Provocative Art

One of my favorite street artists is the infamous and yet somehow anonymous Banksy from the UK. What intrigues me is his creative way of asking powerful questions that make you stop and think again about things that we often just accept as normal.
Luke Greenwood

Luke is the Director of Steiger Europe and International Training. He has been a missionary with Steiger since 2002 and served the mission in many ways in several regions of the world.

Website: steiger.org/about-us/leadership

Amidst the rubble of a demolished building he paints a small boy with a wet paintbrush standing next to the words “I remember when all this was trees.” Simple, subtle, and at the same time like a slap in the face. It’s like he’s asking “why the heck did we knock down all those trees and build this big building, to then demolish it and leave this mess in its place?”

Another one I like is a series of Che Guevara images gradually fading across a bridge in London. During the day, under this bridge, a market sells cheap clothes, including one of those great rock t-shirt stalls that always has the famous Che Guevara t-shirt with that same well known iconic image. The way the series of identical images cleverly fades and distorts across the bridge is subtly asking “haven’t we worn out the image? Has the revolution just become fashion?”

Art is powerful. It says what words alone cannot. It reveals the depth of the human soul, as the artist shares his heart, mind and worldview. It is a form of communication that is at the same time subtle and provocative. Art shouts out loud, it challenges the status quo and defies convention. It asks questions, and questions are powerful. Questions can bring about change.

Francis Schaeffer, one of the greatest Christian minds of our century, believed in the power of questions. As an apologist he would ask people questions about their worldview - what they believed, and how they explained reality. He would show that at some point our human assumptions about reality fail us and leave us incomplete, showing our desperate need for God. Through questions, Schaeffer would provoke people to re-think, at the deepest level, the basis of their belief system and awareness of reality.

I believe this is what Christian art should be doing today. It should be provoking people, at the deepest level, to re-think assumptions that are accepted by everyone as reality. Christian art should be challenging the predominant worldview that declares man to be at the center, and Jesus to be a small detail in the box called “religion”. Christian art should be asking powerful and revolutionary questions and pointing people to Jesus, the author of reality. And yet it is rare to find art that does this. Have we made our message a worn out icon? Maybe Banksy’s message at the bridge in London is for us. Has our revolution just become fashion?

First of all, we will never truly be vessels of such a provocative art movement if the Truth hasn’t really hit us. It will not happen until we first meet the Holy, Almighty and overwhelmingly powerful Creator of the Universe and surrender all to Him. Once I can say with Paul that “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil.3:7), then I can “become all things to all men” (1Co.9:22) and be an artist that truly engages with the scene.

Then we need to realize that, while following a fashion is easy, being at the cutting edge of a truly provocative Christian art movement will take hard work. It means hours of prayer. It means really understanding the world around me and knowing the people my art connects with. It takes deep thought and reflection, and the work to refine and perfect my art form to that level that really touches the heart and soul. It will require incredible boldness, sharp creativity, and thinking outside the box to ask the right questions.

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