There are two main differences between doing art and influencing culture.
Newness of an Idea
The first is newness of an idea. Finding a new method, technique or subject to express. Artists are always seeking to communicate what’s inside their heart. And when you can do it in a way that’s never been done before, you move into the realm of influencing culture.
When J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings, the notion of fantasy was not yet developed in culture. He brought in elves, dwarves, hobbits, balrogs, wizards and gave the genre a much more standard definition.
Now when we think of fantasy, it’s difficult for us to imagine of any kind of a setting outside of Middle Earth’s quasi-medieval type of world.
Size of the Audience
The second is the size of the audience. Artists, at a primal level, must create art for themselves – to scratch the creative itch, to express a burning drive, to put themselves in their art. But to influence culture, you must also have people to influence.
It could be argued that Britney Spears’ first hit “Hit Me Baby One More Time” would never have gained the traction it did if it weren’t for her history on the Mickey Mouse Club. Following this, without her time on the show, producers might have never given her a second glance.
Admittedly, this one has less to do with ability, and more to do with being at the right place at the right time and getting to know the right people. But a person’s propensity to network can build a better atmosphere for getting this one right.
From artists to culture changers, we influence people at four different levels – at a community level, city level, national level, and global level.
I want to be clear, all of these levels are good in themselves. An artist who impacts globally is not better than one who impacts at a community level.
And as Christians who are working to show the goodness of Christ to the world, our job is not to change the world… but to change our world. We must influence those we can. Our lot, so to speak. And we will have done our job.Our job is not to #change the world... but to change OUR world. Click To Tweet
Culture Changers at a Community Level
This will be the rock band which plays at a local festival. The artist performing spoken word at open mic night. An author sharing her work with a local writers club. The players at the community theatre.
Their influence is wrapped up in a specific community within a city. Their ability to change culture is drawn from their ability to impact their immediate audience.
For Christians, this can mean bringing your art to the church. Teaching various art classes in the community.
Whatever you do, use your art to relate to the people around you and make a change. Check out this article about being more than a traditional worship leader.
Culture Changers at a City Level
This will be the DJ bringing in a new form of electronic hip-hop to all the various club venues in the city. The novelist who captures major events in city history and gives commentary. The poet who reads his poem at the mayor’s inauguration.
Their impact has moved from changing a small group of people to having a voice throughout an entire city. Their impact is longer-lasting than those who impact a sub-community. Sometimes, it lasts a generation. Sometimes longer.
For Christians, this can mean putting your art in various galleries around town, not just hanging up on your church walls. Playing your music (because you’re more widely accepted outside Christian circles) at different events throughout the year.Use your #art to change #culture for the good. Click To Tweet
Culture Changers at a National Level
Each one of them have impacted a major aspect of culture in America. Their reach moves throughout the entire country. Yes, their work has often gone internationally as well, but their main area of change took place in the United States.
For Christians, we have got to be ready to step outside of the Christian Culture. We’ve got to be able to relate to those who do not believe. Not just those who do.
There is a debate going on within Christian Hip-Hop right now, which artists like LeCrae, Shai Linne, and Andy Mineo are participating in.
Some say that Christian artists, in order to be true to their faith, must not produce music with a secular label and must make every song directly Christian. Others say that an artist can be a Christian and write about issues that might relate to our faith, but do not produce worship music only.
Either way, it is a good conversation, because it highlights the fact that the goal is impacting culture on a wide-scale.
Culture Changers at a Global Level
Mikhail Baryshnikov, Elton John, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Henry David Thoreau, J. K. Rowling, Madonna.
All these people have changed societal trends and their voice has been heard everywhere. Their impact will last for many generations, and with the dawn of the internet, that impact will only increase.
Their new ideas, expressed through art, has changed the way everyone in the world thinks.
As Christians who have global platforms, we must figure out how to honor God with it. Don’t just be a talking head. Become a Michelangelo, a Di Vinci, J.S. Bach, C.S. Lewis.
Use your art to change culture for the good. Let your work bring glory and praises to God. All your creativity comes from Him after all.
Also published on Medium.