Draw "the line" when it comes to the arts

As Christians, what is “the line” when it comes to the arts, especially the popular media?

Movies, TV shows, books, live theater, dance, visual arts–what do you consider acceptable and when does an art piece become unacceptable?

An example would be the recent movie, “Stranger Than Fiction.” Some would say that it has a lot of redemptive messages and points people to God. Others would say that because of the implied premarital sex, that it crossed the line and points people away from God…

I would like to request that if possible, this thread be limited to discussion about what your personal “line” is, rather than involving children. Like many Christians, I believe that children are not miniature adults, and that we need to protect them. I believe that there are art pieces that are appropriate for adults and not appropriate for children, and that it is “OK” for adult Christians to enjoy “adult” art pieces. I’m interested in discussing what art pieces you believe are appropriate for adults. Thanks.

(NOTE: When I use the term “Adult,” I’m not talking about “porn.” I’m talking about pieces like “Shakespearean plays” or “novels by Pearl Buck” or “CSI: Miami” etc. These pieces are intended for adult audiences, not children, but they are not “pornographic.”)

I would also like to futher confine this topic by requesting that we not discuss the value of “entertainment” for Christians. I realize that there are some Christians who do not accept the value of ANY form of entertainment for Christians. May I request that that particular viewpoint be discussed in another thread, and that in this thread, we assume that entertainment is “OK” for Christians? Thanks again.

For me, it’s a matter of respect. If the art depicts a body in proper context then it’s art. When it comes to tv and movies, if the love scenes are necessary to the development of the character then I’m ok with ‘implied’ scenes, like in the old days. I find the bare exposure of the romps takes away from the story. It distracts rather than enhances.

Lyrics? Musicals? Again, if it is in context then ok. If it’s just thrown in there for shock value, forget it.

Same with comedy. Swearing and lewd references are cheap humor. It takes real talent to make people laugh without that stuff.

Perhaps this question will be less confusing if I ask for specifics.

Please don’t think I am being confrontational. I merely want a reference, something solid.

Which movies, plays, books, etc. do you feel are “acceptable” and which are “unacceptable?”

Here is some examples.

Television:
Will and Grace
The Simpsons
the CSI shows
The Unit

Books:
Da Vinci Code
Harlequin romances
John Grisham’s novels
Amanda Quick’s novels (girls only!)

Stage:
Angels in America
Sweeney Todd
West Side Story
Wicked

Visual:
Robert Mapplethorpe
Michelangelo
Van Gogh
Andy Warhol

Music:
Pavrotti
Sting
Jars of Clay
Snoop Dogg

Movies:
Million Dollar Baby
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Blades of Glory
The Lion King

Dance:
ballet
hip hop
square dance
Fosse

I’ve chosen the above examples because I don’t think it’s clear cut. I’ve seen Christians (Catholic and Protestant) argue pro and con.

Please feel free to talk about your own examples rather than those above.

I suppose there are many Christians who say, “Big deal. Let everyone make up their own mind.”

Well, I agree to a certain extent. But I think often, Christians just kind of get swept up in popular culture, especially media, and they don’t ask questions about what they are participating in. I think this affects our relationship with Jesus and our relationship to His Church.

I think that other Christians believe we should just ignore the popular media and go about our business. Well, that would be dandy, except that we live in the U.S. where most people clearly do NOT ignore the media. This is our “mission field,” and I think it behooves us to try to understand the culture we are living in.

On your examples, my answers would be based on my personal taste. I feel that an adult with a well formed concience can make decisions based on that formation.

For our children, we determine child by child what is appropriate and when.

I grew up as a non-Catholic Christian, and every couple of years the “Rock music is of the devil” preacher would make the rounds. I’ve heard Stairway To Heaven backwards so many times I can almost sing it backwards :slight_smile:

We would all have to repent and have a big record burning.

My teen son listens to things your teen may not, he is a musican and it gives him a different POV. He is very solid in his Faith too.

Not really a response, I know, just musing.

