Popular Art and Culture
by Dr. William D. Romanowski
o Artistic Vision of Reality
o Willing Suspension of Disbelief
o Cultural Mandate
o Film as Map of Reality
o Cultural Discernment
A. Cinema has a powerful influence on our lives
B. Christians ought to participate faithfully
C. Four questions to pursue in trying to understand
and evaluate film and other popular art forms:
1. How do artists go about constructing a
vision of life? And how do they communicate
these life visions in popular artworks?
2. What roles do the popular arts play in our lives and society?
3. How do films play with our emotions and thoughts and get us to transfer
interpretations to the real world?
4. Finally, how should audiences, and in particular Christian audiences,
go about engaging and evaluating popular art?
II. What is popular art?
A. Popular arts distinguished from high culture
in late 19th century
1. Educated and elite-high culture
2. Working-class-emerging popular arts
3. High arts belonged to the social elite, while
popular arts appealed to the working class
B. Nature of popular art
1. Provided different and equally valid artistic experiences
2. Considered amusement, making it invalid to critique
3. Entertain, inform and shape our lives
4. Popular arts v. entertainment
5. Both forceful and controversial
6. Play an important role in our public discourse
III. The world behind a work of art
A. Willing suspension of disbelief
1. We experience real physiological responses
2. We allow the projections to take us to another world
B. The screen is a kind of barrier
1. Separates us from the world the film portrays
2. Screens the filmic world from the audience
3. The screen is a space
C. The film is an artistic vision of reality
1. Every artist has a life vision that permeates
his or her work.
2. The world behind a work of art is the
"system of shared meanings" called culture
1. The way that we define and live in God's world
2. Following the "cultural mandate"
3. A kind of master plan for living
4. People share common ways of interpreting
their experience and guiding their behavior
IV. Film represents a cultural system
A. Film is a map of reality
1. Stories, symbols, images and metaphors that depict cultural values
and assumptions, behavioral norms, social and gender roles
2. "Equipment for living" that help or hinder our
navigation of life
3. Meanings are woven into storylines making them almost invisible to
the untrained eye
o "Rags to riches" examples of Erin Brockovich
and Billy Elliot (and countless others)
V. Cultural roles for popular art
A. Communicating culture
B. Social and cultural criticism
C. Social unity
D. Collective memory
Note: These are good purposes that God brought into
existence for the popular arts. Christians cannot ignore these purposes
if they want popular art and music to
serve God, the church and the larger human community.
A. Delight in engaging popular art as a Christian
B. What insights can we bring to an analysis of the worlds presented
to us in popular artworks, which are really imaginative representations
of life in God's world?