LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Monday, October 30, 2006

Joseph Pearce: "Fruits of God's Image"

This week, I’m featuring Joseph Pearce, a professor, writer, and editor I met this summer at the C. S. Lewis Summer Institute (www.cslewis.org) at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. In addition to being the author of numerous acclaimed biographies of major Catholic literary figures, Joseph is a Writer in Residence and Professor of Literature at Ava Maria University (www.naples.avemaria.edu) in Florida. He is also Editor-in-Chief of Ave Maria University Communications and Sapientia Press, as well as Co-Editor of the The St Austin Review (or StAR) (www.staustinreview.com), an international review of Christian culture, literature, and ideas published in England (St Austin Press) and the United States (Sapientia Press). Joseph regularly speaks at a wide variety of religious, cultural, and literary events.

LeAnne: You are a scholar on CS Lewis as well as other Christian literary figures. How did Lewis and others feel about the arts?

Joseph: C.S. Lewis’s conversion to Christianity was largely the result of what might be termed a philosophy of culture or creativity. Under the influence of his good friend J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis came to see that man, being made in the image of God, was the product of God’s Creativity and that man’s own creativity was an important part of the imageness of God in him. As such, the arts, as manifestations of the imagination, were the fruits, through grace, of God’s image in us. For Lewis, as for Tolkien, therefore, Christ was both the center and meaning of culture.

This Christocentric view of the meaning of art was also held by G. K. Chesterton. His chapter, “The Ethics of Elfland”, in his hugely influential book, Orthodoxy, expresses this philosophy of culture very eloquently and it was a significant influence on both Lewis and Tolkien.

Although this subject is vast and would merit a whole book, there is one other writer who perhaps deserves a special mention in connection with the Christocentric nature of Art. Dorothy L. Sayers, in her book, The Mind of the Maker, writes with great profundity of the Trinitarian and Incarnational dimension of all creativity. Sayers was also hugely influenced, as a young girl, by Chesterton, particularly by Orthodoxy.

Speaking of culture, the current issue of The St Austin Review, which you co-edit, addresses the theme of culture. Can we define culture?

Many people have tried to define culture and the title of the theme of the latest issue of the St Austin Review, “Towards a Definition of Culture”, was taken from a book of this title (Notes Towards a Definition of Culture) by T.S. Eliot. Essentially, as I’ve said, all culture, as the fruit of creativity, is a manifestation of God’s creative image in us. As such, He is the ultimate source of all culture. Art and culture is literally a Gift. It is a gift of God to the creatures He created in His own Creative Image. It is, therefore, true, up to a point, to see the artist as god-like. As a creator, or more correctly a sub-creator (one who makes things from other things that already exist, as distinct from God who makes things from nothing by bringing them into existence) he is displaying, to a heightened degree, the imageness of God within himself, i.e. the god-like. The danger, however, is that the artist loses a sense of gratitude and humility and believes himself to be a god, not merely god-like. This is a sin, and is the reason why so much modern art is a perverted distortion and disfiguring of the gift of creativity.

More from Joseph Pearce on Thursday.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

From My Collection

I love a good turn of phrase, a sentence or two that's laden with meaning that somehow strikes a chord in me. I collect quotations about art, beauty, writing, creativity, etc., like other people collect coins or stamps. But the best part about gathering them is sharing them with friends who appreciate them too. Today I’m going to share a few from my collection with you.

“There is no vehicle which displays the Glory of God and the Wonder of God as clearly as the arts. Art is the reflection of God’s creativity, an evidence that we are made in His Image.” Martin Luther

“All art is an attempt to manifest the face of God in life.” Cecil Collins

“Thy will be done in art as it is in heaven.” Willa Cather

"Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." Pablo Picasso

“That the arts can be corrupt does not mean that Christians should abandon them. On the contrary, the corruption of the arts means that Christians dare not abandon them any longer.” Gene Edward Veith

If you have favorite quotes about the arts, beauty, or related topics, please pass them along.

Coming Soon: Q&As with painters, poets, dancers and more

Monday, October 23, 2006

"Windows of the Soul by Ken Gire"

Years ago, when I first started freelance writing, I wrote ad copy for a ministry that sold books through mail order. One of the books on my list was Windows of the Soul by Ken Gire. Both the subtitle Experiencing God in New Ways and the black dust jacket with the sun rising in a window pulled me in, and the one-page introduction hooked me. Since then Gire, a speaker and award-winning author who has written over twenty books including The North Face of God, Divine Embrace, The Work of His Hands, the “Moments with the Savior” series, and the "Reflective Life" series, has become one of my favorite contemporary writers.

