“If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” Sam Goldwyn

I’m not responsible for your salvation.

I’m sure you consider that a good thing. As a writer, I’m responsible for my characters’ salvation but even that can get sticky. How many of us like message films and books? I’m not talking about self-help books or how-to videos. I’m talking about entertainment that aims to convince us of something.

Heaven exists because a cute little boy says so. Or God doesn’t exist at all because an unhappy scientist says so.

Women are better kick boxers than men. (Every super hero movie with Scarlett Johannson — she does wear the Spandex well)

People have no control over their sexual desires — and why should they? (Most movies about men and women)

All violence throughout history was caused by white men. (Dances with Wolves and a host of others — I loved Dances anyway because of the soundtrack)

People with low IQ’s are better parents than white women. ( I Am Sam — worst movie ever made, but totally worth watching as a dark comedy)

Great art always conveys a message but the art that rises to the top does it with subtlety. The artistic outcome satisfies on a deeper level that taps into our common humanity.

Art that has at its center a desire to convince and cajole is limiting, propagandizing and not satisfying for those of us interested in something more than just gluing ourselves to a movement or, to be more blunt, a cult.

As a Christian, I very rarely read “Christian” fiction in the modern sense based on its reputation for being fluffy. Even the colors of the Amish romances don’t appeal to me (though some may be quite good). I just don’t want to read about people who don’t cuss sometimes (yes, I’m being unfair since I’ve never gotten past the covers).

I don’t want to be protected from the world. Jesus didn’t play that way, so why should I?

The reason I admire a movie like GLORY, for instance, (if you haven’t seen it you should) over a movie like 12 Years a Slave is that the characters in GLORY grapple with big ideas, big prejudices and big emotions yet each and every character invites us in and asks us who we are and how we would react in similar situations. The acting, cinematography and soundtrack elevate this movie to art. We leave with questions, not easy answers.

Readers here know I’m still getting over reading WAR AND PEACE. Tolstoy may have been trying to convince me that great leaders have no free will or many other things, but he left me with more questions than answers. He left me feeling I’d lived an alternative life in the shoes of others.

I try to write, in my humble way, not to convince the reader of my novels to become a Christian or to become an activist or to become anything at all. My goal is first to entertain and then perhaps to lead the reader to see in another person the chance to question assumptions and exercise compassion for those people who are valued just as much as you and I by our maker, but who may not be members of the same groups as we are.

Experiencing or producing great art (or even lesser art that leaves us with questions to explore) and living on this earth offer far more questions than easy answers.

Caravaggio isn’t forcing us to follow  in The Calling of St Matthew

A curiosity seeker who wanted to catch Jesus in his words asked him, “Who is my neighbor?” when told that he should love his neighbors as himself.

Neighbors and characters ask more questions. They don’t pelt us with their answers. They may offer opinions. They may debate. They may cause us to question our own assumptions.

How many times have I won an argument or convinced someone to change by yelling at them or  by wearing a pin that announces my strident desire to be change (translation: to control others)?

“God acts in history and in your and my brief histories, not as the puppeteer who … works the strings but rather as the great director who no matter what role fate casts us in conveys to us … how we can play those roles in a way to enrich and ennoble and hallow the whole vast drama of things.” CHRISTIANITY AND LITERATURE

*** Featured Image: Detail from Conversion on the Way to Damascus by Caravaggio

Do you disagree? Do you enjoy message art? I’d love to know your thoughts.



***Thanks to Nadine at: CHRISTIAN VICTORIAN LITERATURE for the above quote from a thought-provoking article she linked to on her blog.

13 responses to ““If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” Sam Goldwyn”

  1. Gosh we really are on the same wavelength!! “Great art always conveys a message but the art that rises to the top does it with subtlety. The artistic outcome satisfies on a deeper level that taps into our common humanity”- couldn’t agree more! And with this: “How many times have I won an argument or convinced someone to change by yelling at them or by wearing a pin that announces my strident desire to be change”- YES! No one was ever convinced by this (or by being shouted down and *told* what the correct opinion to have is).
    Personally, I’m always interested where the intersection of propaganda and art lies- I’m still working through a lot of my thoughts on this, because there have been some stunning examples of propaganda (large swathes of Roman art for instance) in history. That said, I think it’s really important to be aware of propaganda in art and not let it sway our opinions (as hard as that may be). Usually, though, when I’ve been clobbered over the head with an idea or thought I don’t hold, I instantly pull back from it…. so maybe artists and filmmakers should watch out- they don’t realise how many people they’re alienating with their heavy handedness.
    Hope you don’t mind my rambling thoughts as always! Fantastic post!


