By Mark Matthews, Salt + Light Radio's Hollywood Undercover Missionary
You’ve heard from me often about what’s good in Hollywood. Today I thought I’d write about what’s bad in Boston!
“The Celtics? The St. Paddy’s day parade? C’mon, why you hatin on the Bostonians?”
I recently visited Boston and while there I made a pilgrimage to a highly esteemed institution I’ve always longed to see. No, it wasn’t MIT (although it’s very close to my geeky heart) but the Museum of Bad Art!
Boston is home to MOBA, the Museum of Bad Art
– an institution dedicated to collecting and displaying horrible works of Art. Or as my university art professor put it, “They won’t take any old black velvet Elvis painting - just the worst of the worst!”
Some might ask, “Isn’t a monkey’s drawing, or a can of spilled paint on a canvas the worst art?” And by some measures, those are bad art. But there’s something special about MOBA art that makes you realize you are looking at extraordinarily bad (see for yourself at www.museumofbadart.org
). It’s “Art too bad to be ignored” as their tagline says. It’s so bad that you can’t help but chuckle when you see it. It really made me wonder “Exactly why is their art so bad?”
Ultimately my pilgrimage ended at a closed gallery (they’re bad at communication too). But while crying on their doorstep, unable to see the complete lack of skill revealed in every brush stroke up close, I had an epiphany as to why their art is so bad.
I believe the key traits that make MOBA art so bad is that first; the artists were attempting to do something far beyond their skill level. Many look like the artist had just finished their first community college oil painting class and immediately tried to paint the Mona Lisa. And secondly, the artists didn’t recognize they were lacking the requisite skill. If they had known how lacking their skill was, wouldn’t they have aimed a bit lower? This is what makes MOBA such a phenomena – you can’t help but pity, or rather mock, the clear failure of the artist to reach a target they were so clearly trying to reach.
The unfortunate connection [with Hollywood] here is that these two characteristics describe a number of Christian movies recently made. Though perhaps well-intentioned, I believe the mistakes behind poor Christian films are similar to those behind MOBA paintings; both stem from a miscomprehension, or complete disrespect, about how much work and skill the art form demands. Let’s examine why.
There is a cultural trend that says, “No objective standards for beauty exist. All that matters is that we express ourselves”. Or, said another way “We don’t want to judge how good this art is, because ‘good’ is relative.” If we don’t believe that objective standards of beauty exist, there’s certainly no way we’ll ever achieve them!
This is currently the case in the art world - a trend that began at the turn of the century with the rise of modernism. This thinking has spread to different realms, from painting, to sculpture, to film, and has infected our thinking in Christian circles. However, objective measures of beauty do exist and we need to share them with world.
Why are we so ready to admit that design of a computer, or a piece of architecture, requires the well honed skills of armies of engineers, designers and creative thinkers, but think that making a film can be done in a weekend writing session by an amateur writer and a hodge-podge crew of his best friends? We wouldn’t expect much from similarly designed buildings, and shouldn’t expect much from these kinds of “Christian” films.
Creating great works of art requires direction from people who have devoted their lives to the craft, then planning and effort over long periods of time to execute that vision. This is why the Gothic cathedrals of Europe that took thousands of artisans a hundred years to make are such a great achievement. Film is perhaps the most challenging of any art form because it involves such a broad range of disciplines, and is just as challenging.
The disregard for objective standards is one of the reasons that bad films are being made by Christians. But there’s more to bad films than just that. The temptations of pride and ego constantly influencing judgment as to who has these skills, and there’s a dangerous tendency to always think we are the ones that possessing them.
Every era has their public art form, and ours is certainly film. Film is a rapid road to fame, making it dangerously bewitching. Anyone who gets close to film (myself included!) always wants more involvement. I’ve heard numerous film development stories that go “…so and so wanted to contribute (financially, resources, acting) but only if they could meddle with it enough to get a writing credit”. Everyone wants to be recognized as a key contributor to the success of a film and grab a chunk of that fame somehow.
Christians are typically not experienced filmmakers, making us particularly susceptible to this clarity-obscuring ego. We sometimes think that because Christ is mentioned in the film it will wash away all our poor intentions, or that He will miraculously bless us with the skill needed to make a great film. Or perhaps we want to be revealed as a hidden virtuoso - hoping that the first time we picked up the paintbrush, flute or pen that our work would be revealed as genius. We need to recognize these for the egotistical fantasies they are.
The discipline of humility will free us of attachment to fame, and allows us to more clearly see how we fit into the film development picture – to know if we really are the best person for the job, or to find someone better than ourselves. We need to dissociate ourselves from fame, die to self, and put the story ahead of everything else. It feels like death to have been responsible for something good and never be recognized for it. Yet, this is what the saints are always calling us to and can be applied to filmmaking.
My primary takeaway for you today is that there is no short-circuit around the work that great art requires. Misjudging our skill and resources will only lead to mockery – the same kind that we feel towards the MOBA works of “art”. Christ knew this and said it well when he said:
“Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.” (Luke 14:28-30)
I’m tired of being mocked for bad films made in the name of Christ. Let’s humbly take a true inventory of our skill and resources so we can finish the job properly.
Your Hollywood Undercover Missionary,
Mark Matthews is a graphic designer and animator working in Hollywood. Listen to his "What's Good About Hollywood?" column once a month on