In Windows of the Soul, he writes, “We reach for God in many ways. Through our sculptures and our scriptures. Through our pictures and our prayers. Through our writing and our worship. And through them He reaches for us…Our search for God and His search for us meet at windows in our everyday experience. These are the windows of the soul.” Because we long for intimacy with God and He with us, God uses many aspects of life to meet us on an intimate level, aspects such as vocation, stories, art, movies, poetry, memory, dreams, scripture, tears, and nature.

As I read, I felt as though I had somehow expanded inside. While Gire shared stories about windows where God met him and other people, I began remembering times and places where God had met me. I had had experiences of intimacy with Him but had never articulated them—or perhaps even recognized them for what they were. Gire helped me identify them and sharpened my sense of awareness of God reaching out to me so that from then on, I was looking for windows of the soul.

Art for me is one of those windows. I believe God can use art to reach out to us, to show us more of Himself, and to draw us closer to Him. Maybe art is one of your windows too? If so, email me and tell me about it. I’d love to hear from you.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Worship and Art

In my first post, I wrote about a powerful experience I had worshipping God while viewing a painting by Monet in London. Today I'm focusing on others who also have been moved to worship God through art.

Freelance designer and former art director for Discipleship Journal Anne Elhajoui says, “Whenever I see great art, great design, great music or dance, I think about God. It makes me worship and praise him.”

For Dena Dyer, who’s a writer, actor and singer, it’s the Les Miserables soundtrack and show that make her worship. “I can’t listen to the soundtrack or see the Broadway show without weeping with gratitude at the grace of God. The story and music are exquisite, and the themes of forgiveness, mercy and loving others as Christ loved us always move me.”

Doug Roeglin, an art director at a private college, says, “The first time I saw a Louis Tiffany window/wall, my knees turned to jelly and the hairs on my neck stood on end. I couldn’t help but worship God for the color and form he made that would inspire such glorious, magnificent beauty.”

An art exhibit at MIT led to a profound worship experience that Laurie Fuller, graphic designer and painter, still remembers clearly 18 years later. “Although the students used the science of math as the source of their artwork, the beauty of the structures reminded me of the balance found in God’s creation. I was overwhelmed with the complexity and beauty of God’s designs in the world around me and by his greatness and began to worship him.”

God can use anything to touch our hearts—regardless of whether the art or the artist is explicitly Christian—so that we respond to him in worship. When we realize this, we will be more open and attentive to the music we hear, the paintings we see, the poetry we read, the performances we watch. We will sense his presence in the notes of a symphony, the pages of a book and, perhaps, the brush strokes of a man named Monet whose gift, great though it was, is only a dim impression of the creative genius and power of the one who gave it to him.

Have you ever had a similar worship experience through the arts? If so, please email me and tell me about it. I may use your story on my blog in the future.

Portions of this post first appeared in an article I wrote for The Lookout magazine, October 2002.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Bryan Coley, Part 2: "Lives are Broken"

Due to technical difficulties, I was unable to post on Thursday. After several unsuccessful attempts to get into the system, I threw my hands up in frustration and left town for Florida. Actually, it was a planned trip with my husband and if I hadn't given up on posting when I did, we might have missed our flight. We had a great time, and I do apologize for the inconvenience.

So, in today's post, I'll finish up my interview with Bryan Coley of Art Within. For more info on Art Within, check out the website at www.artwithin.org.

LeAnne: Why is having Christians in the arts so important?

Bryan: At Art Within, we believe that in today’s society, art and entertainment have the greatest impact on people’s beliefs and values, but there is a significant lack of an influential faith-based voice. People don’t trust the church, the government, or education. They’re finding their equipment to live in the arts and media. They’re patterning their lives after image.

Christians have to be part of that dialogue. Our culture has gone through a strong cycle of post-modern cynicism, dysfunctionality raised to an art form, relative truth, of seeing this life as all there is. Those things strike against the core of a Christian worldview, yet our voice is not in the cultural debate. There aren’t voices saying, “There is Hope, Truth, ultimate justice, there are things that can save your marriage, that you can learn from to get out of debt”—things we take for granted as Christians.

What drives a Christian artist?
What drives me is that people are dying around me, lives are broken. It’s my neighbor’s child who plays with my son [for example]. What is his life going to look like? There’s got to be room for truth and hope to come to his life, to his parents’ life, because if they knew how to parent through the power of Christ, it would transform him. When I pray with my son about him, I say, he doesn’t know the truth of God. That’s what we need to share with him.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Bryan Coley: "A Dust Bowl"

Today I'm talking with Bryan Coley, Artistic Director of Art Within, an arts and media company that seeks to advance the individual and collective voice of faith in the arts and entertainment industry. Art Within develops, produces and distributes scripts for stage and screen that are relevant to today’s culture and explore Hope and Truth from a Christian perspective. For more information, visit www.artwithin.org.