And good, bad or not, Snoop Dog is just garbage :slight_smile:

Here’s my take:

Television:
Will and Grace - never seen it
The Simpsons - laugh my head off
the CSI shows - never seen them
The Unit - never seen it

Books:
Da Vinci Code - stupid, stupid, stupid!!!
Harlequin romances - depends on the author
John Grisham’s novels - like them
Amanda Quick’s novels (girls only!) - like them very much

Stage:
Angels in America - I hated it!!!
Sweeney Todd - never seen it
West Side Story - schmaltzy
Wicked - haven’t seen it

Visual:
Robert Mapplethorpe - I like his portraits and flowers otherwise no way!!!
Michelangelo - genius!!!
Van Gogh - another genius!!!
Andy Warhol - silly

Music:
Pavrotti - eh all right, but I prefer baritones
Sting - only with The Police
Jars of Clay- who are they?
Snoop Dogg - disgusting

Movies:
Million Dollar Baby - hated it
Terminator 2: Judgement Day- I liked it
Blades of Glory- silly and funny
The Lion King-loved it

Dance:
ballet-too artificial
hip hop-that’s dancing?
square dance-All right, but I hate the outfits
Fosse- too artificial

Now tap dance…that’s the best!

For myself as an artist, I create art that communicates my experience, with the hope of sharing my joy.

Art is useless if it merely copies. We have cameras for that. Art is about communication - my experiences coming through the canvas and being reacted to by the viewer. I try to keep it pure. (Some people don’t think I succeed in that - I happen to think that they are crazy. :smiley: )

Television and movies are forms of story-telling. Good story-telling is about adventure, conflict, and overcoming conflict. The best stories are about human beings cooperating against evil, or cooperating for good. That’s why I like CSI and NCIS. It’s what I love about The Junk Brothers, which isn’t even really a story because it’s so simple - just a couple of guys picking garbage and turning it into great things - but it’s the greatest show on television right now, in my personal opinion. It’s also what I like about Pirates of the Caribbean.

What I don’t like about The Unit is that they don’t cooperate - they are pulling against each other in the presence of a common enemy. That’s also what I don’t like about soap operas. They become unnecessarily distracted from the task at hand by each other’s problems.

Jars of Clay is an EXTREMELY popular Christian rock band. Everyone I know says WOO WOO WOWIE WOW, they’re the greatest and even people like me who don’t like rock music will love them because the words to their songs are sooooo awesomely godly wonderful.

Then they show me the words to Jars of Clay songs, and I go, “Huh? What’s the big deal?”

But that’s just my personal preference. I have nothing against them. I just wouldn’t spend my time or money on them.

I will give you my **personal **opinion of your examples. At least the ones I have experience with. I will add that I have recently ceased virtually all TV viewing. I gave it up for Lent and have not gone back.

As I grow in the faith, I find that I am separating myself from popular culture more and more. I do not read newspapers any more. I hardly even look at the news, TV or internet. I do not even know what the weather is supposed to do tomorrow. I am even startig to cut back my time on the internet.

I feel better this way and have not missed it.

I’m sorry – I couldn’t let this topic fall away into the oblivion of the online world without making sure that people are aware:

the daily news (i.e., what you read in newspapers, what you see on the evening news, etc.) is not the same as popular culture!
I know its a fine line, because the television is a medium for pop culture, as is the internet and papers – but pop culture is definitely distinct from the news. I would not be able to keep up with my career and life if I didn’t keep up with the news.

ok gee let’s see…

Television:
Will and Grace - amusing
The Simpsons - laugh my head off
the CSI shows - Love the Las Vegas one
The Unit - never seen it

Books:
Da Vinci Code - Loed the book as a work of fiction
Harlequin romances - boring
John Grisham’s novels - they are ok but I’m a Stephen King fan myself
Amanda Quick’s novels (girls only!) - never read them

Stage:
Angels in America - Loved it
Sweeney Todd -My favorite musical of all time
West Side Story - wanted to be a jet when I was little ( female by the way)
Wicked - haven’t seen it but am dying to, loved the book

Visual:
Robert Mapplethorpe - Never had a chance to view his work
Michelangelo - genius!!!
Van Gogh - another genius!!!
Andy Warhol - a different kind of genius

Music:
Pavrotti -not into it but I do like opera
Sting - yes please
Jars of Clay- Love, love, love their first album
Snoop Dogg - I hate rap, but that’s my personal preference

Movies:
Million Dollar Baby - Good movie
Terminator 2: Judgement Day- I liked it
Blades of Glory- never saw it, but I liked Shaun of the dead, does that count?
The Lion King-loved it

Dance:
ballet- like it
hip hop- Like some of it
square dance-boring- reminds me of gym class
Fosse- love it

I don’t really have a line, well except for the obvious/ what I’m explicity told is wrong (eg porn, is the only one I can think of off the top of my head). Otherwise, I’ll watch, read or listen to whatever I want to. If during / after partaking of this piece of media, either I don’t like it, or my conscience bothers me about it, I won’t finish it / won’t partake of it again. So it’s sort of a case by case basis, judged on experience (it can’t hurt to see it once just to decide). There are rare exceptions (eg Da Vinci Code, only one I can think of off the top of my head) where I’ll stay away from it because others have asked me to and I think what they’re saying is reasonable even if I haven’t checked it out first hand.

