Thursday, May 15, 2008

Artist or Billboard Painter

The line :

"he said he was an artist...

but he really painted billboards"

to me always captured the whole dilemma of the gospel and culture:

  • We may we are new wineskin/emerging/freelance, but aren't we really just creating ads?
  • Isn't "art for sale" an oxymoron?
  • Do we, by default, preach/teach/heal like we have something to sell? Isn't it often sex?
  • etc etc

The line is from an obscure and haunting B-Side song from Joshua Tree-era U2,
"Walk to the Water." It was likely never finished; and what the lyrics are about is your guess...

but that one line to me is a wake-up/shake-up call when I meet the young women in the 22nd pews and thrift stores.

I am an artist....or do I just paint billboards.

There is no compromise in literally doing both for a living, like Mark DeRaud (podcast here),
but if it happens to us pastor types, we are "two-souled" commercial televangelistas.
We have sold our soul (both, actually) for a bowl of Jacob's oatmeal; and traded our art for empire and industry. That's "sublimation, not elevation," as Bono and the Chasidic rabbis would say.

Next thing I'll want is my name on the sign, parking space.

We need some detox, adbusting and prophetic U2 to call us back to form and norm.

The usual remedy when we get caught with our priorites and panst down is just do the same stupid thing....only louder. The very next line in the song:

He said he was an artist
But he really painted billboards
In large capital letters
Large capital letters


and then:

He was telling jokes
Nobody else would listen to him

(If that isn't me...and many preachers....)_

But why is it that "secular" sources like Fast Company publish articles to help us; like an article, "Sex vs. Ethics": (see also Bottled Water: It’s All About the Sex Appeal and How Companies Have Sex):

"If you want to sell something, Charney says, appeal to people's self-interest."
(Fast Company, June 2008)

That's seeker-sensitive. It's selling sex and self.

The catch is we are all in a sense selling art. Beth Maynard mentions, in passing, "U2 have been producing art for over 25 years". So have I.

Eugene Peterson, in the context of an interview about U2, offers, "This is what art does, it gets beneath or within essential aspects of our lives."

But how do we sell it; knowing that simultaneously, "we've got to give it away."

Paul McGuinness, U2 manager, comments about the secret to art being keeping ones sexuality and politics in creative tension. (Great quote, bet Beth can find it...It was on the "Soundbytes" section of

The artist/billboard line also reminds me of a parallel juxtapostion in the obscure backwoods U2 repertoire:

"I wanted to meet God,

but you sold me religion."

(Hear/watch it/read about it...and weep.... here).

It has to sell.

I have no idea what to think about this "end-times" preacher!!??:

And don't get me started on "Christian billboards." (though I like this one). Neal Peart was right, again: It all "echoes with the sound of salesmen," not the one thing pastors need:



after two minutes of silence...

Here is the song:
the line is at 0:50ff in this video (which is not an official U2video, but lets me post the song)

"We are .. artists... I wish we were comedians. We would probably have more effect…Anyway, for all this: imagination!..To tell our stories, to paint pictures…Because we have fallen asleep in the comfort of our freedom. "

"Every artist is a cannibal....."
-The Fly

They don't know what you're doing
Babe, it must be art ..

They want you to be Jesus
They'll go down on one knee
But they'll want their money back
If you're alive at thirty-three
And you're turning tricks
With your crucifix
You're a star "

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