Art and Propaganda… some thoughts

There is certainly no way to quantify where exactly art ends and propaganda begins. Probably all art contains some percentage of propaganda and vice versa . In the same way, aside from Jesus himself, there is probably no such thing as a 100% pure motive. It’s always a mixed bag.

But, with that in mind, we could say that Propaganda, at the far end of the spectrum, exists solely for the message it carries, and Art, on the far other end of the spectrum, exists for itself. Many of your answers seemed to have political propaganda in mind but that doesn’t have to be the case.
I would say: “Propaganda” is simply a means to an end as “Art” is both an end and a means unto itself.
For instance, if no one on the planet ever heard my music, I would still write and sing. Now the fact that others do listen to it, and I make a living doing it means that at times it must be modified. This doesn’t mean it has become propaganda but certain neutral changes may need to be made in order to accommodate a listener. (Here’s some advice: When you have listeners, you get to sing more often.)
Propaganda doesn’t have to be negative, but people generally despise it when they recognize it (as viewed here in your responses). People despise it because it isn’t sincere. It isn’t something you say because you “want” to say it, its something you say because you “have” to say it. Even if the motive behind it is pure, it still repulses people if they even feel that “motive behind it” behind it.
Art certainly can and should have tell a story, but if people feel that it only exists to prove a point or express a message then it turns them off. It certainly turns me off. No matter how “true” it is, I’m just not interested in it if you don’t believe in it yourself. I’m not saying that we should only do what we want to do. A community expression should at least attempt to include the community. Still, I think we should create art and write songs we actually mean. Not just what we’re supposed to sing.
Do you think that “church” art/music feels more like art or propaganda? Is this good? Should it change? How should it change?
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21 comments
  1. sean said:

    "I think we should create art and write songs we actually mean. Not just what we're supposed to sing."That is the truth. When it comes to worship, there is a balance of expression and faith. For instance focusing on God's goodness can help us out of a rut. However, from what I know about God, He craves honesty from us. He knows our hearts regardless of our words. In our church we are given great freedom as worship leaders to say and sing what is on our hearts and we love it, and take advantage. That said, I am encouraged to see worship in our church, and in the body as a whole, evolve to something honest and real.God wants our hearts, not our words.

  2. Mal said:

    Honestly I think it depends on the church and/or the persons in it. Personally, I think a lot of Christian Contemporary Music feels propagandish. All pretty similar sounding all niched into a narrow framework of safe lyrics and safe sounds… That is when it becomes propaganda to me. When it has to sound a certain way to be considered good or Godly. That being said as a regular worship team participant I do know it can be very easy to fall into propaganda mode. Especially if you let yourself fall into a routine…

  3. I guess to me it does feel like propaganda most of the time cause it doesn't feel like worship is coming from the heart much anymore. I don't know why…. it just doesn't

  4. To me, art is valueless without an audience. Even if it is an audience of one. All art in a sense is propaganda because it is created with an audience in mind with an intention of evoking something in that audience. The reaction may be positive or negative. But art isn't created for it to do/be nothing. There's always an expectation from its creator…which automatically establishes a motive. Even if the motive is to do or change nothing, that is propaganda (again, in a loose sense) that persuades people to be complacent or apathetic…perhaps.So to answer your question (great post!) church art and music is propaganda in my view. But that's not inherently negative at all. I think this discussion is trying to chip away at the notion of motive. Authenticity. Intention. John you talked about modifying your art for your audience. Is this because you want to sell more records or because more people will be able to receive God's message more clearly if the method of delivery is more "plain"? No one can say but you…and maybe you're not even sure ha!So to bring it full circle, in art I feel that audience dictates the method/vehicle/style. If you are making music for believers who know christian terminology and metaphors, you will deliver you message one way. If you create music for people who are seeking truth and could potentially find truth with a capital T through your music, you very well may change the vehicle or style of the tune. So-art has an audience and a specified vehicle that that particular audience accepts as a "good" method to receive your message. Propaganda has a message, and hopes that an audience will be generated by its stirring message. both of these sound like church art/music with different audiences.Church art/music could change for the better by silencing the lie we tell ourselves that we have it together. Let's create art that acknowledges our brokenness and in turn gives God the glory. Let's create art that acknowledges EVERYONE in the proverbial audience is in the same mess…cuz we are.

    • Art (creating with the intention of beauty) has great value with no audience. It glorifies God.