I may watch some things that others don’t, but I prefer to video things for later viewing. If something like a sex scene comes on then I can fast forward. If the whole story line or topic on a talk show is something I don’t want to see then I can skip the whole show. For instance, I watch Oprah when Dr. Oz is on and for things like the road trip and spa trip. When she starts her “Secret” pitch I just skip it. It is so obvious that she has not really thought about the path that entire things leads people on that it annoys me. She freaked when a viewer declined cancer treatment based on that mess.

I loved the book Wicked when it came out years ago even though it had some adult (not porn) themes. I was an odd child who disliked Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz movie. I thought she was selfish, annoying and deserving of a good scare by the witch whose life she intruded upon. I like the “Wicked” story better. My family has tickets for the play for June. Yipee!

I used to read more romance type novels before I joined the church, but now I skip the ones that are just an excuse to ties together lots of sex scenes. I will read a book that may have premarital sex in it if that is not the main part of the book. I skip the sex bits.

This has been a question that I’ve done alot of thinking on since my life’s passion is writing. I tend to write about things I want to bring to people’s attention, and fiction is a great vehicle for that. If you read a history book, you learn the who’s and what’s about something like slavery, for example, but if you read a novel on the topic you find out what it FELT like to be a slave. I think as writers (or any other creative vocation) we can help people achieve greater understanding of themselves and each other.

Since I write about the world we live in now for the most part, there is sex, violence and profanity in my works. I do however, make a point not to use the Lord’s name in vain and I keep my sex scenes between loving couples. I do, however, talk about subjects that make some uncomfortable, including mental health issues, child abuse and rape. I write about these things mostly because I’ve experinced them and I want to take my pain and turn it into something that may help someone gain greater understanding. I pray every night for God to help me use my talents to make the world a better place, even if it’s just bringing a smile to someone’s face.

As an artist, I tend not to like censorship very well. As much as people like Larry Flint and Howard Stern disgust me, I would rather have to deal with their verbal diaherra and have the oppritunity to use my voice, then have them censored and my expressive freedoms taken away as well. I do, however, have a few lines I do feel should not be crossed: Disrespecting and demeaning religion and religious icons, bashing against Faith, anything that sexualizes children, pornography, and wanton cruelty to animals. On most everything else, I would prefer to make up my own mind about it.

As for my tastes, my TV viewing is mostly reality shows like American Idol, ER, Boston Legal ( I heart Denny Crane!) reruns of The X-Files, Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Simpsons, Roseanne and alot of other Nick at Nite. I have favorites in almost every type of music, but I seem to listen to alot of Alternative rock and contemporary Country. In movies, I am a huge horror movie fan, but I am a little saddened that gore is replacing plot, though I can handle and enjoy movies like Romero’s zombie films. And in books, well, I read just about anything I can get my hands on! Stephen King is my favorite author, and I enjoy mysteries, some Sci-Fi, some Manga, and historical fiction.

Me too! Have you read the Dark Tower series? I found that I am having a hard time reading any other fiction books after that series. It was such and epic saga that I hold all my other reading material up to.

I have found that since reading that series, I have gone back to my favorite classics, like Pride and Prejudice, etc…because I cannot find anything contemporary that seems to interest me enough to buy.

I used to read more romance type novels before I joined the church, but now I skip the ones that are just an excuse to ties together lots of sex scenes. I will read a book that may have premarital sex in it if that is not the main part of the book. I skip the sex bits.

I read a lot of romance novels, but I skip the ones that are nothing but erotica - they are boring as can be IMO. I like ones with a good story and have gotten to the point where I skip the sex scenes, or search out ones that don’t have sex scenes at all but are still romantic.

