of the experience of a piece of fine art... the approach. The piece must hold together from across the room, from a middle distance, and ultimately should draw the viewer in and allow them to experience continually deepening subtleties of transparency, texture and expressive brushwork, etc...

Much of this is lost or flattened out in a reproduction. There are color effects to some paintings, especially certain masterworks (the Flemish were just crazy good at this sort of thing) that simply can't be duplicated mechanically.

In fact, this is how paintings often fail... by looking okay from a distance, or in reproduction, but falling apart on closer inspection. Dull brushwork, flat color, overworked or muddy passages, might be overlooked somewhat, in a print, but in person these shortcomings are revealed.

Art that *does* have this kind of depth MUST be seen in person to be fully appreciated. This experience is a gift from the artist to everyone that views the piece, now or 500 years from now. That is one reason why original fine art is categorically an experience of a higher order than viewing mass-produced art.


My point was that the SAME classical performance, heard live, will be superior to the canned version, and I'll add "every time". There is something lost in the translation.

There is something "lost" when sugar is refined, oranges are peeled and ear plugs inserted, but many consider such refinement to be "superior," while others may prefer it raw. Both the human ear and the microphone are listening devices. Neither is free from "losses in translation" or additions, and that can be good or bad. Even if both listened exactly alike with no losses or additions, what someone sitting in the audience might hear would not be exactly what the microphone would hear somewhere else. Different seats (or "canned" vs "live") offer different experiences, and even if seated alike, no two people see or hear things exactly the same. If a direct side-by-side choice were available, some people would in fact prefer to listen to the same performance "canned" while others would prefer to listen to it "live."

a really bad classical music concert will be EVEN WORSE heard live.

Good that you admit that it can be better –or- worse, not always just one way.

that is partly why I restricted my analogy to classical music performances. I enjoy a good deal of modern music that is obviously made *for* reproduction. It is manufactured piece by piece, carefully assembled and tweaked, and then mass produced… Orchestral concerts are not that way.

Classical music recordings can also provide a level and type of performance not heard live, often having been tweaked and carefully assembled piece by piece. This is just one of the ways classical recordings can offer a performance "superior" to the live concert.

It's partly about acoustics and the way the sound envelops the audience at a live orchestra concert.

Good that you admit there’s more to it than acoustics and the way the sound envelops the audience. (And, classical music is more than orchestral concerts. Much of classical music involves no orchestra at all.) The experience of a live performance is more than anything you could list, and sometimes that "more" renders the overall experience "less," if not simply different. There are many ways that "canned" sound can "envelop" a person that a live orchestra cannot, and many aspects of a live concert that can envelop a person in ways obstructive to listening.

Warren Anderson

Ok, a brief rant first. One minute a saint, the next a sinner. I help out at a parish as a music leader. I prefer the term cantor. The pianist I work with is a performance major from the college at which I teach. I teach vocal and instrumental music. Comments on any given Sunday range from - "Thank you for providing music with singable melodies" to "What happened to the dancey music?" For a start, I don't do "dancey" music, at least not any more. When one women who came forward this past Sunday, a woman who has known me since I converted to Catholicism, she politely complained I had lost that "upbeat thing" of the past (Haugen and Haas and St. Louis Jesuits - oh my!). I was tempted to say that I had merely I had grown up. The Catholic Book of Worship III is the better of two hymnals one can use, which is to say the CBWIII is the lesser of two evils - but not by much. The newspeak hymns and the sappy newer melodies are, in a word, atrocious. I choose hymns according to the Readings of the Mass, hymns that might be classified as "the classics". I write psalm settings and I arrange Palestrina, Byrd, Victoria, et al for instruments because there are not enough voices (...yet) to sing works of substance. Such is the life of a parish musician.

Ok - rant over.

The work of creating art for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass can be helped along by establishing institutes of excellence in art - architecture, music, visual art (iconography, stained glass, statuary, etc.), vestments, sacred vessels, etc. There must be control over what is accepted into the Liturgy, which means hymnals must be produced under the strictest of guidelines overseen by Conferences of Bishops. Those same hymnals must only contain works of the highest quality by competent (trained, expert), faithful Catholics. Let's face it, most people in the pew get a lot of their theological formation through music, and if that music is heterodox or just plain pagan, then the work should be overseen by competent theological authorities. We need artist-theologians, and they are "out there". One example, a superb example - Pope Benedict XVI.

Tim J.

You know Martin, you seem to be working a contrarian angle just for the heck of it, assiduously avoiding the point I was making by bringing in every conceivable exception.

If you really can't comprehend the difference between a pair of ear-buds and a live concert, then you have my pity.