      • Assuming you recognize your creativity comes from God : )

  5. Sorry for the rambling post…coffee buzz in full effect.

  6. Stokes said:

    I don't think most CCM/popular worship music is propaganda at all. If we define propaganda as trying to change someone's mind, or influence people, I don't think corporate worship does that or should do that.We gather together and sing about truths we all agree on. I can sing with everyone else, at the top of my lungs and with all my heart, because I believe what I'm singing. We all do, in our flawed human way.If a worship leader writes songs about controversial or debatable points of theology and then tries to lead everyone in singing it, THAT'S propaganda.So in that sense, corporate worship songs are necessarily limited to a certain set of truths, and new understandings aren't added to this list very often. 🙂 The challenge in this kind of songwriting is often to find new expressions of the same truths.In personal songwriting, and I mean artistic expression not corporate worship songs, 'propaganda' in this sense–having a point-of-view and trying to convince others of it–is acceptable and almost expected. If I don't hope to be changed by it, why am I listening?

  7. Chris said:

    My concern is not about whether we are truly creating from our hearts but more what is coming from our hearts when we create.I have heard it said by numerous Christian artists/artists that are Christian that they just write what they feel. Then I read their lyrics and begin to question if they are believers at all. If God is our all and we overflow His love, then I don't understand why we would have to force out of hearts what should naturally be there in the first place. I am not casting stones. I for sure have seen my dry if not barren seasons.But, even if it's an inner struggle that we are working through, we have a responsibility to those that listen to be careful with what we communicate so as not to lead astray.

  8. Justin said:

    I think the church has a tendency to neuter many aspects of creativity and leans more to the side of propaganda: a myopic view and statement of truth. As a message should flow from the heart, when it is presented before the masses its message and foundation should be checked with truth. Nevertheless, I believe a fear developed that unless we second guess all expression we will damn the world (and the Church) with half truths. It would be wise to have faith in the fact that Christ is in us and we have the Holy Spirit to lead us in to all truth. As the Body of Christ we can express and explore the arts with out fear knowing that we are a new creation. "As a man thinks in his heart so is he." For too long we have thought of ourselves as sinners and so we censored our expression. Art and music should change within The Church. The appropriate change, however, should be made first in how we see ourselves. This quote from Bill Johnson regarding the censoring of ourselves is powerful: "Self-mutilation need not be physical to be a perversion. Anytime we cut away at what God placed in us, we are entering into a form of spirituality that Scriptures do not support, and we are contributing to a spirit that works against us having a truly effective witness. It is not wise to crucify the resurrected man and call it discipleship. The cross is not for the new man; it's for the old man (Romans6:5-9)."

  9. Church music doesn't seem like art and it doesn't seem like propaganda. It just seems like laziness and insincerity. Like a really cheesy "boy band" trying to impress a God who is more like Simon Cowell than the King of the universe.

  10. of course propaganda isn't necessarily negative. its powerful. a lot of christians don't like the term powerful cuz they think its negative. when i visited the east coast last, i accidentally got into an argument with a christian over there, and realized that i was in an entirely different culture. propaganda and art are powerful tools of communication. they can be one in the same. i think still that they both are trying to convince and persuade you to join their mission.but art without someone to see it? that sounds sad. music for the deaf? don't know about that.

  11. Amba said:

    Do you think that "church" art/music feels more like art or propaganda? Is this good? Should it change? How should it change?My opinion; all that matters is the Holy Spirit in peoples lives… People having a crazy awesome love fest with God. And I'm assuming that's why most people worship(or join a worship band). They want to let other people into the Jesus party. I like that idea! And I would rather not over complicate it with ideas of propaganda or art. So hey, if someone doesn't like the lyrics, they don't have to listen. There's plenty of other songs out there that should float everyone's boat. But as for the person playing the music, logically, play it to/for God. That's who everyone is worshiping=)In other words, let the love that is in you spill out of you in the most genuine way possible. That way, when you worship, people won't care about anything but this gnarly love that can only be explained by a God that gave it away freely. Love God with all your heart, soul and strength and the rest will fall into place. To sum things up, propaganda is old news to people following Jesus. Because honestly, we should care less about what people think about us. It's silly to try and please everyone. As long as the music/art/worship that one puts out there is drenched with the Holy Spirit, its a sweet smelling fragrance.But as I say before, if you don't like it, don't listen. 'N hey, I'm just a kid. This is just my opinion. Don't hate=) peace

