Art and Ideology
So the other day I got to thinkin’ – always a dangerous proposition!
Anyway, what is the relationship between art and ideology? Specifically, if art is intentionally rendered in the service of ideology, is it truly art? If art has a particular ideology that it intends to communicate (or “push”) at what point does it become propaganda?
Idealist that I am, I believe that the purest, truest art is an expression of one’s inner soul. Art should reflect the artist’s deepest passions, fears, hopes, dreams, desires. Anything short of that is disingenuous to a degree.
Furthermore, it’s cheezy. I say that as a songwriter who has experienced reflecting upon his own work and found that anything borne of something other than my deepest emotion comes across as cheezy or corny.
Remember the scene in Walk the Line where Johnny Cash auditions for Sam Phillips at Sun Records? Cash works his way through a well-rehearsed gospel song and Phillips says, “I don’t believe you.” When Cash sings “Folsom Prison Blues,” a song written after a visceral reaction to a film of the prisoners’ living conditions at Folsom, the absolute soulfulness comes through and Phillips believes him even though his performance lacks confidence and polish.
I have drawn parallels between protest songs and Christian music before, and here I go again. Protest songs that are borne of simple political ideology seem cheezy to me, whereas some seem to have more soul, more grit, and more heart to them. Same goes for Christian music. Too often Christian music sounds to my ears like the composer sat down to write a Christian song (Christian first, song second). Other times it feels like the composer sat down to write a song and his/her passion for Christ came through (song first, Christian second). Yet as a casual listener, I can’t really read the hearts and minds of the composers – perhaps one writer simply has a better grasp of metaphor, imagery and wordplay than the other. At the same time, too many Christian songs sound like the product of what one of my professors calls the “traditional piety perpetuation machine.”
So that brings me to a series of questions that I ask myself as a preacher:
- Is the sermon an art form?
- If so, is the art best served by being in tune with my own deepest passions, desires, fears, hopes, dreams?
- Is the art well served by being in tune with the congregation’s deepest passions, etc.?
- Am I guilty of preparing art in the service of ideology rather than passion?
And finally, am I overthinking this, or is it just part of my academic nature?