    • Yeah, everything does have a message, but like you said, being slammed in the head every time you go to the movies or read a book or get coffee… it’s too much. And the really bad stuff is the opposite of thought provoking. LOL.

      I guess I’m still working through this myself. Some art, music, books etc I’ve liked despite knowing the politics behind it. It’s just a matter of at least trying to make it art first, politics second…

      And always enjoy your ramblings!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. White man bad is to common a message due to Feminists, Black power enthusiasts, and White elitists. Being an apparent Whe\te Southerner-adds a bullseye on my chest and the funny thing is not just White.


    • At this point not very many of us are pure anything. That should make us stronger, but some like to keep us in boxes. It’s fun to study genealogy but it’s not all I am. People handle adversity differently, but finding a victimhood group to hang out with never seems to help.

      I briefly went to meetings for relatives of alcoholics. Some people used the meetings to get past things but others seemed stuck in victim mode. It was sad.


  3. Every creation we share with other people – paintings, music, poetry, films, books, essays, science projects, even ballet recitals – is a message. When you (the Universal You) choose to listen and watch, you choose to engage. What you get out of the creation is up to you. Being exposed to another point of view is a really good thing, even if you don’t like or agree with what you see. My books and yours are full of messages declaring the truths of the world as we see them. Learning to understand that someone else sees things differently and grasps history from a different perspective might be the best way to use the Earth’s resources for the good of ALL people.

    I am a victim (I know, you don’t like that word) of all kinds of unfair and awful situations, from prejudice to cheating and lying bosses to violence and abuse by a very ill parent, and trying to overcome them has been a lifelong pursuit of which I am still not fully recovered. Finding that others have overcome their adversities helps me realize I still may overcome mine. If that’s not a weighted message, I don’t know what is.


    • I totally agree with so much of what you’re saying! Yes, there is a comfort in knowing that others have experienced (and hopefully survived) some of the horrors of life — and the good things too.

      I’ve been left-wing, right wing, liberal, conservative, Christian, New-Age and atheist. I’ve been victim (and abuser in ways). I think my main point was not that we shouldn’t be exposed to different viewpoints and messages, quite the opposite. But I find that people are unable to be civilized about it.

      The exchange of ideas is my passion. Yet in many circles nowadays there is less freedom to explore without crazy anger and knee-jerk reaction. There also seems to be less willingness to see the struggles of life through a historical lens which would possibly let us see our common humanity.

      There is nothing new under the sun as Solomon once said. 🙂

      I love exposing myself to other people’s opinions, but more than that I love seeking truth. I do believe there are some absolutes (I know it’s an out of fashion idea) but I don’t presume that I actually know all truth. That’s the fun of talking to others, like you.
      I respect that you don’t try to beat me into submission, but respectfully nudge me to think outside of my boxes.

      I hope I do the same for you. To me that’s real friendship. I consider you a friend, dear Shari!


      Liked by 1 person

  4. There are only a few people with different viewpoints with whom I can converse – you’re one. Lots with different views, but aren’t willing to listen or speak respectfully. (I also hate being yelled at – got plenty when a kid, don’t need any more.) I do appreciate you, Adrienne. You express lots of ideas I’ve never considered – that’s a good thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I HATE “message art.” I’m a firm believer and follower of the “Wester Union rule.” Don’t tell or even try to slip “messages” into what you’re making. If a theme, “feeling,” or even “messages” slips from a work of visual or literary art-so be it. This has happened throughout history more often when it’s subconscious on the part of the art’s creator. But I have no time for an intentional attempt to convince or even “share” an ideology with readers or viewers-including with my work. .


    • Yeah, every single show, film, commercial these days. Constant social engineering in place of good storytelling. It’s lazy and shows a complete contempt for audience. I think we are on the same page about this! 🙂


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