The use of the arts in the church has always been present; from the days of the Old Testament to the early church, from the classical period all the way to the present. In the modern church, however, the use of the arts has expanded a lot, especially with the growth of charismatic movements.
Arts are more accessible today then they used to be in the past; this is also part of the growth that we can notice. The church is realizing that the arts are a powerful tool and the body of Christ is embracing them more and more.
However, there are some differences in the way we perform arts in a spontaneous way vs an execution that requires planning and structure, whether it is in music, visual arts, dance or any kind of artform.
Let’s look at the differences between them, and how both of these scenarios are important for the church.
First of all, let’s define what do we mean by art: art is the expression of creativity through skill and imagination (as found in the Oxford Dictionary). If we get this concept clear we will understand that anything can be art, but at the same time, not everything is art.
We can say that art has many expressions and styles which have a different purpose, although the common purpose of all art is communication. Different styles have a different scope since they are targeting different audiences. Therefore they will have different strategies and different approaches according to who the artist is wanting to reach.
Spontaneous vs composition
I would divide arts in the church into two categories, spontaneous and composition. Both of them have the final goal to communicate a message, but as I mentioned the approaches will be very different. Let me clarify what I mean with this distinction.
Spontaneous: by spontaneous I mean arts that are performed or executed without much preparation and give space to improvisation. Usually, these are done on stage during a worship time where it is required to finish the artwork in a brief period of time (when it comes to visual arts), or where the artists are improvising inspired by the Holy Spirit (such as with music and dance).
Composition: this would be any kind of art in which the artist has time to plan/prepare and has plenty of time for the execution. Let’s think of paintings, sculptures, composing music, preparing choreography for a dance, etc.
Any form of art needs some kind of structure, even if we are passionate about nonclassical style. If there is no structure the message won’t have much sense, it will be meaningless. For example, a music style that is excellent for improvisation is jazz, but in order to improvise, we need some form of structure upon which we can build.
If we think of abstract paintings, there will still be a structure in the shapes which the artist uses. With dance, even if it’s modern, it’s still based on moves and steps. If art doesn’t communicate something, I don’t consider it art. In order to have a message, we need some kind of structure.
Spontaneous art has a much simpler structure in order to give space to improvisation. On the other hand, composed art often has a complex structure with little space for improvisation. We see this a lot in the differences between classical art and modern art.
How the culture is reflected in our art and communication
I believe this difference has so much to do with culture. In the past, there were fewer artists, and they spent all their lives training and executing works of art. In modern times, art is much more accessible. The artist is not always a full-time artist. Because of financial need, he may have a second job unrelated to art. Therefore, his preparation won’t be as deep.
Most of all, our concept of time has changed dramatically. Today, everything is fast, and the time we have to dedicate to things is much more restricted. Our attention span is much shorter than in the past. All these differences are visible in the arts as well.
Today, arts in the church are more direct and maybe not as detailed as they used to be in classical times. This allows flexibility and gives a lot of space for improvisation; this is why I would include modern church art in the first category, and I would put the more traditional churches and classical art in the second.
We can see the differences also in our services. A traditional service has a much more structured liturgy, instead of a modern service which still has a structure, but is less rigid and allows more time for spontaneous activities such as time for the worship band to minister, spontaneous prayer, etc.
Spontaneous art and composition art – Both are important
As human beings, we often stick to what we are familiar with. If it’s a style of art, maybe we become obsessed with that one particular style. If it’s a church, we just think that that is “the way” to do church. I believe that by doing this we are cutting out a lot of value and opportunity to grow.
Having been a missionary with an organization called YWAM (Youth With a Mission) for ten years, I had the opportunity to visit many countries and many different styles of churches. I must say that these experiences have made me richer and I saw God in all of them. At the same time with art, if we stick to just one style our growth will be limited to that style. Obviously, both in art and in church, we will likely favor or prefer one style more than another, however, I think it’s a mistake to judge a message poorly just because it’s delivered in a style that we don’t easily relate to. Also by allowing arts in the church that have different styles, we will reach more people since these art pieces have different targets.
I love to visit older churches to see how the Bible stories were told through paintings, These pieces have spoken through the centuries to many many people. At the same time, I love to see something fresh and new that perhaps is related to a specific moment, like a piece of art executed spontaneously during worship time.
The importance of knowledge and culture
Having a knowledge of artistic culture gives us more to draw from when it comes to being creative. No matter what kind of style we are more familiar with, having a broader knowledge will allow us to be more creative. Creativity is directly tied to our knowledge.
Sometimes we hear that artists don’t want to contaminate themselves with other styles in order to preserve their own. I believe this is nonsense. How can we create from what we don’t know? In fact, we see modern arts in the church reproducing mostly the same things over and over.
Many times we see arts in the church (especially in the modern church), become such a specific niche that the artists live in a bubble. Secular art is often considered bad or unholy. Let me underline that we shouldn’t go and immerse ourselves in blasphemous art, but at the same time, there is a lot of good art out there that we are not aware of, and we need to go out and share our message to make disciples since this is the great commission.
As artists, if we at least try both approaches we will discover the beauty of both, and also we will develop areas that maybe we are less familiar with. I’m sure that by doing this, we will even improve the style which we are more familiar with.
Arts in the church – Is there a better style?
I would never say that one form of art is better than another, simply for the fact that they are different.
All styles of art are powerful. All are the fruit of creativity and inspiration, and all can be God-inspired.
What I would love to see are artists that rise in their calling, inspiring society with there message, bringing a message in a way that only art can, speaking directly to the hearts and communicating in a way that words are not able.
Art is beauty. It brings life and color. It’s able to shape minds and bring transformation. Just think of all the times that artists have been persecuted because of their message. I would love the arts in the church to grow and go to a deeper level in order to share the beauty of God’s Kingdom. Whether or not this happens depends on how we approach this challenge.
Wish you the best in this journey of communicating and sharing love through beauty.
I hope this article inspired you.
Let me know what you think about it and leave a comment below.
God bless 🙂
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