Tag Archives: Christian

Just Because It’s Commercial Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Art

“Art,” said Modeste Mussorgsky, 19th century Russian composer, “is not an end in itself, but a means of addressing humanity.”

If you are an art student drawing close to graduation, and you balk at the prospect of selling out to corporate America, you have options. If you are independently wealthy, you never have to please anyone but yourself and can build your own museum. If you’re not rich, and still wish to retain your “artistic purity,” you can cajole wealthy patrons (the 21st century versions of the Medicis) or apply for government grants.

Frankly, if you wish to keep the taint of money, what the Bible calls “filthy lucre,” from your art, then your best bet is to have as little as possible. A vow of poverty, from either a Marxist political perspective or a Christian monastic one, may be indicated.

The eternal tension

Seriously, there is an eternal tension between art as “an end in itself” and art that addresses and connects with people. The latter includes art that connects with a marketing director because she thinks it will help sell her product. Whether you are an illustrator, sculptor, painter or filmmaker, you will have to confront the issue of “commercial art vs. fine art” and draw the appropriate lines in your own life. You should begin by challenging your preconceptions. In fact, you might want to make a lifelong habit of this.

Richard Rothstein, a photographer and writer living in Manhattan, brings the historical perspective. “I find it extremely amusing that commercial art of past civilizations and ages is now held in very high regard as fine art. Murals and carvings that promoted products and services in ancient Greece and Rome are now standing as fine art in great museums.”

The commercial/fine art dichotomy is false, says Rothstein. “Bad art is common, bad in composition, emotion, passion. But to divide art into ‘commercial’ versus ‘fine’ strikes me as arrogant and pompous.” One of the towering figures of modern art helps to prove his point. “Picasso churned out art like Ford churned out Model Ts. He was a genius at commercial art, building a brand that would make him very rich. Was he a commercial or a fine artist?”

Starvation vs. survival?

“The difference between commercial art and fine art,” says Joe Nyaggah, “is the difference between survival and starvation.” A 2008 graduate of the renowned arts program at California State University, Fullerton, Nyaggah is a designer who roams widely across the Web engaging in discussions on the social and professional roles of artists. He believes that what most people mean by “fine artist” is someone who creates works “that are only appreciated by a select, eccentric few.” Commercial artists, on the other hand, “execute on demand” rather than “on a whim,” and learn to make a living with their talent.

Nyaggah has little patience for talented people who posture as “starving artists” with moral superiority. “Hunger builds character, yes,” he says, “but money builds so much more. Houses, for instance, that you and your family can live in.”

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Dragging Poor Jesus into It All the Time

Originally published Aug. 2009. Republished Nov. 1, 2013. Not much has changed in the meantime but here’s hoping…!

I admit to being a bit surprised when I hear people wasting precious time condemning sexuality, whether hetero or homo, especially when they drag poor Jesus into it all the time. There are so many more important things to be expending energy on, for God’s sake, and I mean that literally.

The fact is, Jesus was actually quite tolerant of sexual sins, as his encounters with prostitutes and adulteresses clearly show. If the people casting stones are, in fact, Christians, and are in “good standing” and following their Lord’s commandments (all two of ’em, to be precise), then they truly must be “without sin.” That is the qualification, after all, for casting that first one, remember?

Jesus forgave every sexual sinner he encountered. He reserved “viper” and such terms for the greedy, hardhearted, and unloving. Of course, today that describes far too many fundamentalists and evangelicals. I know whereof I speak, as my wife of 25 years was raised by a Pentecostal minister (before he ran off with another woman). Then, about 20 years ago, we met the founders of what has grown to be a large inner-city ministry, who did so well that they, of course, no longer live anywhere near their church members. And they have sold out to that insane “prosperity gospel” that makes a mockery of Jesus in many ways. Sad.

I think it is important for Christians to study their own belief system, and few do. I know of no one who is intellectually able (and honest) who has not discovered by studying the history of the bible the mythology of “inerrancy” and the incredible amount of editing, revision, and redaction of what are now called the scriptures. Not 1 in 1000 Christians I’ve met (and I’ve met many, many thousands) can tell you how the New Testament developed, what its oldest writing is (it’s the first letter to the Thessalonians, c. 51), what “Q” is and why it matters, etc., etc. I have met a nearly countless number of people willing to die (or so they say) for a book that they know very little about, except that “they know” it’s right and true.

Scary.

As far as judgement goes, here’s some bad news for phonies: Jesus gave a few glimpses of Judgement Day (in a few of the Gospels; you find them, the search will do you good, and I’m talking to the believers here). One time, he was accosted by a group of True Believers. They said, “Didn’t we cast out demons? Didn’t we do miracles?” and essentially asked, “Where’s our reward?” Jesus replied with something akin to, “Beat it! I never knew you.”

Another time he addressed a few folks standing off a short distance, saying that they had done well. “What did we ever do?” they asked. They were so busy being decent and compassionate they didn’t have time to think about “their reward.” What did Jesus say? Did He say, “You used my name, the magic word, so you get into heaven”? Nope. He said, basically, “When you fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited the prisoners, you did this for Me, too, and thanks!”

You don’t hear those parts of the Good News preached very often any more.

It matters what you do. Jesus clearly says that “those who do good” will get their reward, those that “do evil” will get theirs. And it’s not up to Pastor Fred or that thieving, lunatic fraud, Benny Hinn, either.

Beat it, both of you. He never knew you.