Taking off from my comment on the previous post regarding the nudity of Christ in art, I went looking for a reference to the book I'd seen once, where I learned that fact about all the Renaissance paintings making a big deal about baby Jesus's "manhood." I found what I was looking for: this excellent article not only summarizes the content of the book (Leo Steinberg’s The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and In Modern Oblivion), but also fits in very well with the theme of this blog.
In concluding the article "Naked Christs and Balaam's Ass," author Joshua S. Anderson proposes three elements in a renewed Christian aesthetic: "First, we must produce art that is both theologically orthodox and Biblically offensive—that respects the historical boundaries of Christian belief, while authentically interacting with the text, and not veering away from the difficult parts of Scripture. An example is Barry Moser’s illustrations of the King James Bible, which includes portraits of the aftermath of the rape of Tamar, a detailed study of the Angel of Death, and a portrait of the graphic death of Absalom. This is not to discount Psalm 23 depictions of the good shepherd. The 'gentle' parts of scripture must not be neglected, but rather balanced—for the Bible is not a Disney cartoon, and it is both deeply unbiblical, and theologically dangerous, to treat it as though it were. Second, Christian art should be aesthetically excellent. There seems to be an unwritten rule that if a Christian paints a picture of Jesus, we should not criticize it, no matter how awfully it is done. This is shameful—Christ has redeemed all spheres of life, and Christian artwork should be held to higher artistic standards, not lower. As in all of life, the quality of Christian art is significant, because its quality glorifies its ultimate Creator. Finally, Christian artwork should be radically unsentimental. We must paint new paintings, find new metaphors (or, as Steinberg shows, rediscover old ones) to reflect the symphony of the Christian story. Indeed, the main act of Christian art must be to hold our hands to the flame, to reveal again, as if for the first time, the wonder and strangeness of the scriptural narrative as it sings the beautiful, and terrible, tale of the reckless love of God. For when we delight in the story—as we plumb its mysterious depths, laugh at its jokes, sigh at its tragedies, and celebrate its triumphs—we bring glory to the ultimate Storyteller. This, in the end, is the work of Christian art—to faithfully and excellently tell the story of God’s continuing work, in order to better glorify Him."
The whole article is worth reading. Anderson also takes on Andres Serrano's offensive work "Piss Christ" with a new twist that makes me respect it as a work of art, whereas before I'd been appalled that anyone would do such a thing. (Actually, to be honest, I had heard someone else give a similar response to the work a year or so ago, so this isn't the first time I've considered it in a new light.)