Learning to Be Critics with Our Hands and Feet
When it comes to criticism and interpretation of art and culture, of the writing of books, journal articles, blog posts and facebook notes there is no end. And of course, not all of this criticism and interpretation is insightful or helpful. This applies just as much, if not more, to Christian criticism and interpretation of art and culture. Let’s face it, there are mountains of music and film reviews written by Christians that are just rubbish, soiled by a mixture of moralism, sentimentality, and anti-intellectualism.
This does not mean that Christians should stop writing reviews and engaging with art and culture in print. It just means that we need to learn how to do so more effectively. We have a humble aim in this blog to present some examples of effective engagement, and we look forward to interacting with others in order to discern if we are avoiding the common Christian pitfalls noted above.
I am adamant that Christians need to learn how to be better critics, but I am even more passionate that Christians need to learn how to be better creators. We are not creators in the sense that God is a Creator, fashioning something out of nothing, but we are creators in that God has given us abilities to respond to beauty by creating things that are beautiful. The literary critic and essayist George Steiner once said, “The best reading of art is art.” In other words, the best response to art is something artful, not just what Steiner calls “the secondary and parasitic.” The best response to poetry is to write a poem. The best response to a painting is to paint. We can talk about art all day, but responding to art with art has the potential to give a lasting interpretation. One outstanding example of responding to art with art is Matt Kish’s project of creating one drawing for every page of Moby Dick. Now that is something I can get behind! I long to see more Christians responding to art and culture by writing music, crafting poetry, or weaving a tale. Christian art should not be moralistic or sentimental, but a way of reading and interpreting the world.
If a Christian response to art and culture involves our hands, creating art and not just talking about it, a Christian response also involves our feet. Again, Steiner provides the stunning insight that “Interpretation is, to the largest possible degree, lived.” The way we live is the greatest act of interpretation. It is easy enough to be a critic on paper or the computer, but it is quite another thing to live in a way that is consistent with your own criticism. There is always room for improvement in our written interpretation, but even more, we need to be committed to learning how to be critics with our hands and feet.