Sometimes, in our quest to usher meaningful art into the world, we can can cross a line. But what is an artist to do in a world where sometimes shock value is the only thing that grabs attention?
As a person of faith, and as a writer, I’m constantly struggling with these questions.
Edgy art isn’t enough
Author C.J. Darlington wrote an interesting post about this called, “Writing edgy… for all the wrong reasons.”
She raises a good point, for Christians and non-Christians alike, calling writers to check our motives before drafting something that is edgy, controversial, or contentious.
I’ve been known to write a provocative article or two in my time (see: “A letter to the Affluent Church“), so I can relate. Once you see a maelstrom of comments flooding in over something you wrote that touched a nerve, it’s hard to stop. The attention is addictive, which can be dangerous.
In her post, Darlington addresses this issue:
In the last couple of years I’ve noticed a trend in Christian fiction. More and more aspiring authors desire to write edgy fiction. And by edgy I mean pushing the envelope of what has generally been considered acceptable in novels regarding violence, sex, language, etc.
Now I’m all for writing real. I want my characters and situations to be true to life. I don’t want to write about saints. But somewhere there’s a line, and I admit, it’s a gray one. Personally, I think it comes down to motives. Why do we want to write edgy? Is it to shock? To do it because we can?
An alternative to controversy
Of course, there is an alternative to creating edgy art just because you can: honesty. Some creatives, in their search for understanding and meaning, are creating art that is honest. And it just happens to be provocative.
They’re writing music or crafting copy that conflicts with the clean ways some people choose to see the world, and as a result it seems controversial. But all they’re really doing is telling the truth — at least, their version of it.
I’m completely in favor of work that challenges and pushes our thinking, that calls our core beliefs into question and causes us to dig deeper into what we think we know. We need more of that kind of art in the world, especially in churches.
What good art does
Good art tests boundaries. It always has. We artists just need to check our motives (and egos) before we endeavor to create it.
Ultimately, we all want our work to matter. We want our creations to count. And the only way to do that is to approach our crafts with honesty and integrity. To write what is true even when it offends.
There’s nothing wrong with writing edgy, and there’s nothing wrong with writing not edgy. What is wrong — especially for a person of faith — is to write something that isn’t true to your deepest convictions and core beliefs. True to who you are and what you stand for. Denying that creative impulse would be a tragedy.
So whether dark or cheery, we all need to write words that are honest. Anything else would be writing for the wrong reasons, indeed.
Do you write edgy just because you can, or because you hope it will make a difference? Share in the comments.