Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why Christian Artists Don't Want to Be Labelled "Christians"

So that's the cultural landscape that American Christians who want to make movies or music or art or whatever are working in today. I honestly don't know how clear this is to people who aren't spending a lot of time around evangelicalism, so pardon me if that all seems really obvious. But basically, on the one hand, there's a whole market segment that will buy your record, go see your movie, etc., simply because you're a Christian and there's Jesus or at least strong Jesusy undertones in your record or film.

On the other hand, everyone sort of implicitly assumes that if you make a "Christian" product, it's (a) just for Christians and (b) probably not very good quality, even if the message is by some standard or another stellar, because you don't have to be very good to get people to buy it, and because the industry as a whole has had a fairly shoddy record over the past few decades when it comes to artistry, craftsmanship, innovation, and quality.

I agree with those sentiments. Although I find the dismissal of Christian product a little unfair, in a way.

The reality is that in any cultural field, the vast majority of what is produced will not be very good.

It's really hard to be a good artist.

Especially in fields that require a lot of investment, like filmmaking. It's easy to creat blockbusters when you have Hollywood studios at your disposal, not so much when you're working out of  your garage.

My main beef against "Christian" artistry is its lack of versimilitude.

Christian culture is clean-cut and over-groomed. Kinda like the stereotypical Evangelical. And, like the stereotypical Evangelical, even when they try to be hipster or edgy, there's something "off" about it. It's a bit fake to want to be clean cut in one's heart, but tatooed and pierced in one's body. It lacks authenticity.

Being a writer of sorts, I have had my encounters with Christian writers and writing. And one "unfair" advantage that secular writers have over Christians is that there is a large network of workshops, groups, conferences, etc devoted to writing which is less developed among Christian.

Of course you will produce great writers if your academic literary system fosters them.

It's just that Christians (at least in Canada) don't have that system.

I've been working on a novel for many years now. Last year I went to The Word Guild writer's conference, which is a Canadian gathering of Christian writers. I found that there was a decent level of professionalism, but I feel like I didn't really fit in.

The thing about labelling your work "Christian" is that it sets up expectations that it has religious undertones, and that, like Christians themselves, they're clean cut and overgroomed.

I don't think I could share my novel with them. For one thing, my characters swear. Although my novel does touch about abortion, aside from one character's vague belief in reincarnation, pacifism, and vegetarianism, religion isn't really discussed. Like many people in life, my characters go through their day not giving a thought to religion, and the action does not invoke any purely religious principle.

It's not a religious novel. It could perhaps be construed as a pro-life novel, à la limite, but it probably wouldn`t offen the sensibilities of the average Canadian.

If I label myself a "Christian writer", and I publish this novel (and for the record, it might just end up on some online book publishing site), wouldn't that be a kind of false advertizing? Christian writers don't have to write about Christians or Christianity. But when Christians look for books to read and they see you're a "Christian writer", that's what they expect.
I think "Christian" is perhaps the wrong label for Christian writers. Perhaps there needs to be other labels. One for literary Christian writers. One for commercial. One for churchy writers and one for more secular-minded ones.

I think this would be a better way to categorize writers, rather than just lump them altogether as "Christian".