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August 08, 2008

Cheap Copies, Art, and Some Mike Crawford Goodness

I am totally ripping off this blog post from Gary Aronhalt. Thanks for noticing this, Gary.

I saw this post on his blog yesterday. In it he places the album art for Radiohead's Hail to the Thief alongside the album art for Third Day's new record Revelation. For comparison I have done the same thing below. And what do you think? It's not even close, right? It is a total rip-off.

Radioheadhailtothethief 3Ycd17

Here's the thing for me. I guess if you want to rip off another band's album art in order to somehow ride their coattails that is your business. But as an artist, the bummer for me is the original artwork that didn't get created, the visual artist that didn't get a chance to listen to the music and talk to the musicians and interpret both of those realities visually. There is also the not-so-subtle implication that Christians can't develop or create anything original on their own - the only thing available to Christians are cheap cultural knock-offs that make a pathetic attempt at relevance at the cost of authenticity, voice, and engagement.

This is, of course, going to come off as patently self-serving so please forgive me in advance.

Mike Crawford, worship pastor at Jacob's Well, has just returned from sabbatical. Many know that we have spent the last six years building a recording studio at the church. This winter Mike and an amazing team of artists/musicians from our community gave their heart and soul to record the music that has developed in our community over the last 3-4 years - in fact, there is so much that the record is going to be a double-album/CD/whatever. But back to the art thing. I was visiting with Mike in his office yesterday when he showed me the mock-up for the album art that he conceptualized and that Jacob's Well and Hallmark artist Sam Lewis (formerly Grasso) have developed. AND. IT. IS. STUNNING. It is also quirky and many might not get it but that is also my point. When this deal comes out, it will be art. It has a voice. When I see that and then look at what has been done above, the contrast is stark.

I know this comes dangerously close to sounding arrogant and judgmental. That is not what I am trying to be or do. But it matters, and in my (perhaps not so humble) opinion Christianity and its creative culture (or lack thereof) is hemorrhaging from sentimentality, inauthenticity, and a fixation with manipulating people to a predetermined destination without reckoning the importance of the journey or the cost of what is lost when we know what will happen before the creative process even begins.

That is not art. It is propaganda. It is killing us.

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» Cheap Knock-offs from ben's blog
Tim Keel says everything I would want to say about the eerie similarity between the two album covers below (click for a closer look): The picture on the left is Radiohead's album Hail to the Thief which was released in 2003.On the right is Third Day's ... [Read More]


gary aronhalt

well, i gotta be honest... it was my wife who first noticed the "similarities" between these two CD covers...

thanks for your thoughts, tim... i can't wait to hear this jacob's well disc.


I totally agreed with this third-day/radiohead cover rip. to be completely honest, I just saw radiohead live this last weekend, and they shouldn't be mentioned in the same sentence as third day (it's an insult to the musical genius of radiohead). Third day claims that this art was influenced by salvation mountain, the huge art piece out west. I refuse to believe the artist hadn't seen the Hail to the Thief cover though.

looking forward to your church's CD...


Amen and Hell yes . . . at the same time.


Hey Tim,

Here's the thing -- what if they didn't rip it off? What if the artist sat down, listened to the album, perhaps just after visiting salvation mountain or whatever, and responded with this piece of art for the cover idea?

I don't really have any need to defend Third Day or their album art, but I'm interested in the wider idea that this conversation represents. I wonder if this type of album adds to our biases about the pop Christian subculture, or if our biases about the pop Christian subculture affect how we react to an album like this.

Samantha Lewis

Thanks for the shout out! We've been working hard to get this artwork to fit with the music and it hasn't been an easy task.

It IS sad that a lot of Christian music is viewed, and maybe rightfully so, as a cheap cultural knockoffs to what's being created in the mainstream music world. Then you have authentic, talented musicians most likely avoiding the genre all together and dodging the question "Is this Christian music?" (Check out Page France)

There needs to be a revolution! Many of us are desperately seeking Christian music with depth.


Right on, Sam. I love what you have done with Mike. It seems to me that you have put a lot of heart and soul into it. It shows. I can't wait. It geeks me out. I think a lot of Christians are avoiding the genre altogether exactly as you say. The difficult thing for a lot of them I think is that once you are in, you can make a good living...probably better than a similarly talented indie band,for example. Let the revolution begin.

Jason, thanks for your comments. I try to address them in a follow-up post I just put up. Best.

