Todd Smith's A Creative Church – Book Review
Art can often be somewhat perplexing, and whilst standing in front of an abstract painting few would disagree. One may try to squint or cock their head to the side in order to uncover the hidden message hidden amongst thousands of paint strokes. This has been a hurdle that people through the centuries have wrestled defiantly with. What is the meaning? Religion has inspired an incredible number of works as people seek to understand in their own expression. The book “A Creative Church” was authored to highlight the blossoming of art and creativity in the Christian world throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This book will be shortly summarized and analyzed for effectivity based on the strengths and weaknesses of the writing.
To summarize, the author begins by looking at the innovations brought up in the late 19th century. Schools began cropping up around the Americas as education and enlightenment spread like a fire. By establishing schools and introducing extracurricular opportunities for individuals to express themselves, the influence and philosophy of theology grew and a new era was welcomed. People understood they could glorify God through their artistic expressions. It wasn’t long before Christian expression began to gain popularity. Theatre began to flourish in the early 1900s and offered opportunities for reenactments of infamous biblical scenes. Both sight and sound were incorporated which made people feel as if they were personally there. Next up was gospel music, which had actually been around for a while but innovation was in the air. Creatives such as Charles Albert Tinley, Thomas Andrew Dorson, and Mahalia Johnson hit the scene. Contemporary Christian music also evolved as young Christians incorporated the beats of modern music. Even festivals and concerts came into being to accommodate the exciting atmosphere being created: it was worship with true musical passion. Visual arts became open to the everyday person as technology advanced and tools became more readily available. Before the visual arts were limited to sculptures, paintings, and architecture which could not be easily distributed and tended to only be seen by the few that had money or special connections. Printers made biblical art more readily available to the everyday person. It aided people of all ages by showcasing biblical scenes that helped connect them to the stories. As technology continued animation and movies came to be. The show “Veggie Tales” as well as countless other Christian movies were created and offered entertainment alongside biblical teachings. Dance is another perhaps lesser known way Christians expressed themselves. They express joy and meaning as they swayed in fantastically choreographed movement. All this and more contributed to the essence of Christianity that was now available on so many relatable platforms, which grew and allowed for more and more people to join in and share their faith in a tangible way.
The book, A Creative Church by Todd Smith, featured many positive aspects to it that make it brilliant for understanding the rapidly ongoing movement of Christian arts. First and foremost, the book goes into great detail, citing specific people involved in scenarios that created a great avalanche in the Christian world. As an added bonus, the author highlights pioneer catalysts in each genre, which assists those reading in understanding what exactly is going on from the perspectives of those who made great strides in it. The careful attention to present clear, factual information is evident as this writing reads much like an in-depth journal or textbook. As a matter of fact, it contains a great amount of similarity to the textbook Garners Art Through the Ages by Fred S. Kleiner and Helen Gardner. In this text, everything is in order of time and topic in a manner that guides the reader through history in a way that is clearly meant to facilitate learning and act as a resource (Gardner and Kleiner). It serves as a resource for education and provides valuable context to understand the Christian art scene today.
Unfortunately, nothing is perfect, and this book is no exception. Though it did wonderfully in explaining historically what was going on in Christian art culture in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it missed an incredible opportunity to showcase the artwork itself. There was a potential to awe those reading by presenting the art in vivid color to allow them to see for themselves what had grasped the attention of people of the past, but unfortunately, the pictures in this book are limited largely to black and white photographic portraits of those that participated in various movements. Another book, The Seagull Reader, edited by Joseph Kelly is a review of popular poetry through the ages. A variation from A Creative Church is clear because the Seagull Reader focuses on listing the poetry itself while listing brief information, no more than a paragraph, summarizing the life of the poet and the context the presenting poems consist of (The Seagull Reader, 2001). That would have been a better approach for Smith as it would involve the reader much more by allowing them to interact with the art produced and understanding the value that they possess. In its current condition the pages of Smith's book seem dry and void of the creative luster and faith that was present with the artists of the time it represents.
Overall this book does its job well. It does exactly what it sets out to do in that it lists out the context and advancements many people made in America for Christian art in the 19th and 20th century and explains how these movements impacted people around them and the world. As with anything, there is room for improvement. The book could potentially be improved drastically by mixing in the creative language and art to enlighten and inspire readers. The context provided is a useful tool. It allows individuals to understand what why Christian art evolved the way it did and gives them the insight they require to better understand the arts today.
Kelly, Joseph, ed. The Seagull Reader. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001. Print.
Kleiner, Fred S., and Helen Gardner. Gardner's Art Through the Ages: A Concise Global History. 3rd ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, 2012. Print.
Smith, Todd. A Creative Church. Dobuque: KendallHunt, 2014. Print.
Sollins, Susan, comp. Art 21: Art in the Twenty-First Century 3. Ed. Marybeth Sollins. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2006. Print.
Image: J.M.W. Turner, The Slave Ship (1840). Oil on canvas. 90.8 × 122.6 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/26/Slave-ship.jpg/300px-Slave-ship.jpg)