Lately I have been on a Dean Koontz kick. He’s such a good storyteller and he isn’t the kind to make a villain the hero like Thomas Harris does with Hannibal Lechter.

It’s difficult, if not impossible to draw the line, especially when it comes to modern art. Modern art, loves to make people uncomfortable in order to make a statement. For example, when I heard Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” I was taken back and at first thought it was offensive because it was not a “proper” Mass setting. However, it is actually a musical about a human event…going to Church. It is no different than a musical about another human event, like going to the State Fair.

It contains some harsh words, like after the Gloria - which is very jazzy, btw - the choir adds some lyrics:

Half of the people are stoned
And the other half are waiting
For the next election!

Half the people are drowning
And the other half are swimming
In the wrong direction!

Now Bernstein wasn’t trying to be like a masonic conspirator and try to sneak words in the Gloria, he was using the chorus to convey a common attitude amongst people when they go to church and are overly-judgemental.

As anyone who has seen “The Passion of the Christ” and loved it, or as anyone who has protested at an abortion clinic with a picture of a dead fetus can testify: the criticism of an art critic reveals more about the critic than the art does for the artist.

To demonstrate my point, let’s look at the famous piece of art at the Brooklyn Museum of Art - the one that was simply a crucifix soaked in urine. What would your reaction be if the artist said:

“I made it to protest the inaction of Catholic bishops to censure or excommunicate pro-abortion politicians. Their inaction is an insult to Christ, just as this piece of art is an insult to Christ.”

I am pretty sure that if that was the artist’s intent, the reaction would be TOTALLY different. I don’t even remember the media asking why the artist did that. At the time, I was ticked off, but later I realized that I never asked, “Why?”.

We are God’s work of art…yet we consider our entrails gross. I think we need to ask why, before we consider what is art and what is not.

I think that there are “artistic” people and “non-artistic people” and that it is very difficult for these two groups to communicate, let alone agree.

The artistic person will sit enchanted at a ballet, while the non-artistic person will be embarrassed or even offended by the sight of a man wearing tights.

Artistic people dig deep and find all kinds of symbolism in different art media, while non-artistic people can’t get past the “swears” and the “nekkids.”

I’m sorry if I sound harsh or judgemental. This upsets me. I wish that the “arts” and “non-arts” could get along better. All too often, they just end up getting mad at each other and starting organizations to stop each other.

I think what muddies the issue is having the U.S. government decide for us where the line is, rather than letting us decide for ourselves.

If the government would get OUT of the arts, then the question of “line” could be decided by the people and the organizations that they support (e.g., churches), and we would not be forced to pay the way for those that we do not support.

If a man paints a picture of a cross in a bucket of urine, and no one pays to see it, his picture will end up in a closet somewhere. If a man makes a movie about the death of the Lord Jesus, and millions pay to see it, more movies will be made about the Lord Jesus.

I don’t blame the “non-arts” for protesting when their personal money is taken from them to support “art” that they consider sacrilegious. I myself would prefer to spend my own money on what I consider art rather than having someone take my money and spend it on THEIR preference.

It was only in the last 150 years or so that the purpose of art changed. Today, we think of art as “self-expression”.

For most of human history, that is not what art was.

Art was communication.

Art held symbols that carried meaning to the viewer. It did not need a card explaining what the artist saw, it was using common devices and depictions to describe a scene or event.

Look at a San Damiano crucificx, that is a classic example of art conveying many messages.

Today, we are so removed from what these symbols are, symbols used by many artists for generations, we can no longer interret or understand the work.

If a work of “art” needs explanation, then it is not art. That is unless you do not understand the symbols.

Art that is about self-expression is not worth the time it takes to look at it.

Maybe we mean different things by “self expression” but for myself, the only kind of art I find at all interesting is art that is expressive of ideas, and conveys emotional/spiritual reactions to various things. The Sistine Chapel paintings by Michelangelo, for example, are very expressive - they are not merely a catalogue of emotionless data.

This is how I draw the line. If an artform is in question I think if is an direct attack on the Faith then i decide.

Television: Shows like Boston Legal, Desperate Housewives ect are right on the edge of vulgar. However if I was to watch them they tend to make me glad that I am Catholic. Shows like Supernatural, Kyle XY, Charmed undermine the Faith by showing other spritual elements sometimes showing or mixing relgion with other things. I tend to be affected more by the second kind of shows so I try to stay away from them,

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.