I initially found Jim on Twitter because I just liked his art. I followed him a few months ago, and when I read one of his tweets talking about how the Christian world doesn’t need better designers but rather honest art, I was intrigued. I had to know what he meant by this, so I emailed him, and after a bit of back and forth he answered a few of my questions. —Jonathan Minnema
What is your philosophy of art or beauty?
When it comes to art, I love the unexpected. Predictability bores me. By that, I don’t mean that every piece of art needs a big reveal or plot twist. The “unexpectedness” could be the content of the art, how it is performed, displayed or written, choices of colors, lighting, materials, etc. It could even be that my reaction to the art was unexpected and revealed something new to me about myself. I am most drawn to art that catches me off guard and disrupts my normal patterns of life and thought. That is beautiful to me.
What is it about art that changes people?
American culture (and even more so, evangelical American culture) tells me to blindly consume. When I encounter art that disrupts me and forces me to examine my thoughts, reactions, and preconceived ideas, I’m shocked out of that consumer mentality.
Instead, I’m invited to participate in, and react to, this dynamic thing that can lead me to unpredictable places and ideas I would not have discovered without that art. This is why art is so good at helping people see outside themselves and explore things that are divisive, difficult, or scary. Art creates a safe place to address them.
Comedy and satire can explore very difficult subjects because of the disarming nature of humor. The sci-fi genre can address very divisive political and social issues because of the disarming nature of space fiction. When people can face difficulties and fears in a safe way and practice seeing outside themselves, that is a good thing.
Why does the Christian world need to focus more on honest art rather than good design?
Because, in general, the (American) Christian world is fake and dishonest. It has taken the rough-edged, revolutionary, and extremely controversial message of a first-century Jewish rabbi and made it into a smooth, glossy, and comfortable faith for rich, white Americans.
Beautiful graphics, dynamic speakers and preachers, gorgeous worship concerts with slick light shows . . . all fueled on greed and self-interest. It’s an entire economic system built on bastardizing the message of Jesus.
We need honest art—especially from those who claim to follow Jesus—that confronts that. Art that calls out religious hypocrisy and shines a light on the radical message of Jesus.
The church doesn’t need better graphic designers or more dynamic preachers or better light shows. It needs people who care and are willing to be honest and fight against the lie of comfortable faith.
So, when I say “honest,” I also mean “courageous,” because it takes courage to push against that system of thought.
Is honesty the sine qua non of art? Why is it?
I don’t presume to have the definitive answer for this, but for me, yes, honesty is the key. Dishonest art is boring. I just don’t see the point.
What is the difference between propaganda and art?
In my mind, propaganda is information (visual or otherwise) that tells people what they should think according to a specific agenda. It does not broaden your perspective; it narrows it. It has a specific desired result. Art encourages people to think for themselves. It is open-ended. It seeks to broaden your perspective and worldview.
Propaganda and art both have their place. The tragedy is when one is called the other. When I look at what many people call “Christian” art, unfortunately I just see a lot of propaganda.
Why do you dislike the label “Christian art”?
The word Christian means Christ-like. To be like Christ means loving your enemies, sacrificing for others, being a peacemaker and reconciler. Art cannot do those things. Neither can politics or any other ideology. Only people can do that. Only a person can be Christ-like, so to apply that label to anything else is misguided, yet it happens all the time. I think there are two reasons why.
Specifically, the use of Christian as an adjective for art creates a false and unnecessary division. If certain art is “Christian” or “sacred,” then all other art is “non-Christian” or “secular,” which is not only ridiculous, but also gets to the heart of a very evil part of western Christian culture—the temptation to judge and clearly define sacred versus secular. Saved versus sinner. Good people versus bad people. This is a diabolical addiction that is rampant among evangelical Christianity and is against everything that Jesus taught.
Since western Christian culture has been brainwashed into believing in this clear distinction of Christian and non-Christian, it’s easy to create marketing categories and target product to them and make a lot of money.
Here’s the secret that western Christian culture doesn’t want you to know—everything can be sacred. Even art that does not have a Christian theme. Even art that was not created by a Christian. Even if it’s an R-rated movie! In fact, I’d argue that if there is any art that is not sacred, it’s propaganda that attempts to pass itself off as art. Work that is dishonest and only created to make money. Work that is of low quality because no care was put into it. Unfortunately, that describes much of “Christian” art.
Why should Christians be involved with art?
The same reasons anyone should be involved with art. Interacting with art is good. It helps you see things from different perspectives. It helps you self-reflect. It can shine a light on both the worst atrocities and the greatest beauty of this world. There’s no reason to not enjoy art.
You can find more of Jim’s work on his website.
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