LeAnne: Why should Christians be involved in our culture?

Bryan: Since I’m a storyteller, I’ll give you a parable. A farmer was tired of sowing seeds. He hated when he had to dig up the ground and till the soil. So he decided, “I’m just going to harvest. That’s what I’m good at. It’s easy.” The ground became hard; the plants died. Eventually the land became a dust bowl. The farmer packed his bags and said, “I guess it wasn’t God’s will for me to farm this land. I’ll just move on to something else.”

To me, that captures what Christianity has done with the culture. We’ve seen how hard it is to engage the culture. Sowing seeds is hard. It takes a long time to see the benefits. It’s so much easier to harvest. By that I mean creating our own subculture. It’s easier to do Christian music than to be musicians out engaging and planting seeds in the culture. It’s harder for us to be in our neighborhood, to be active salt and light than to be in our small groups. Because of that, we’re seeing the land get harder. The culture is becoming a dust bowl because of our lack of planting seeds. The natural Christian reaction is to brush our hands off and say, “I guess it wasn’t God’s will for us to be part of this culture. It’s their own fault.” Instead we should be weeping over this land. That’s why we’re needed in the culture—for our children’s sake, for generations to come who will have to live in a land that’s fruitless.

You have said, “If we're going to bring ourselves into the cultural debate, we can't treat [nonChristians] as enemies." Explain what you mean.

Our conversation with the culture must start from a place of commonality, because “there but by the grace of God...” I’m not saying that we don’t have something huge that sets us apart or that our conversation with the culture shouldn’t end with the transformational power of Jesus Christ. However, it is amazing grace that saved a wretch like me. How uncaring for me, who was formerly lost and blind, to refer to those who are still lost and blind as “them” and alienate myself from them—what piety and hypocrisy.

Thursday's post will be more of my conversation with Bryan.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Nigel Goodwin, Part 3: "A Desert"

I've been talking with Nigel Goodwin, Executive Director of Genesis Arts Trust (www.genesisartstrust.org.uk) about Christians in the cultural debate.

LeAnne: How can the church support Christians in the arts?

Nigel: Everybody has gifts in the church. If someone writes a poem, some music, encourage it. They may not be a Mozart, but they have something to express. Encourage [the gifts] in the church, in our schools, in our homes, and ultimately those gifts will go out into the marketplace. Who are tomorrow’s filmmakers? Poets? Writers? Should we be getting programs together to find money to support these people?

When I started 30-odd years ago, there were little or no Christian voices. It was a desert. Today there are more. There aren’t enough, but there are more. I believe it’s long-term strategy, long-term planning. I don’t think it’s quick or instant. There is no one answer, but the answers are all there in the scriptures.

In Monday's post, I'll be talking to another of those voices in the desert: Bryan Coley of Art Within, an arts and media company that seeks to advance the individual and collective voice of faith in the arts and entertainment industry.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Nigel Goodwin, Part 2: "Something Different"

I've been talking with Nigel Goodwin, Executive Director of Genesis Arts Trust, about using the arts to reach our culture for Christ.

LeAnne: How can Christians in the arts impact in our culture?

Nigel: We will bring the light into our culture. Light is substance, darkness is not. You don’t need a lot of light. If you strike a match in a room, you’ll see something. God isn’t asking for a headlamp. God doesn’t ask us to bully the culture because it’s got us wrong. He asks us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. He asks us to be gentle, creative, winsome in the culture.

The arts gifts are given by the Giver of every good gift. A gift has to be received, unwrapped—worked at—and given back. It is for the Giver’s glory, to show Him to the world, and for our good: as we give it back, it blesses us and blesses the watching world who see the Body of Christ as distinctly different.

We need to learn in the church to make people hungry for Christ. The prince of the power of the air does not have to be the prince of the power of the airwaves. If we retreat, someone else will be there. You can spend a lot of time in the cultural wars arguing about what you don’t like rather than spending time creating an alternative so people can make their choices. Give them something different. Invest in writers, in quality writing. Why is so much church-based art bad art? Why doesn’t it have the excellence and professionalism we see in the world? Does God make cheap? Is a rose ever cheap? Is an oak tree cheap? No. God made quality.

I'll be concluding my interview with Nigel on Thursday.

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