Trevin Wax has a good interview with Nate here. In the course of that interview Nate says something about a recent “prediction” I made about a potential explosion in the world of Reformed aesthetics.
“Think of it more as a gameplan. He’s checking off his fight-these-strategic-battles list. He’s not a guy in the stands making a prediction. He’s more like a coach trying to call a play.”
That’s a good summary, but there is still a predictive element to it. When you call a particular play, you do so because you believe the conditions are right for it. You believe your players are ready for it. Calling a football play should be more of a thoughtful process than calling 23 black on a roulette wheel is.
The arts need patrons. Patrons need money in order to be patrons. When money shows up, in large amounts, one of two things will happen to the arts — decadence or accomplishment. What is true of cultures is also true of subcultures.
Despite the economic downturn, despite the hard times that many believers are going through, the Reformed evangelical subculture currently has more influence, money, education, and numbers than it has ever had before. That money will either express itself in soft decadence or in genuine accomplishment. If that money is chasing aesthetic accomplishment alone, and not also support for church plants, or missions, or mercy ministry, then that money is chasing decadence. If a Christian makes a pile, and simply invests it the same way his secular neighbor does, on the same principles, then that money is chasing decadence.
But if those who are rich in this present world are generous and willing to share, as Paul says to Timothy, if they are not setting their hope on riches, which can so easily evaporate, and if their good works include balanced support for artists, then the result will be genuine accomplishment.
I can imagine many a struggling artist adding his amen at this point, wondering why more potential patrons don’t see their responsibilities in this. But I would argue that more patrons are willing to be patrons than artists are willing to be artists. Responsible patrons are put off by the bohemian posturing. If they are not put off by it, then they are funding the decadence of intellectual rot. If they run across a little lord byron in skinny jeans, and they go ahead and provide him with the funds to continue to brush his hair out of his eyes, they are making the desolate waste of our aesthetic underachievment worse.
Responsible patrons are put off by the posers, and they will continue to be put off by the posers until the artists start policing their own ranks. This is especially the case when the patrons are churches and Christian leaders.
This is especially important because true patronage will often be dismissed as philistinism by those who didn’t make the cut. But real patrons fund real artists, and real artists defend real patrons — instead of defending a self-appointed coterie of friends who have never actually written or made anything, but who “have a great idea for a script.” Making the grade for funding ought to be as difficult as the actual aristic work is, and those two things really ought to be interwoven.