[Note from Jed: This question comes from a friend of mine who is a film student at a well-known film school.]
I just recently shot a scene of a movie with my close friends, and the scene was a “sex” scene. In it, we kissed, and removed our shirts. Nothing was shown, but I feel like, when people see it, they’re going to judge me. I don’t want them to think I’m easy or a whore. I’m mostly afraid of my church and what they will think. What is your take on that? Am I getting freaked out over nothing? Because I was comfortable with it.
Jed Brewer replied:
The short answer to your question is that, probably, some people at your church would act uncool if they saw your film. I’m sorry for that, and, unfortunately, it’s one of those things that goes with being an artist.
The longer answer – and I’d encourage you to think carefully about this, because it will allow you to have some peace – is that there is a difference between propaganda, art, and pornography.
Propaganda tries to tell you what to think, without leaving you a choice. It tries to bowl you over with emotion and imagery and rhetoric until you must think a certain way.
Pornography tries to tell you what to desire. And, again, without leaving you a choice. Its aim is to arouse lust within you, that you must have this thing, or this person.
Art, however, is a dialogue with the audience, and the audience member must decide how to respond.
It would not be a good thing, obviously, for you to participate in creating pornography. But the problem that we run into is that there’s a difference between Michaelangelo’s statue of David and a Playboy centerfold. Both are expressions of the human form, and both involve full frontal nudity. But, one is art, and one is not.
The centerfold is eroticized. The goal is to arouse lust within the audience, and to leave no choice in the matter. To be vulgar in the true sense of the word, people pay for pornography with the expectation of getting aroused, and Playboy aims to please.
By contrast, the statue of David is, ultimately, what you make of it. Is this piece of art about the human body? About the way we view the Bible through the lens of our own culture? Something else? You tell me.
And that leads us to your film. The purpose of art, very broadly, is to speak to the human condition. To help us to understand and make peace with what it means to be, well, us. And that is a worthy goal. Because, as we understand what it is to be human, we inexorably find ourselves confronted by the image of God within us. As a smart man said: all truth is God’s truth.
Sex is a part of life. People have sex (none of us would exist if they didn’t). And art, as a commentary on life, should reflect that. Sure, there are ways to do that that are trashy, or in poor taste. And there are ways to do that are beautiful and transcendent and point to deeper truths. You, as the artist, have to decide where your work lies on that continuum.
And that’s the final thing: the art you make is, ultimately, a matter of conscience between you and God. It would be wrong to make pornography, and it would be a bad idea to make propaganda. And it’s simply adolescent to create art that is needlessly provocative for no good reason. But in between all those extremes, you have to work out between yourself and God what good, effective art is, and what artistic voice he has given you. Some of your art may be sexually charged; some may not. And that’s OK.
People get uncomfortable about art because it isn’t safe. But neither is God. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” If you’re making art that reflects your Father, it won’t be safe. But you can and should devote yourself to making it good.