Mike Walden


has mike set a release date or planned a release party? his creativity and authenticity are truly inspiring...

i couldn't agree more with lack of originality in mainstream christianity. historically, christians have been leaders in the arts..thank god for people like don/lori, mike etc...

take care.

John L

Sam says, "Many of us are desperately seeking Christian music with depth."

And many of us stopped seeking "Christian music" altogether long ago. Great and inspired art is great and inspired, no matter where it originates. Perhaps another way of saying - all truth is God's truth.

To speak missionally, art must escape the religious ghettos and sub-cultures. Think U2, Bach, Sufjan, Rumi, Fujimura...


Hey Tim,

Could you do a post when the CD comes out for those of us who want to buy a copy but don't make it up to Jacob's Well all that often? I often find myself searching my itunes for something to worship to and feeling very disappointed at the lack of musical talent/authentic worship that I find. I thing the Jacob's Well CD could help remedy that issue. Your worship is so honest (you guys are not afraid to cry out in pain and sing about the brokenness of the world) and the music is good too—unfortunately that seems to be a fairly rare combo.



If you actually open the album booklet for Third Day's Revelation, you'll see an explanation that the cover art is actually inspired by a mountain in California called "Salvation Mountain" where a guy named Leonard Knight landscapes large gospel messages that can be seen for miles around (website: http://www.salvationmountain.us/). To quote the album: "The cover is an artistic interpretation of Knight's creation composed of Revelation's song titles to send our own message of God's Love to the world." I think that before you made that inflammatory comment about the cover art being a rip-off, you may have wanted to do some research.


Mike and Sally - I will certainly let everyone know, via my blog, when the CD is released. I am not sure what Mike has planned for that but I think we ought to have a party.

John L - I agree. I know Sam does, too. I don't think she is promoting a Christian-ghetto version of the music scene...just that those who self-identify explicitly be more willing to allow their art to be more...robust? Good stuff. Thanks for the comment.




check out "enter the worship circle" on itunes. they now have several albums out. i think don & lori used to be involved with these guys. their stuff is real, raw, and authentic.


Hi Sam - thanks for your comments. I have seen some of those references. You are right: it is always good to do one's homework.

I don't know if you had a chance to read my follow-up post where I try to clarify what I am saying and not saying. If you clicked here from somewhere else directly to this post and not the blog you might not have. It might be that that is the case, what you are describing. In fact, there is no reason not to take it at face value. But again, Radiohead is seen as one of the leading alternative voices in the global music scene. I think that Third Day is the same within the alternative Christian music scene - at least that is the impression I get based on the marketing of them. It stretches my imagination to believe that this resemblance is just passing. But maybe it is. Like I said, if so, then this record cover is not a good example of the larger point I am trying to engage.

Thanks, again, Sam.



just reading through my comment above, I realize that I sounded pretty inflammatory myself. thank you for your gracious response to my not-so-gracious comment, and I'll be sure to check on your follow-up post.

also, I'm actually in agreement with you about the often-derived nature of Christian music, and have certainly talked about it enough on my own. I would, however, tend to see Third Day as an exception to that rule (fortunately).


Thanks, Sam.

Roger Workman

Tim: "Love hopes all things, BELIEVES all things..."

Mebbe you should simply love Third Day as faithful brothers in the Lord. You could start by taking them at their word, that the art on their cover, now several years removed from the release of Radiohead's disc BTW, _was_ inspired by Salvation Mountain like they say it is. I mean, what's your alternative? Accusing them of being big, fat liars for Jesus? How lame is that?

After all, for their first record, Adam Again (RIP Gene Eugene) sported a cover by (the late, RIP) Rev. Howard Finster, like the Talking Heads did several years before them on "Little Creatures," and more recently, Pierce Pettis did the same thing with his "Great Big World" CD. Mebbe, jus' mebbe, they all just shared an affinity for Finster's integration of art & message.

Make like Al Green & Annie Lennox. Put a little love in your heart.


I didn't even know somebody else had already recognized this. Even if it wasn't intentional its unfortunate that "Christian" artist do have to watch this as we are all sick of the rip offs.
I too cannot wait for Mikes disc(went to Croc with him).


Taking into account the idea that Mike mentioned about historically christians being leaders in the arts. It's funny, but during those time periods, it was also accepted and expected to "copy" another musicians music. It was considered the highest of praise and compliment to have your music copied. Food for thought.


