A few years ago, a co-worker interested in purchasing something for her pastor friend asked me if I had any Christian pictures. I do not remember my response but undoubtedly it went through my filter before it came out my mouth. While this may be the only time this question has been posed to me, there is an underlying feeling that permeates through the Christian community and it doesn’t end with photography.
As many of you know, I am a Christian in the fullest sense of the word. Take all the stereotypes that one has for a conservative, right-wing fundamentalist Christian and they probably all apply. Because of my beliefs and my hobby, one would think that when posed with this question that I would say something like “Why yes, yes I do. Let me show you some of my most Christian pictures I have”. But I did not. Why, might you ask? Because the question, and the premise behind it, is deeply flawed.
If I asked the woman to define a “Christian picture”, quite likely I would be met with silence or she would ask for some tranquil nature scene with a Bible verse at the bottom of the picture. After all, if you happen to glance or shop for artwork at various Christian book stores you either see the scene I just described or featuring a prominent biblical figure (and usually that figure is Jesus) or just some bible verses in artistic script.
Since all the biblical figures, or at least actual ones, are long gone that only gives me the option of shooting the tranquil scenes and adding some quote from the Psalms or Proverbs. If I take the bible verse out, that only leaves a tranquil nature scene. Deer drinking from calm pools, eagles soaring among the clouds, and majestic mountain shots are the types of elements needed for that formula. And if we distill this Christian photo (or even Christian art) to that essence, then any lovely scene is a Christian picture. At least as long as the work produces certain feelings of calmness or piety, it gets the stamp.
Personally, I don’t think any art, can achieve the title of Christian. There may be Christian themes, characters and imagery, but that, in and of itself, does not make it Christian. Instead, I believe that there are Christian artists who produce work that is influenced and informed by their faith and creed but there is no litmus test to determine if something is, indeed Christian.
But I will say this. The work is formed by the artist’s intention. For some people, art is merely and expression of what is inside. For others it is a means of expressing ideas and perhaps influencing people’s opinions and both Christians and non-Christians produce art that affects its viewers positive ways and thus it becomes a very tenuous proposition to reject the art of one person in favor of another’s because of a particular artist’s creed. An artist like Dore’ created stunning art that found its way into millions of bibles. His work adorns the museums and homes of thousands, but yet, he was not a Christian
But what it comes down to is this…art that seeks to do good and right and is not created to serve debased emotions is “good art” in the moral sense, and those that do the opposite are morally “bad” art. But among the “good art” there is no way to sift out “Christian” and “non-Christian” works. So, rather than worrying about having Christian photography or Christian art hanging on our walls, let us instead be satisfied in adorning our rooms with works that are aesthetically pleasing, and be thankful to God that we have the grace to enjoy it.