Andrew Peterson reflects on art produced by Christians (and people), on the tendency for either didactic purpose or decorative impulse to be seen as polar extremes, and how Christian art can sacrifice the effect of inspiring people for the outcome of instructing them.
He contends it should never be an either/or.
Creation of art is not the sacrifice of agenda for cosmetic outcome.
It is the balance of intent and form.
Art and agenda can and do coexist. Having an agenda isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, some of history’s greatest works of art are dripping with agenda. If you’ve ever walked into a cathedral in Europe, you’ve just walked into a monumental agenda. The architects weren’t just making beauty for beauty’s sake. They were (some of them, at least) striving to bring glory to God, building a three-dimensional story for us to walk into, one designed for very specific reasons (to create a feeling of mystery and smallness in us, to draw attention to the cross of Jesus, to pull our eyes upward toward light and glory, to retell the story of Scripture through paintings and stained glass). The fact that these architects and artists had an agenda doesn’t at all reduce the power of what they made. Agenda isn’t necessarily bad. Even someone who doesn’t believe a word of the Bible walks into Notre Dame Cathedral and falls silent. But a Christian familiar with the symbolism, the narrative, not to mention the actual Triune God the cathedral was made for, is just as awestruck at the beauty, but also gets the truth thrown in with it.
Agenda is bad when it usurps beauty. Christian art should strive for a marriage of the two, just as Christ is described as being “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Truth without beauty can be a weapon; beauty without truth can be spineless. The two together are like lyric and melody. This is not to say that beauty itself is not a kind of truth, nor that truth itself isn’t beautiful. …
Andrew Peterson, Adorning The Dark, B&H Publishing, Nashville, 2019, pgs 84-85.