In the most recent Sojourners there is an excerpt from a book called “A Profound Weakness: Christians and Kitsch.” In it, author Betty Spackman asks some great questions. “Why is it that so much of the imagery used to express Christian faith can be considered ‘kitsch’? Why is such profound meaning visualized in such feeble ways?”
Defining kitsch might be a slippery endeavor, but it falls into the area of something trite, cheesy, tawdry, or vulgar. Something created to appeal to an unsophisticated, indiscriminate taste. I consider kitsch to be surface level art; it never gets down to anything profound, substantial, rough. And as far as Christian images in the public milieu, it seems to me that a whole heck of a lot of it is kitsch.
“How do I, as a professional artist and a Christian, reconcile (or not) the continuing consumption of things my aesthetic taste and my personal faith reject at so many levels?” writes Spackman.
GREAT question! Especially when you consider how much meaning such items seem to have for so many people. There seems to be an enormous volume of material out there that offends both my artistic and my theological sensibilities, and yet seems to hold a deep influence over many, many people. For me, it is not only visual “art,” but also “music.” (Yes, I put quotes around the word music, because a part of me refuses to call what passes for “music” in some churches truly music.) Tinny, two- or three-chord, repetitious, melodically monotonous, repetitious, rhythmically unimaginative, repetitious, and “let’s-just-crank-up-our-amplifiers-so-they-won’t-notice-how-bad-it-is” so-called “music” may very well be the downfall of the worship style formerly known as contemporary.
Another category to consider = kitschy Christian email forwards. Why do people insist on foisting such drivel unbidden upon their friends and loved ones? Puppy dogs and rainbows and pink clouds and doe-eyed Jesuses gazing with vapid emptiness off into the sky make me want to hurl. And apparently, if I fail to foist the drivel immediately upon ten of my friends whose email addresses have the bad luck of residing in my address book, God will condemn me to burn in the fires of hell for all eternity. Give me a break! I’m much more concerned with what those ten friends will do to me if I DO foist than with what God will do to me if I don’t.
Why is it that, for some people, Christianity, a 2,000 year old religion whose roots are grounded in a 5,000 year old religion and whose complexities have been explored by the greatest minds of history for generations upon generations, can be expressed in a snow globe with a figurine of a fair-skinned, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus surrounded by fluffy white clouds?
Though I am writing this article with a bit of humor, it really isn’t that funny. The trend in Christian “art” shows a clear degradation of both theological and artistic integrity. This is more than a matter of personal taste. I cannot with good conscience just write this off as a simple issue of preference, wherein a mousepad with a rendering of the poem “Footsteps” and a Cornelis Monsma painting are considered just two options among many in the genre of Christian art. Christian kitsch is theologically shallow stuff, and represents an immaturity of faith that I fear has become alarmingly widespread. I suppose that such material affords us an opportunity to reflect on culture, art, and faith. Betty Spackman writes that objects of Christian kitsch “demand my attention, begging questions about the relationships between consumerism and desire, art and faith, accessibility and elitism.”
And so there I am, caught between the latest cheesy email in my inbox and my churning stomach. Part of me just wants to laugh at all of this and go on with life, thinking that these things are harmless trinkets that are more indicative of the shallowness of pop culture than anything about Christianity. But another part of me is truly worried that some people really do think the doctrine of incarnation is best expressed with a nativity set comprised of ceramic kitties. And all I can think is, “Yuck!"
To see more kitsch click these sites.