Newton wasn’t messing around when he said that for every action, there’s an equal but opposite reaction. But odds are he wasn’t talking about Contemporary Christian Music. Specifically the blatant creative burgling of one Sufjan Stevens by one Jonathan Foreman, and one Imogen Heap, by one Tricia Brock.

As an outspoken proponent and critic of the “Christian” music scene, I’ve long said that the industry would be best to either: A) disband entirely, embracing the fact that art is art and being creative is in and of itself an act of worship, or B) overcome the identity crisis that plagues so many of the products, motives, and people within its walls. To of course never stop gauging the relevance and fruit your “ministry” bares, but to get over the myth that says cutting-edge art and a Christian worldview are mutually exclusive.

Switchfoot and Superchick, the respective musical vessels of said plagiarist defendants, have been staples of the Christian music industry for a decade. And although one of them is “super” unrecognizable to non-Christians, it’s always a sad day when the critically secular find more fuel for their proverbial stereotype fires of distrust. Even if it comes at the expense of a believer like Sufjan.

It could be an overreaction on my part, but I can’t possibly be alone in my disbelief. You can witness the perpetrators red handed here, and here.

Okay. So really “your new song sounds like Sufjan” or “wow, that reminds me of Imogen Heap” might be considered substantial compliments. But sometimes when influences blur into criminality our reaction turns into more of a “what the hell?!” Its really not fair, but the more exceptional, innovative, and inspiring an artist is, the less it seems that grace is given to those who follow suit.

Who cares if you steal ideas from Hinder Of A Nickle Creed. But when its the untouchable legends, the prophetic intelligencia, and the kings and queens of brazen indie pop, show some respect. Turn inspiration into innovation. Pave forward into something new. Add to what you’ve taken.

Don’t bore us, get to the chorus.

About The Author

Jordan Kurtz

0 Responses to Jon and Tricia move Christian music one step forward two steps back

  1. Jim U. says:

    I’d go with “overreaction on [your] part.” I didn’t listen to the superchick one b/c I don’t care about that.

    I did hear some similarities in the Foreman song, but it didn’t stop me in my tracks thinking “what a rip-off.”

    I wonder when Foreman wrote Baptize, since all these songs are supposedly old, previously unrecorded ones.

  2. Taylor says:

    Similarities are fine. There are similarities between many bands. However, Sufjan Stevens seems to stand alone among many of his contemporaries. His music is unique. In fact, if asked I wouldn’t of been able to name you one artist who sounded similar to Sufjan Stevens (voice aside). So when Jon Foreman writes a song that has obviously been influenced by Sufjan, its all the more obvious.

  3. Jim U. says:

    I’m sure I could be wrong. I guess the tough issue is drawing the line between “thievery” and “influenced by.”

  4. Jordan says:

    Well put.

  5. Jim U. says:

    Came across this related post just a few minutes ago:

    On the album art of Radiohead and Third Day

  6. Taylor says:

    Interesting Jim. Frank Turk makes a great point. I dare say all art is derivative of something, whether it is someone else’s creation, nature, dreams, or whatever else. Despite my statement that Sufjan Steven’s music is “unique” I think we both know that can’t be the case. He’s obviously influenced by someone, or even a great number of people. He’s just reinterpreted their ideas into something new. So with that in mind, how do we define the difference between reinterpreting someone’s ideas and flat out infringement, if there is such a thing.

    I think it is fair to say that Donwood’s creation could be seen as something on par with Klee’s work. There are no doubt a few art majors out there that would scream at such a statement, but to you and I, the common viewer, they are close to equal. However, the “Third Day” creation, in my humble opinion is not on-par with Donwood’s cover. In fact, its not even close. If the “Third Day” artist was influenced by Donwood, his reinterpretation is of significantly poorer quality.

    I think that when it comes down to it, that will always be the rub. People will rarely mind as much if a reinterpretation is as good or better than the original. However, people will mind if the reinterpretation is a cheap knock-off.


  7. Jim U. says:

    Good thoughts. I agree.

    I would say that Klees’ work was better because it was original, but then, would it really be perfectly original?

    I agree too about the Third Day cover, which goes along with much so-called “Christian” art. But I genuinely liked the Foreman song. And having both Sufjan and Foreman on my iPod, I didn’t notice the similarities until Patrol tipped me off.

    The difficulty comes because people have different standards for what is good quality art and what is not.

    I’d like to read more on that if anyone has suggestions: What standards can we use to identify quality art?

  8. David S. says:

    Quality art – hasn’t that debate raged on for ages without consensus?

    My personal, informal criteria: quality art requires requires talent, skill, and some measure of original inspiration/thought. Even if it’s derivative or highly referential, the twist of a new thought or new approach can make it a new work of art.

  9. Frank Turk says:

    Yeah, that’s what you get for linking to me. Sorry. 🙂

    I think that the real problem — and I’m a hard-core Protestant, so it pains me to say this — is that the Bible doesn’t directly give us an aesthetic by which to chase after “art”. The Bible was written by people in cultures where the problem was no obesity but that they were glad when they could get one meal a day; they didn’t have 4-bedroom homes with A/C. They had to personally care for the infirmed and the aged, so the pain of those they loved was frankly always with them.

    In short: those who wrote the Bible weren’t thinking about art. They were thinking about <i>life</i>, the living in this world where moth and rust destroy.

    So when I read about the poverty of Christian art, I have to agree: it is not hardly a match for the world. But we aren’t sent here to be artists: we are sent here to be the messengers from God who say things like, “I can see you are very religious in every way, but you don’t know God — let me show you God in His resurrected Son, Jesus!”

    People who are on about Christian art forget that the Gospel is for the poor and the imprisoned, not the rich and the free — and that goes for the secularist whose god is in his iPod as well as the Baptist whose god is his belly.

    Nice to meet you. Hope you stop by my blog more often.

  10. Tim says:

    I think you’re giving Jon Foreman a little bit too much credit here. Everything about the song is generic, especially it’s use of horns . . . if he’s ripping off Sufjan he’s certainly not doing a good job at it.

  11. Jordan says:

    The Gospel is for everyone. Not just the poor. Also I couldn’t disagree more that “We weren’t sent here to be artists.” Some of the bible’s most intriguing passages were written by men who clearly knew the art of words. Not to mention the sheer magnitude of metaphor and poetry within the pages of that book.

    In reality the church was on the cutting edge of art for centuries. Its only since North America’s domestication of Christianity, that we’ve begun to inaccurately see art and faith as separate worlds.

    Although we are not all called to be artists, those that are must heed the responsibility of originality and honesty.

    If we’re going to be held accountable by God someday for the quality of our life and “witness” than I certainly believe poets and painters and singers will be held accountable for the quality of their work.

    Art is the new evangelism. Experience is the new apologetics.
    God is the artist of artists.

  12. David Sessions says:

    I was going to reply to #9, but Jordan has saved me the trouble. Beautifully said.

    I would terribly fear for a church that believed that art—particularly the Church’s art—doesn’t matter.

  13. Jordan says:

    That being said, your discourse is always greatly appreciated Frank.

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