  12. The issue of worship music being either heart-felt or more record-selling-felt in my opinion is made obvious through both the content of the music/lyrics and in the method used to advertise the music.Not naming names, but a Christian musician that originally became popular by being on the more edge-of-the cliff style of lyrics, in my opinion, has fallen off that cliff. He has, for all I can tell, begun writing edge-of-the-cliff music for the sake of writing edge-of-the-cliff music. He doesn't believe what he is writing any more than he believes what he is writing will make a big splash. And that is when it becomes propaganda.Whether that splash is positive or negative, if you produce art for the sake of the splash, you are not doing it for the art, you are doing it for the splash.When an artist like JMM or Josh Garrels comes on the scene and writes and PLAYS music with true passion, and especially when that passion is in the name and for the glory of Christ, that speaks a powerful word to this generation.And when they put faith in God's ability to spread His word through their music because of the quality of the music, that speaks powerfully too. When they don't fish for record sales by making sure every song is G,C,D,G or fish for sales by being borderline secular, the Truth of God is displayed crystal clear.Thanks JMM for taking the purity of God's word and welding it to passionate creativity. That is art.

  13. first off, gooood blog!!!second, i'm soooo tired of people writing songs "we're supposed to sing…" seriously, it's kinda like models on a magazine. we buy the makeup, the clothes, do our hair the same way because they tell us that's what a woman should look like. it's fake. it's not reality. same with church music today. take for example that song that goes, "you are god in heaven and here am i on earth….jesus i am soooo in love with you…and i stand in awe of you…." -this song is used as a worship song in various church settings…i personally am not there yet so i won't sing it. but at the same time it makes me feel bad because am i not a christian if i'm not "in love" with christ like the song says? i just wanna be real.anyway, i think what honors God most is an honest heart.

  14. J-Man said:

    I agree with what Leslie mentioned at the end. It really depends on the church, furthermore it depends on the hearts of each indiviual who is facilitating the worship experience. To be completely honest, I can't lead worship on stage at church without feeling like I have to push a slight agenda. In other words I want to make people feel a certain way so I can feel good about what I did for the church (or God). I think this is messed up because worship should be about God only. I am still sorting this out in my mind. Anyways, I don't lead worship anymore because I know I can worship Him in other ways without getting caught up in the show or agendas.

  15. J-Man said:

    Oh… by the way. I actually came to your site to say I am very excited about your music. Your music is "real" and "authentic." I really appreciate that. Art, propaganda or not, I am 100% sure that I have been able to connect and worship with my God through the music. Thanks.

  16. Ed said:

    Okay, there is some very confusing concepts that I'm not sure I follow in the least. Please help explain them if you will. Lets start with this claim,"Probably all art contains some percentage of propaganda and vice versa . In the same way, aside from Jesus himself, there is probably no such thing as a 100% pure motive. It's always a mixed bag."Okay, so, lets see if I follow. the motive of an artist is directly related with what is expressed in the art, and since only jesus had 100% pure motive( which we haven't even difined what that is) all of our expressions of art are a mix bag………..What? A mix bag? Do you mean that motive entails a pure peice of art? Pure art? I've heard you accuse the high arts of being insencere or creating levels and lines that shouldn't be there, but I'm not so sure if that is the case. If you believe in pure art, which entails the very ideas that you have said you are not a part of or try not to represent. Just my thoughts, I'm willing to be wrong. So what is art for? Or what is its end according to you guys? The answer then comes to this,"at the far end of the spectrum, propoganda exists solely for the message it carries, and Art, on the far other end of the spectrum, exists for itself. exists for itself…..??? How can something not existing, exist for itself or anything else? Maybe you mean its end? So what is it? Here's the answer, I would say: "Propaganda" is simply a means to an end as "Art" is both an end and a means unto itself.How can something be means and an end unto itself? How can you have means without an end in the case of propaganda? You could say that art is the means of expression and the end of that expression. But that is of expression not of Art itself. Very confusing.If anyone can decipher this I would be very happy, since I am eager to understand the meaning behind these words. Thanks.

  17. …but the lives of dead men can speak volumes.

  18. Sarah said:

    I appreciate your thoughts and music John Mark. They help me sort out my own. When I lead worship, sometimes I feel like a fake. Othertimes it is extremely authentic. Othertimes I am simply filling a role. Can we be authentic 100% of the time? I am exhausted thinking about that. I have found people are attracted, and repelled by authenticity and honesty. Attracted because…it is attractive. Repelled because it is difficult and emotional.

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