LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Looking Ahead

I hope your Christmas was merry and bright but tender and peaceful too. I hope you had special moments with your loved ones and intimate ones with the Savior. I found myself thanking God many times for the story we hold so dea: a baby, all flesh and blood and bone, a fragile thing, powerful King come to save the world. His life for ours everlasting—the ultimate love story. Because of that precious gift, we can become new creatures, new creations. God’s mercies are new every morning, whether that morning is January 1st or June 1st.

This morning, I’m looking ahead to the start of the new year. I’ve got some exciting things planned for my blog in 2007. In the coming weeks, I’ll be featuring an actor and artistic director, a singer, a poet, a visual artist, and others. I’ll be writing about my own experiences with the arts as well as adding more links and posting more art-related quotes. I also plan to launch a website and upgrade my blog later in the year.

I appreciate so much the feedback I’ve been getting since my first post in September. If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to post them here or email me at lbenfield@mindspring.com. And thanks so much for coming by. May your new year be one filled to the brim and overflowing with beauty, goodness, and truth.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Arts of Christmas

The devotion of a young maid, the courage of her groom-to-be, the birth of the precious little One--in a manger of all places. It’s a story that’s both well worn and brand new with every telling. The arts help us tell the story, celebrate that miraculous event. They add to the sense of wonder and joy I’ve experienced at Christmastime ever since I was little. Here are a few of my favorite works in no particular order:

Music: almost all the carols (except for “O Tannenbaum”!) and especially those on the old Harry Simeon Chorale record my parents played every year while we decorated the tree; seeing Robert Shaw conduct the Robert Shaw Chorale and Orchestra in A Festival of Carols before he died; Handel’s Messiah, although I can’t hit the high notes anymore

Theater: candlelight Christmas Eve services; Narnia, a musical version of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe presented by our church the last two Decembers; “A Christmas Memory” and “A Thanksgiving Visitor,” short stories by Truman Capote, as performed by Tom Key, actor and Artistic Director of Theatrical Outfit in Atlanta (www.theatricaloutfit.org).

Literature: the biblical accounts of Jesus’ birth; The Advent Book by Jack and Kathy Stockman

Film/Movies: the scene in A Charlie Brown Christmas when Linus recites Luke 2 (I can still hear him do it)

Visual arts: our Christmas trees covered in folk art and other handmade ornaments as well as balls of every color and size; my Nativity set made of pottery from Africa; my daughter’s handmade gifts to me

As you celebrate the birth of Christ, too, may this Christmas be filled with wonder and joy for you and yours.

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." Luke 2:14

Sunday, December 17, 2006

From My Christmas Collection

I seem to have caught my annual holiday cold (it’s always either at Thanksgiving or Christmas) so I thought today would be a good day to share a few favorite quotations about Christmas. May we all fully enjoy and delight in this season of beauty, mystery, and wonder.

“When we celebrate Christmas we are celebrating that amazing time when the Word that shouted all the galaxies into being, limited all power, and for love of us came to us in the powerless body of a human baby.” Madeleine L’Engle

“It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.” Charles Dickens

“What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a Wise Man,
I would do my part—
Yet what can I give Him?
Give my heart.”
Christina Rossetti

“The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity—hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory—because at the Father’s will Jesus Christ became poor, and was born in a stable so that thirty years later He might hang on a cross.” J. I. Packer

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Luke 2:14

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Mart Martin, Part 2: Wonder-filled Life

Today I conclude my interview with Mart Martin, an arts enthusiast and also my husband.

LeAnne: On Monday, we talked about your love for folk art and classical music. Now tell me why you love theater.

Theater illuminates life, and the beauty in theater can be in the story itself, the storytellers, or both. Les Miserables is an example of a play that does both so well that it has drawn me into the theater five times. Millions and millions of people around the world have heard its message of compassion and courage, and those closing words, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” At the other end of the spectrum, Madeline’s [our daughter’s] school play, Three Nanny Goats Gruff, performed by six-year-olds with unabashed joy and enthusiasm, was a beautiful thing to see, too.

I enjoy being on the stage as much as in the audience, and there are characters I’ve played -- for example, a mentally disabled man in The Boys Next Door and Mr. Tumnus in a musical version of Narnia – that were heartbreakingly beautiful to do.

LM: When we met, was it important to you that I love the arts as well?

The fact is, I don't think we would have met if we had not had that mutual love. The first time people tried to fix us up, at least in a group situation, was at the theater. Later you expressed an interest in folk art, and I invited you over to see my collection (my “etchings”!). The arts are such a large part of my life that it was very important that the person God wanted me to spend the rest of my life with enjoy sharing them as well. It makes “oneness” even more possible. The great surprise (though it shouldn’t be) is the degree to which you did -- so much so that we were married in a theater on the set of a play -- but that’s another column.

LM: Yes--for another day. How have you filled your life with the arts?

First, we’re surrounded by art in our home, most of it that we’ve bought at arts festivals or commissioned from artist friends especially for a particular space in our home. I listen to a lot of classical and folk music in the car to and from work. I also try to make most of my contributions to the church and community somehow arts-related. I’m on the board of Theatrical Outfit (www.theatricaloutfit.org) of which Tom Key, who created Cotton Patch Gospel, is the executive artistic director. I support our worship arts ministry at our church in various ways. And we attend a lot of arts events as well. It’s a wonder-filled life.

