Sacred vs. Secular Art
Particularly when I was a teenager in a metal band, I had a hard time figuring out how to balance my love of heavy, aggressive music and my choices to believe in a Christian theological worldview. If I do only Christian music, will I be artistically free and widely applicable? If I do secular or mixed, or not explicitly Christian music, am I not a Christian? Finding that balance in all creative pursuits has been nearly impossible, and it’s no doubt just as difficult for many other artists. You have these two parts of yourself that are critical to your existence and identity that sometimes just don’t seem to like each other very much. We are creators created by a creator, and there is pressure from both sides to either create freely and expressively or to make only art that is unmistakably God-honoring. On top of that, you have your audiences for each of those seemingly disparate parts who seem to have plenty of things to say about one or the other aspect of your identity. The struggle is equally powerful without as within. Do you have to choose?
After a long battle of trying to decide which team is the right one to play for, I’ve learned the one important answer which solves the problem for me.
Just quit having that argument with yourself.
Don’t fight that battle anymore. Don’t split yourself in half. People are made to be whole. If you are truly designed to be an artist and a creator, to open the eyes of others, to tell stories and reveal truth and put questions to the fore, then live in that completeness. Embrace it and work with it.
The struggle of choosing to be a sacred versus a secular artist is one that is grounded in the assumption that what makes you a whole person can make you an unholy person. There are many roads you could go down to argue for that assumption, but this is specifically about art.
Let’s be honest; if you are realistic and truthful about life and faith at all, you KNOW that it is not always happiness, doubtlessness, God is good and I believe without a single doubt or worry. If you think that it is, you are either lying or deeply naïve. Author John Eldredge calls these people posers. Sometimes faith is a battle of hurt and anger and prove it. Sometimes it is silence and waiting and loneliness and desperate hope. If you are an artist, it is your job to record life in the smallest details and the grandest concepts. It is your job to ask the questions that others fear asking, to shout the declarations that all others are unable to speak. It is your job to reveal the deep emotional and spiritual content of existence. Everyone lives and breathes the physical, but most need the curtain drawn away from the spiritual, to see within themselves through the expressive work of artists.
Creation is faith. Who are you in the world, really? In the universe? Nobody. But your faith informs you that you too can do great things for good. Will your work change the world? Will it sell? Will it teach you or anyone anything? Will it ever be seen or heard? Will it steer someone the wrong way? Will it be misunderstood or reviled?
You don’t know. You can’t know, and yes. There are all kinds of work you can do to make yourself and your art effective, but ultimately it takes pure faith to believe that what you create matters, that it should be created at all. That faith you have to go ahead and make art is powerful and reliable. Live in it and with it. It’s ok to have doubt and fear in that faith as well, but keep creating. Don’t quit, and don’t restrict what you create or what inspires you.