I get a lot of questions about beauty’s role in the Church today. My observation is that, with a decreasingly rich and nuanced understanding of Beauty, which is a great transcendental quality of God, our reverence for art is crumbling.
I have a theory on this. Art is powerful. It can be uplifting, it can be hypnotizing, it can be frightening or menacing, it can be surreal or hyper-real, it can be erotic (and sometimes, it can be some combination of all of those things.) Beauty has classically and historically been placed in the ranks of truth, goodness, and justice—a sort of primary quality of the universe and God and a primal need of mankind. In modernity, though, we sort of throw the term beauty around like we’re talking about adornment. We talk about beauty products, beauty school, beauty shots, or we say ‘that woman is beautiful” (by which we mean, she is physically attractive) and it sort of stops there for a lot of us. Because society sees and defines Beauty as stereotypically feminine and primarily physical, as opposed to exploring it as one of the great transcendental Realities, and because femininity has been sort of hijacked by misogyny to be seen as primarily ornamental and physical, our thirst for great art is waning. As a culture, even as a Christian culture, many of us no longer see Beauty as something as necessary to joy and survival as we do theology.
I feel that as our definitions of beauty become more hijacked by misogyny and more diluted, we need to remember that Church music isn’t merely ornamental. The flip side of seeing it as merely ornamental is that it easily turns into seeing it as threatening when it gets too sensual or bold. (If we think beauty exists to serve our purposes, then we start to be threatened and frightened when an artist is un-cowed by that. Beyonce’s Lemonade anyone?) But in fact, there’s a fiery call to the prophetic in this work. How many times have I heard some version of “you’re an artist—stop talking about politics, just shut up and sing?” I get that one all the time. Well, no—I won’t! Beauty isn’t just Bathsheba bathing on the roof. It’s Jael driving a stake through the oppressor’s head. It’s Joshua leading the musicians around Jericho and bringing down the walls. Music isn’t just ornamental—and neither is beauty. Beauty is powerful—beauty can be angry and it can be prophetic.
So let’s talk about the role of the prophetic in being an artist. If you’re an artist, whether making art specifically for the church or not, do you see what you do as being prophetic?