LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Marlene Dickinson, Part 2: "Masters of Our Craft"

Today, I'm finishing my interview with dancer Marlene Dickinson.

LeAnne: On Monday, you were saying that the Church has allowed itself to lose ground in the arts for a number of reasons, and you discussed the first one: that the Church has withdrawn from the arts so therefore, very few voices for Christ are in the arts. What are some other reasons that the Church has lost ground?

Marlene: Other than musicians, we have largely failed to encourage artist-believers to seek the technical training and education required to produce a mature artistic expression. It is only through this process that artists can develop the skill to make a viable contribution to the Church and to the world. We limit ourselves immeasurably when we require ourselves and our children to be mentored and trained primarily by other Christians in Christian institutions. How many Christian institutions can you name with even an undergraduate dance program?

We, of all people, must be masters of our craft, gleaning from any and all resources the Lord has provided. Of course we are discerning about the teaching we expose our children to, but I am speaking of adults here as well. Learning to separate craft from content is part of being “in but not of the world.” This is infinitely trickier and not nearly as safe as operating within the walls of the Church. Study at the best schools, learn from the top teachers, attend the most inspiring performances. Then, treasure the treasure, trash the trash. Unwavering artistic growth is one of my life goals.

Another reason is the captive audience can be a curse. Those of us only producing work for presentation in the context of the worship setting have inadvertently exempted ourselves from the primary standard of good theater, namely: Can it draw and hold an audience? Artists working solely in the Church are not burdened by this most basic mechanism of self-evaluation. Of course our purposes are ultimately higher, but I am still speaking in the context of artistic integrity. Just as our music expression has gained credibility, I would like to think that our dance and theater offerings, with regard to quality, could be viable outside the walls of the Church building. This remains one of my personal goals.

LM: Have you found that Christians don’t understand why you are involved in the arts?

MD: Not really, though some seem mystified that a Christian would choose to work outside the Church.

LM: How would you encourage other “artist-believers” working outside the church?

MD: I would pray the same prayers for them that I do for myself:

1. “Lord, help me to give.”
Give myself fully to You, give of myself to others without expectation of return, give by fanning the flame of artistic instinct in others, give by serving silently. I often ask myself if I am living more like Christ today than I was yesterday. It is in giving that He is increased and we are decreased.

2. “Lord, help me to grow.”
Make me a life-long student. I want to mine everything You have placed inside. Growth is the evidence of life. I want to read, listen to lectures, observe those around me, take classes, take risks, go to performances, keep an idea journal, cultivate relationships with people who challenge me.

Regarding this last one, you can find some fine Christian people working professionally in dance and theater at:

www.danceaddeum.com (I highly recommend their summer dance intensive.)
www.cita.org and

3. “Lord…”
What!? Only two points? Now you know why I’m a dancer and not a preacher.

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