Composing when not under the influence

I read this article the other day by Katie Botkin:

It purports to be looking at the deficiencies of Christian art, specifically music. She makes some obvious points, which tend to throw more rocks at a form of American Christianity than illuminate the matter of music with any depth.

Her main point is that Christians make poor art because they will only project a censored view of life, which lacks any authenticity with respect to the “human experience”, is cold and therefore bad art. She bases this on her own attempts to conform to this artificial and culturally-influenced standard in novel writing. She contrasts this with her brother’s song-writing which invokes more Buddhism than Christianity and is better art because it is “real”.

What she demonstrates by this is that she is fundamentally a Romanticist: she looks for spiritual truth from art. If she has a Christian profession then it is submerged beneath and subordinate to her Romanticism. She doesn’t care about the specific source of spirituality in art as long as a work moves her enough that she feels it to be true. This is why she is so vehemently against conservative art - whether done by her or others. She regards them as acting in a strait jacket. By contrast, the neo-hippy-zen-composer is “free”:

My creativity was effectively hamstrung by what I was supposed to believe. So I abandoned that novel too. So — why does the Devil get all the good music? Because the Devil doesn’t care how proper you are when you sing. Propriety is the enemy of creativity.

- Katie Botkin

Such a Romanticist receives music like a drug-addict. It must always be a little stronger and a bigger dose than the time before. It must satisfy a need. Botkin mocks the Christian’s attempt to explain why the Devil doesn’t get all the good music:

Really good music glorifies God, and man is in rebellion against God, so man refuses to acknowledge that God’s music is actually better than the Devil’s.

Then they would chortle; they weren’t going to kid themselves that much. They knew Tupac was musically superior to DC Talk. 

- Katie Botkin

It’s a nice try, but is it fair to use an inconsistent immature Christian voice in order to validate her own opinions? She cannot step outside her Romanticism long enough to understand that her judgment of what is good music is just as absurd as she gives in this parody. She is limited by her own point of view and it is no more valid because she aligns herself with the mainstream view of “good music”.

She is profoundly wrong to say that propriety is the enemy of creativity. If John Cage had been as lawless in his habit of picking wild mushrooms as he was in his compositions, he would not have lived long. Botkin again:

Because to create something new, by definition, you can’t follow the old rules. You have to dive into the darkest, grittiest corners of yourself — and not just to confess and immediately forget. Your humanity lies in the weirdness. You connect through the weirdness, and through the unexpected joys too.

- Katie Botkin

I have nothing left but pity for the Romanticist like Botkin, who openly regards her own “creativity” and that of others as an over-sized therapy session. IT DOES NOT WORK. It is an illusion. You elevate your own problems into a monumental thought. And you do not help the person who latches onto your music as though it can help them! You think you are asserting your originality and your identity, mining the darkest “corners of yourself” but it is more like self-harm through composition. You spend so long looking at your own reflection that your idea of the “human experience” is warped to say the least.

True freedom in musical composition comes when you do not need to write music to feel alive, when you can look at an object of worth and proclaim its glory in music without imposing your own fears and insecurities in the middle of the music - to write the thing in front of you and not make it always reflect back on yourself. This is not a strait jacket. This is not “denying the human experience”. Because we do not live only when we are composing. We are people before, people after and people when we write. Every composition is imperfect. We aim to make something pleasing to the best of our ability, to communicate what we have set out to say. But what exactly is that?

The Romanticist is always searching for spiritual truth through art but never finds it. If one song satisfies for a week, another one will be needed. The audience with such an attitude is insatiable. The composer meanwhile will become depressed with their apparent power and actual impotence.

The Christian has one aim: to glorify God. The Christian who composes music should not deviate from this goal while writing music. The composition may be explicitly setting Christian texts, or it may be entirely unrelated to such themes. It may be mundane and even trite. It may be comic. It may be dramatic. The Christian should compose better because he is not searching for the truth and can attend to the task at hand with an ordered mind: writing notes in a manner that is pleasing and effective to the ear, neither trying to save others nor himself through the composition of music.

Music is a proclamation of worth. The Devil does not get “all the good music”. The Devil gets none. The Devil cannot be praised for there is nothing about him to praise. Music belongs to God.

O sing unto the LORD a new song: sing unto the LORD, all the earth.

Sing unto the LORD, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people.

For the LORD is great, and greatly to be praised: he is to be feared above all gods.

For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the LORD made the heavens. 

Honour and majesty are before him: strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Give unto the LORD, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the LORD glory and strength.

Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come into his courts.

O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth.

Say among the heathen that the LORD reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: he shall judge the people righteously.

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof.

Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice

Before the LORD: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth.

Psalm 96