Art is intrinsically self-indulgent and self-centered. This particularly true of Western art, where the artist is, in a sense, the art. The art of indigenous peoples (African, Native American etc.) is purer art, as is evidenced most clearly by the fact that the artwork is generally not attributed to a particular artist. African art is usually not signed, for example. The prototypical western artist is Van Gogh. One views his art through the prism of the knowledge that he cut off his own ear and eventually did himself in. Can anyone deny that his artwork would be worth much less now if he'd lived a happy life and died of old age?

Heartfelt Christians are naturally possessed of a higher degree of humility, so they'e reluctant to strike the self-conscious pose of the artist. Christian art will always tend to suck. The truest art of the Christian is his/her own life.

"nor did we seek praise from human beings" 1Thess 2:6.

Tim J.

Olav, you make a number of over-simplified generalizations without any explanation.

"Art is intrinsically self-indulgent and self-centered."

Based on...? I didn't read any such notion expressed in JPII's Letter to Artists.

"The art of indigenous peoples (African, Native American etc.) is purer art"

What does that even mean? Art is art. Not having much direct knowledge of art of indigenous peoples, I wouldn't venture to critique any piece as "good" or "bad", but you can bet there is bad indigenous art o'plenty.

"The prototypical western artist is Van Gogh."

Why? I agree there is too much read into his personal life, but I don't see a lot of artists following his example. They all seem to have two ears, and very few of them are content to live on the edge of poverty.

I think you define Western rather narrowly, in historical terms.

"Christian art will always tend to suck."

They just didn't realize that during the renaissance, and made great art by mistake.


They just didn't realize that during the renaissance, and made great art by mistake.

With all due respect, I had my fill of "great" "Christian" "art" from the Renaissance the other day at a much respected museum. However, at the end of the day, I wouldn't blink if they set a torch to the lot, though a few sentimentalists might shed a tear.

Mr Mackie

During the Renaissance, the great artists were paid to design and decorate churches. Some seemmingly unrepentant sinners produced some of the great religious works for good pay.


With all due respect

99 times out of 100, any time you hear this phrase, you can safely tune out whatever follows. You will almost never miss anything worth hearing, and you will spare yourself a lot of opinionated and ill-informed commentary. It's amazing how reliable this principle is.

The Masked Chicken

Dear Warren,

You wrote:
Comments on any given Sunday range from - "Thank you for providing music with singable melodies" to "What happened to the dancey music?" For a start, I don't do "dancey" music, at least not any more. When one women who came forward this past Sunday, a woman who has known me since I converted to Catholicism, she politely complained I had lost that "upbeat thing" of the past (Haugen and Haas and St. Louis Jesuits - oh my!). I was tempted to say that I had merely I had grown up.

The problem, here, is not a musical one, it is a liturgical one. These people do not have a clear understanding of what they are doing at Mass.

One problem with the modern music at Mass is that it is narissistic. It does not focus on God, but on the self. Much of it is self-fulfillment fantasies, which, of course, goes along with the modern zeitgeist. Good art points to a higher reality and while it may encompass the self, it does not stop at the self. That is one problem with modern liturgical music.

I think the problem with modern music is not so much a musical one (we do not have "chance" music for Mass), but a spiritual one. When did this obsession with self begin and how did it develop? Any thoughts on this, anyone? This might give some vital clues to the answer of why there is so much lame art.

As far as Evangelical music, they do not have a concept of redemptive suffering. That has restricted much of their art. Things must work out right, in this life.

The Chicken

The Masked Chicken

Ahem...that's narcissistic. It's Monday.

The Chicken

The Masked Chicken

Let me throw one more thing out (at the risk of posting too much)...it is a touchy subject, but does the widespread use of contraception have anything to do with the weakening of art? Compare art before and after the Pill. I don't know if this explains anything, but there does seem to be a line of demarcation in the arts (it does not seem to be a slow slide). This may just be part of the overall problem and not a cause.

If you want a really detailed historical reason as to why we have lame art, it involves how the World Wars affected societies as a whole. there is a lot of really iinteresting parallels in the change in art after WWI and WWII. Somehow, the rise in the youth and privileged classes have lead, in both cases to experimental art after each world war and the deterioration. There was a corrective after the first World War in the form of the Depression, when experimental art retreated, but there has beem no such corrective after WW II.

