The Soul Killing Problem of Bad Art, by Ashley Ariel

From the Wild/RestlessA 50-Car Pile Up at the Corner of Faith, Film and Theology

As artists and theologians we need to be less sure of being “right” and more secure in taking the risk to say, “I don’t know. Let’s explore this.”

by Ashley Ariel

scan-131340001One of my theology professors, or perhaps many of them, (sometimes my entire seminary experience simply flows together as one great river) once said that bad art is bad theology. Think about that for a moment. Bad art is bad theology. Good art reflects the world around it. Good art unveils a deeper theme or emotion undergirding its story and truly great art oh-so-subtly transforms the worldview of its audience by making them question things they once thought stable. By breaking out the keen prophetic edge of a good story well told and using it to deftly peel back the layers of an unexamined life.

So what does bad art do? It reinforces preconceived notions about the world and about ourselves. It encourages the mundane and allows its audience to wallow in self-validating sense of security. All of which helps no one and leaves both outsiders and those insiders who are striving for something more scratching their heads and wondering at the inept mangling of something once called beautiful.

God is a vast and wildly wondrous thing that no human can ever hope to fully grasp. And so it disappoints me to no end that so much energy of the American church and particularly the American Evangelical church has been set to pearl clutching in an attempt to confine God, theology and by extension, art to a terribly tiny box whose corners have all been painstakingly mapped. The good news is that neither art nor theology nor God can be trapped in such a suffocating box. It is sheer hubris to believe that this might be so.

So where does this leave us if we want a living, breathing theology that is reflected in our art?

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Ashley Ariel studied screenwriting at a college you’ve never heard of and got an advanced degree in theology (in theology! why?!?) at a school you might have. She’s attended several writing programs of fairly vague importance and has blithely put aside any attempt at snobbery, fully embracing her bizarre, hybrid love of the summer tent pole action flick and the soulful indie that inexorably crushes your feelings into dust.
She’s taught workshops on story in the wilds of Kansas City and once, accidentally, ran into Colin Farrell while stocking shelves at Borders. She’s worked on lots, on sets and has read a slew of very bad scripts for several teeny tiny production companies. She currently lives in somewhere in NH and is constantly asking herself how she found herself in this tree.

Next: Why Beauty Matters in a Broken World, by Catherine Hart Weber, PhD