Hi Roger - thanks for your feedback. Like I have mentioned I saw the post only as album art from Gary's blog. That is how I reacted to it. Several others have likewise had the same reaction (someone accidentally posted their same reaction on the "LeRon Shults" post). It is legitimate to address art at face value. It is not the only way to address it, but it is a way. Third Day fans have since filled me in on the liner notes and the story behind "salvation mountain." Observation still stands. Loving people as brothers in the Lord doesn't mean that art can't be critiqued. Heck, I released a book this last year. Being a "brother in the Lord" certainly didn't keep people who didn't appreciate what I had to say from writing reviews that "got" what I was trying to do. And that is okay - because it is a public domain and when you put yourself out there, that is part of the deal. I am grateful for that and for what I have learned from critique, offered charitably or otherwise. As for Finster and the Talking Heads - what a great record. I bought it when it was released my sophomore year. Folk art rules. - Tim


Should be soon, Randy. Stay tuned.

Jordan - I don't know if I'd agree that Christians were traditionally leaders in the arts, at least not in the way evangelicals say such things today. We are talking about a time in history where the church and the state were fused for a long period. Within that framework/worldview it simply wasn't possible for artists to practice their art apart from the church (who were generally the ones commissioning the art and thus determining the subject matter). Even when the church and the state began to dis-embed, the art culture was still largely religious and what was created reflects that. That is not to say that there weren't artists who were devoutly Christian and whose art springs out of that devotion. Of course there were. But it is also doesn't mean all who were leading artists in their day (and who painted religious iconography) were Christians either. They had to eat.

The salon style of painting where a school of younger artists developed around a master certainly existed in the painting world, and as you alert me, the music world, too. It was generally conventional art that society "accepted." By the end of the 19th century, that approach was functionally dead.

What is really interesting to me, however, is what happens in the mid-19th century (sorry, I'm nerding out). While at the peak of its powers, the Realism school of painting that has been developing for a long time begins to wane when a group of French painters (among others) began to radically depart from that approach to seeing and expressing reality. They were the Impressionists. They emerge at a time when painting attains a hyper-realistic level of mastery. And fascinatingly, something else is happening simultaneously: the invention and proliferation of the camera/photograph. Once that technology is developed and popularized, painting goes in a completely different direction. It's as if the problem of accurate representation is no longer interesting - and it's not. At least not in that medium. Instead artists begin to pay attention to light and color and how all is not exactly as it seems to the naked eye, camera be damned. There is more than meets the eye. From that time forward this kind of imitation, whether to "reality" or to other artists and their perspectives, began to be seen as a limitation to be transcended.

Anyway, I'm sure I went way beyond the point you were trying to make. Point taken, and hopefully one given back. This is what happens when you poke an art geek.



Roger Workman

Roger sez, in the (novel) words of Count Dracula, "Yer velcome," Tim.

Now to my point..."So not taking brothers at their word, i.e implying that they are lying is ok as long as it's labeled 'art criticism,' is that what you're saying, Tim? Would it ruin your Radiohead fanboy fun if the guys in Third Day actually liked Radiohead, too? If so, they also like Jesus, who you also say is 'just alright with you' (HT: The Doobies). Mebbe it's time to MoveOn dot Org from that association too. Can't be seen to like anything that those nerdy Third Day goobers are into, can ya?"


Hey Roger - I have had these kinds of conversations before and mebbe methinks I know where this goes...thanks for playing.



Thanks Tim, some stuff there I didn't know. And I see what you mean.

Paul Merrill

I agree with most of the flow of the comments. I particularly loved (and resonated with) John L's "And many of us stopped seeking "Christian music" altogether long ago. Great and inspired art is great and inspired, no matter where it originates. Perhaps another way of saying - all truth is God's truth."

And I have seen Radiohead live twice - and Third Day not once.


I know you're much too cool to actually purchase a Christian CD, but there's a complete page dedicated to why they chose that cover art in the booklet. However, I realize that Radiohead is super-cool and so they are not to be questioned. I mean, it's all about the journey, right?


This is one of the factors (there were many) that began to drive me from Christian music, and ultimately my faith. As a musician in the church I was constantly stifled creatively and listened to album after album of rip offs. I got sick of it.

This goes beyond music too.


I know this is an outdated post so no one will probably see this comment as the album was released in 2008, but this album is not a rip off of Radioheads album cover. I was looking up album cover art when I stumbled upon this post and many others like it. More research should be done before posting items like this. This is obviously an illusion to Salvation Mountain located in California. The guy who created the mountain even has a link to it on his site. Notice the flowers and the word LOVE in the same position as the mountain. Give Christian artists more credit for their work, instead of branding them as mindless packaged copycats.

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