The Chicken


Wow, lot of comments on this one. My thoughts are, if you take out the words to, say, heavy metal or rock songs, the music in itself isn't explicitly bad. It may sound like the instruments themselves are going to rise from the grave and kill you but that's not the point. Some people enjoy hearing people scream at them. I don't, but some do. If they enjoy this kind of music I think we should at least give it to them in a way that doesn't encourage them to throw away every value they have. In other words, I don't think it's a bad thing to have Christian music of many different genres, as long as we remember the reason for the music. Granted, the lyrics can get lame, especially with Christian "rap" songs, but at the end of the day, as long as we keep it out of Mass and it helps a few people, I don't think it's bad. Besides, hard rock does make good exercise music.


Religion is being watered down so as not to offend the secular and to make it palatable to the mildly religious. My personal pet peeve is Pope is now pope. And the holy Mass is now the mass. When there is nothing being held sacred anymore, when there is no distinction between the holy and the profane, it all becomes mundane. Art imitates life.

H. Hartel

Because Christians can't participate in profane secular culture with all of its unwholesome influences, yet they want to be consumers. Thus, they have created a wholesome parallel culture that gives them the impression that they are still participating in American culture, but a sacralized one. If you look at some of Edith Blumhofer's work, she traces this creation of a parallel Christian culture throughout the entire 20th century and shows that its not a new phenomenon at all. Wholesome Christian alternatives have been around long before media driven culture.


If you want lame art, just watch this horrid video (which I learned of from a column by the Telegraph's religion columnist):



Joe Coughlin

Part of the lack of good Catholic movies like Capra in the day is seen in the enemies of Mel Gibson.
There is a reason for the Good Friday prayers.

Steven Cornett

You know, Salon is not the first to realize this, and if you look at the New Liturgical Movement web log you find at one point the OCP stuff called "High school dance music."

One reason, perhaps, if simply that, like secular art in general, it's not made by the people but by large corporations. And it's made to the lowest common denominator as pure product, pumped out with no more thought than is given to add jingles and toasters.

The mentality of the culture is "give them product" and that is the mentality of those that make Christian evangelical art. They are often as not the same people that make the rest of the books, movies and CDs out there on the market. To them, a Christian song is a rock song as a Country and Western song, and it more or less sounds about the same, with the same lyrical formulae.

OCP then, along with the Trio of the Trite, are simply a small player in the big media conglomerate game.


I'm a Christian (a Catholic convert/former prot minister of many years) and I'm an artist but I don't make "Christian art." I try to make art that is authentic and I hope that some of my faith comes through at least in the creation if not fully visible in the final product.

I love the words from Ecclesiasticus 38:34 (and I am paraphrasing somewhat) "and their prayer was in their craft." If Christian art is anything it's that.

The art for better or worse is here http://OwenSwain.com and on a more daily and lighter basis here http://onionboy.typepad.com/yootikus


Thank you! I've been saying this for years.
We won't get in front until we quit following. The secular artists moved to the front a century ago (give or take) through originality. We need to try that.


Another thing I want to say about contemporary Christian art:
We aren't working to potential because we are living in a dream world where we can sell a piece just because it's Christian. It's a specialized market, and quality will suffer unless we compete in the real world.
If the Christian rockers had to try to sell their music as rockers, the Christian painters had to fight for wall space with secular painters and Christian editors had to beat out other editors, they would be better. But you know why they aren't? Some Christian markets are protected because consumers see a "Christian alternative" as a necessity to protect their children (rock music e.g.) and others don't attract competition because they are unpaid (writing and editing e.g.). We need to start rewarding quality.


Jimmy & Tim, I love your appreciation for the arts and I love that you have a section for the arts on your blog. J-i'm a big fan of your apologetics and T- you are an amazing painter. I'm a Catholic Christian "contemporary" artist actually making a living at selling my art. Please check out my wesite if you have time. www.alicavanaugh.com. St Therese of the Child Jesus has influenced me greatly and plays a major roll in my daily artmaking. Keep up the great work, you guys are awesome!

leonie barrett

not to much time to share as im just off out to set up a christian art exhibition actually! was just surfing the net looking for funding for a christian art project and this came up.
im an artist and do not regard 'my work' or should i say the art i produce inspired by God to be lame. however i would suggest that much of the art that is published often is 'old' and not very contemporary.
i think some key questions are:

why do publishers not produce contemporary christian art and print either renaissance images or boring art?
how does the Church encourage and support artists producing work, if at all...

i think that when, and if! these are ever adressed some of the exciting work that is being produced and not seen will be and as you put it no longer lame!




