Artistic imagination as subversive prophetic engagement

I had to stop and look more closely at Chris Jordan’s art collection that I posted a link to yesterday. In the world of the web, things are often glanced over and little attention is given to the detail that comprises the message in an image or artistic piece. In many ways, this skimming "web vision" is a portrait of how we are socialized in life. This socialization urges us to move past things worth paying attention to and can land us in a place of numbness. I caught myself brushing too quickly over the images in the collection and I failed to notice the subversive power only seen with the steady eye. If you are curious to what caught me, have a boo at the paper bag picture and the Denali vehicle logos and see if you can spot the subversiveness of the images.

This experience encouraged me to again ponder the thoughts of Walter Brueggeman’s work, The Prophetic Imagination. In it he suggests that the royal consciousness is one which socializes the culture to a point of numbness and kills artistic creativity. For example, I realize the issues of mass consumption, but since viewing Chris Jordan’s images, I have an increased sense of the seriousness of the issue; a seriousness that I hope spurs me on to consider my complicity in it and evokes change in me. Brueggemann suggests that the royal consciousness wants to silence the artist and maintain a status quo that seeks to console people with the "everything is OK" rhetoric. The images mentioned scream a resounding "it’s NOT OK" and serve as a wake up call to our ways of unsustainability, which points to our issue of selfishness, and greed, and is also closely tied to our issues of poverty. It is Brueggemann’s position that the voices of artists and poets funded by the biblical vision of God can evoke alternative visions for humanity and life; even before the pragmatics of that vision are clear. It is the prophetic way that seeks to discover the interplay between heaven and earth.

This leads me to further questions about how we, the people of God, respond to such a challenge. Have we been lulled into a status quo-type state religion (into the royal consciousness) that – If I can borrow Martin Luther King Jr’s words – has served as more of "… a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion"? Or have we taken our prophetic stance as did the early church to function as "…a thermostat that transformed the mores of society"? It is without doubt the creativity, expressed in poetry and art, of every generation of believers that made a significant impact to transform the oppressive ways of their time, was inspired by the possibilities of the alternative vision for humanity the gospel gives us.

Have we lost the artistic imagination and prophetic edge necessary to be thermostatic? Or is everything OK?

I’d like to hear your thoughts.

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