So, why does God have such bad taste in art, these days?

God used to have good taste in music and the investment portfolio included musicians like JS Bach and now includes things like the ‘Songs of Fellowship’. As for art, God used to have a great aesthetic appetite for the paintings of Rembrandt, but now seems more interested in religious kitsch.
Not everyone was convinced by Rembrandt though, and maybe this perceptive comment changed God’s taste in Art?

“Rembrandt is not to be compared in the painting of characters with our extraordinarily gifted English artist, Mr Rippingille.” John Hunt (1775 – 1848)

Quote from: ‘The Book of Heroic Failures: The Official Handbook of the Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain.” by Stephen Pile. Published by Futura Publications, London. 1982, p215.

Head of Christ by Warner Sallman

Warner Sallman’s famous painting of the ‘Head of Christ’ (1940) boasts 14 million copies printed in 1944. One of the marks of kitsch is its overdose of sentiment. You receive everything you need for religious assurance.

Christ however, is decidedly Western and manicured, he is the kind of Messiah who wouldn’t hurt the proverbial moral fly, Victorian or Republican.

You would wonder how this Christ would be a threat to Roman Rule and Jewish political power in Israel.

Jesus Tree Topper

This remarkable 12inch Jesus Tree Topper shows where the christian arts are leading. Consider the sculptured magnificence of Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’ and then…this creation. When plugged-in, Jesus has a heavenly glow, even emanating from the nail prints in his hands. Whilst this is under the Ship of Fools website and therefore ‘gadgets for god’ is a satirical element, it does reinforce the appeal of religious kitsch. Sadly, I’ve seen worse!

If I was to go on with this train of thought, I would have to upset a few contemporary artists whose websites evince an overt religious sentimentality. What counts of course is that they are doing it for God and the gullible are ready to part with money as they affirm the gift of the artist!

Speaking of religious sentimentality and its fruit, poster wisdom, we’ve all probably seen this sort of thing.

I think someone should gather material for a new book of Proverbs drawn from this ‘rich’ source of material. (Perhaps a new publication from Upptacka Press beckons?) This heavenly focus of Christians is ill-placed. We were created not to escape to heaven, but to work here on earth. If Jesus is just about heaven, then why bother coming to earth?

What does it mean? Do we think that we are convincing people outside of the church that we are cool, wise and fun to be with? Again, my problem is that it’s this kind of thing that God supports.

Long ago our faith gave birth to the creation of great masterpieces like the Sistine Chapel, Dante’s poetry, Bach’s St. John Passion, Rembrandt’s portraits, Matthias Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece and Georges Rouault’s profound images of suffering. In those days it was great to be an artist. You knew God was behind it – your identity and purpose weren’t questioned. No one told you to get a proper job, everyone knew you were an artist and waited with great expectation giving way to awe, at the unveiling of your next creation.

Nowadays, it’s different. God lost interest in serious art a long time ago and decided that our lives needed sweetening with sugar-coated art, middle-class Messiahs, Barbie-esque Eve’s with accurately placed foliage (I don’t think Adam ever saw Eve naked – she always had the knack of ducking behind large ferns or mango trees replete with fruit), or Jesus as best buddy, looking over our shoulder whilst we do the tax return or read our bible.

Jesus, our best friend?

We have moved from the God of Art Appreciation to the God of Art Depreciation! God no longer has faith in the power of art to speak profoundly and so invests in the content-laden art of the pre-text! (Kitsch is a form of media ‘finality’, to use a McLuhanism, the landscape isn’t opened up, it’s a surface we bounce off, there is no depth to it, no sense of the journey. Thus, we are reassured that the status quo is right and true and just; that this all there is!)

What is happening? Does God really have bad taste in art? Well, if you knew an art collector with a Rouault, a Rembrandt, a drawing by da Vinci and a landscape by van Gogh you’d probably conclude that they had good taste. If on the other hand you saw a collection made up of some of the art in this article, then you’d assume that the connoisseur of fine art was…anything but!

So, with the evidence put before you what would you think about God as patron of the arts? I’d think that somehow divine inspiration was lacking, that good taste had gone out of the (stained-glass?) window long ago. If God is really committed to the arts, then why is there a lack of investment in the serious artist? I know quite a few around the world who could do with help to establish their careers and take it to the next level. However, God invests in worship leaders these days and not musicians. God devotes his resources to schmaltzy storytellers and predictable content-riddled (superficial) filmmakers, bad poet societies, to propagandists, moralisers and hick art-preachers, to armchair prophets. God isn’t interested in real artistry and we can tell this by an Almighty poor record of Patronage in the last century or so.

In the wake of this pattern of behaviour, I see artists struggling to keep it together; depressed, burdened and generally excommunicated by the wider community. Amazingly I also see many who persevere, who have an abiding faith whilst they walk the Wilderness journey. I see many who wait for God to take them seriously, compassionately, whilst reading the poetry of Job. Go on, I dare you. Read the Book of Job without the annoying ‘wisdom’ of his friends. See Job’s perspective with clarity and hear God say that he ‘spoke the truth about Me’!

If a credible witness to God’s expansive view of humanity seems no longer feasible, maybe we should consider asking God what gives with the disdainful treatment of artists in the 21st Century. I’d like to remind God of a songwriter’s take on this kind of behaviour.

Song #6
I’m no good to you dead, am I?
I can’t sing in your choir if I’m buried in some tomb.

Let me add to this:
We’re no good to you dead, are we?
If we can’t write stories about your greatness…how will the word get out?
If we can’t paint a re-imagined world…how will people perceive hope?
If we can’t animate movement through dance…how will people perceive freedom?

Our anonymity doesn’t serve you, does it?

Won’t people say that you take artists out into the Wilderness
…to silence them, once and for all?
Buried in a tomb…to the Unknown Artist!