I see lots of comments concerning the greatness of Michelangelo and his "great" sistine Chapel. Has it occured to anyone that Michelangelo's Sistine chapel was not art made to the glory of God, but to the worship of Man. Literally. Michelangelo was a Homosexual and a Pedophile. He hated women. There are several images of male genetalia held by men painted to resemble flora. The blatantly rounded buttocks of one of the men revealed by his lifted robe, for what purpose? Any art student who has basic knowledge of anatomy and knowledge of the prevalent body types at the time, can tell that Michelangelo's "women" are nothing more than men with breast tacked on. Eve in the Adam and Eve painting is a good example. Even some of the faces are somewhat male. Young attractive effeminate male faces used for women.
Some of this information I have read, some I have concluded from observations of reproduction of the sistine chapel images.
So when we talk about Christian art, shouldn't we consider motive. Is Christian art art that shows "Christian" imagery or is it art that is produced to give God glory?

I am also an artist who find it difficult to create meaningful art in which the audience can "see" God, but as I read the comments and as I comment I realize that Whatever we do as christians we must do to the best of our abilities to honor God and GOD doesn't have to be tangible. A wonderfully painted landscape or still-life or figure drawing that draws from the essence of being that has made it, if that being is a child of God, he or she has created Christian art.
Part of the reason I believe that there are not many great mainstream art made by Christians is that we force the form into function and great art is a manifestation of the essence of the artist. Perhaps we should just quit trying to make Christian art, by illustrating verses or stories but instead witness the spirit within us by creating a visualization of our relationship with God.

one more thing, why the division between Catholics and Protestants? Do we not worship the same God. Are we not all bought by the blood of Jesus Christ? What is going to get us into heaven, whether we did first communion, or not or is it whether we have accepted Jesus Christ's gift of salvation? Let us not be divided by man's ordinances, but by the Unity of Christ's sacrifice. "United we stand-divided we fall"-don't know who said that.

Rotten Orange

Dear Virgil

Michelangelo was a Homosexual and a Pedophile.

After reading your comment, I did some research about Michelangelo on Wikipedia, and there is indeed a chapter regarding his sexuality alluding to some of the things you mention, but I don't think it would be fair to label him so harshly. The chapter in question (presuming it's accurate) ends with this remark:

It is impossible to know for certain whether Michelangelo had physical relationships (Condivi ascribed to him a "monk-like chastity"), but through his poetry and visual art we may at least glimpse the arc of his imagination.

Notice that the above paragraph doesn't establish his art as homosexual activism or something like that.
Even if you don't like the Sistine Chapel, I don't think we can ignore that Michelangelo made the beautiful Pietà at the age of 24, and I remember having read that it was the only work on which he signed his name.

A wonderfully painted landscape or still-life or figure drawing that draws from the essence of being that has made it, if that being is a child of God, he or she has created Christian art.

All this is perfecly in accordance with, I think, all the previous comments, including the ones from myself, written under my real name.

one more thing, why the division between Catholics and Protestants?

I sincerely don't understand your question, given that your remarks about Michelangelo basically implies that all the Catholics from his time and our time who admired his work as solid Christian are little more than clueless morons. You seem to foster the same division about which you ask.

I am also an artist who find it difficult to create meaningful art in which the audience can "see" God...

I hope and pray that God keep enabling you to fulfill your vocation.


Let me disagree. Some random names come to my mind, so let me share: Leon Bloy, Tarkovsky, Vincent Ward (Navigator, a Mediaeval Odissey), Solzenitsyn, I dare to include Ernst Jünger; Gabriel Marcel, and many unknown painters who are brilliant. These are not best sellers, no mainstream radio, not vernissage. But certainly, not lame.


Let me disagree. Some random names come to my mind, so let me share: Leon Bloy, Tarkovsky, Vincent Ward (Navigator, a Mediaeval Odissey), Solzenitsyn, I dare to include Ernst Jünger; Gabriel Marcel, and many unknown painters who are brilliant. These are not best sellers, no mainstream radio, not vernissage. But certainly, not lame.

Rotten Orange
Let me disagree. Some random names come to my mind, so let me share: Leon Bloy, Tarkovsky...

Dear Juan

Where's the disagreement?


I went to a show at Gordon College titled "Highly Favored One" and thought there was a lot going on. In fact "Christians in the Visual Arts", an ecumenical organization at this website: http://www.civa.org/ CIVA has a lot of traveling shows and work that is very beautiful. I also recommend looking at this website also: http://campus.udayton.edu/mary/main.html the Mary Page which has Christian representations of Mary and regularly has different Christian artists. I believe Christian artists are out there but do not have a lot of galleries to show in. Part of this is because we are more of Protestant country and Protestants for a long while were against religious artwork but that is changing.

Deeper prayer will also revive the arts...I mean contemplative prayer.

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