November 13, 2007

Art vs. Christianity

It is often said that great art is supposed to be provocative, eliciting strong (and not necessarily) pleasant emotions in those who experience it. Mediocre art may simply produce mildly pleasant feelings, but the great art that ends up being remembered involves confrontation. It forces the audience to confront powerful ideas, and even when it produces unpleasant emotions, the audience is actually changed for having experienced it. It has taken me most of my life to fully comprehend this simple truth, and I cannot help but think that religion was one of the factors which stunted my growth.

I think I must have been born without the part of the brain that gives one artistic ability. I've always loved art (especially music, literature, photography, and abstract painting) and had great admiration for this sort of talent. But outside of some limited writing ability, I've never seen any of this ability in myself.

My early Christian indoctrination was about behaving oneself, defending against uncomfortable thoughts, sheltering oneself from negative influences, and pursuing what was right. It was stale, bland, and boring, stifling creative thought by teaching that criticism of certain domains (e.g., religion) was not only off limits but could result in eternal punishments.

Then as now, I ended up with absolutely no appreciate for Christian art. Aside from the impressive architecture, I remain bored by Christian music, writing, and imagery. It seems overly constrained, like being forced to color in the lines, and void of the raw creative passion I so admire in other forms of art.

As I've left religious delusion behind and moved to atheism and secular humanism, I've discovered real art. Music, writing, film, photography, etc. that challenges me in profound and sometimes deeply upsetting ways. I've had the experience of being haunted by a film, a painting, or a photograph for days, even weeks, unable to get it out of my head.

I'm not sure I could really appreciate art until I reached the point in my life where I was truly willing to face this sort of provocation. Getting there required considerable growth, including throwing off the yoke of religion.

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