Indeed it is.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mart Martin: A Glimpse into Heaven

Today, it’s my great pleasure to interview an arts enthusiast who also happens to be my husband, Mart Martin. One major thing that drew us to each other--beyond our love for the Lord--was our mutual love for the arts. The first time I walked into his home, I was floored by his collection of folk art. While we were dating, we attended arts festivals as well as the theater, the symphony, and museums, and we still do. We married in 2005, and since then, we've built a life together that reflects our passion for the arts.

LeAnne: Have you always loved the arts?

I loved to draw as early as I can remember. In fact, I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. I participated in chorus and plays at school and church from elementary through high school. And being raised just a few blocks away from a university with an exceptional fine arts program -- Southern Miss -- I was exposed at an early age to live theater and the symphony. All of those interests have carried over into adulthood.

There's much to love about the arts, but I think it's that common thread of beauty that attracts me most. Beauty is one of those rare things that comes close to perfection. And it offers us a glimpse into Heaven. The idea that there are colors we haven't yet seen and notes we haven't even heard just blows my mind. The fact that we can get a taste of that through the arts is fascinating and extremely satisfying to me.

LM: Why do you collect folk art?

With fine art, the beauty is usually found in the work itself. With folk art, the beauty is most often found in the artist. True folk artists tend to come from rural backgrounds and often have a deep faith, and all are self-taught. They are painting from their souls. There is a purity of message and simplicity of style that is truly unique. I've heard people looking at folk art mutter "My five-year-old could do that," and that's true, they probably could. But didn't Christ encourage us to be like little children? I find that childlike innocence in the type of folk art that I collect very appealing.

LM: What do you love about classical music?

Classical music encourages you to use your imagination. Here the words aren't telling the story, the music is. Mahler is one of my favorite composers, and in his Resurrection symphony you can imagine someone -- maybe it's Christ, maybe it's yourself -- being laid to rest, and then with this glorious crescendo, coming back to life and standing in front of the gates to Heaven as they majestically open. Or think how Aaron Copland helps us experience spring in the Appalachians. An interesting note is that he never even experienced it himself -- he just imagined what it might be like. Imagination is a gift, and classical music gives us another way to enjoy it.

More from Mart Martin on Thursday.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Carol Bomer, Part 2: True Transcendence

Today’s post concludes my Q&A with painter Carol Bomer (www.carolbomer.com).

LM: As an artist who is a Christian, how do you get your work out to the world?

Pray and work! Pray, pray, pray. God is the one who accomplishes all things for me (Psalm 138:8). And work, work, work. Getting exposure requires work: producing a body of art, producing a website, getting galleries, doing shows and competitions, staying relevant to your culture by reading and going to shows, etc. So much to do—so little time.

LM: How would you encourage other artists in various fields who are Christians?

I would say the same things I just said. Also, do not be afraid. You are in a battle for minds and hearts in a culture that is crying for meaning. And study hard to become excellent in your craft.

LM: In March, you were one of three artists invited to teach at China’s Luxan Fine Arts Academy, a university with over 3,000 art students. What was that like?

The amazing thing is that they let me show my biblically-based paintings. My images are about the gospel! They are about Christ as the Seed, Christ as the One who came into darkness like a fulcrum from heaven rending the veil, and Christ as the Living Word. My Global City Babel Series has as its theme Christ as the Living Word. Babel is in the heart of every man. The people of our culture are longing for transcendence, but transcendence or seeking to reach God on their own terms, not God’s terms. It is Christian artists who have the opportunity to show true transcendence that points to the transcendent One, Christ.

I also showed the students a Rembrandt etching and told them, “Like the great Dutch artist Rembrandt, I want my work to point to the Word of God, who is Christ.”

It was an amazing opportunity.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Carol Bomer: All About Him

Painter Carol Bomer (www.carolbomer.com), born in Alberta, Canada, and now living in Asheville, NC, started out as a teacher before she began painting professionally. She has shown her work nationally and internationally and recently taught art at Luxan Academy of Fine Art in Shenyang, China. Her work has been called "a silent form of poetry" (Asheville Citizen Times). Her studio is called SOLI DEO GLORIA STUDIO.

LeAnne: How did you get your start as a painter?

This question is really the greater part of my testimony. I always loved art. My grandmother, my mother, and two aunts painted. However, my ancestors were pioneers to Alberta, Canada, in1911, so painting was not an option. My mother was a teacher in a small community in northern Alberta where my dad was a farmer. The community school did not have an art program, so the first official course I took was by correspondence in 10th grade.

I wanted to attend the university in Edmonton, the capital city of Alberta, but my parents wanted me to have a Christian education (this was the radical 60s). So I enrolled at Dordt College in Iowa, where there was no art program but an excellent liberal arts Christian education. I was taught to think critically about culture, and in my second year my faith in Christ became my own and not the faith my parents. This time of my life was crucial to my future in the arts. I had grown up with the Christian faith but did not grasp that God’s Word could be applied to all of life and God’s sovereignty reigns over all.

But this college specialized in education and I did not want to be a teacher. I wanted to be an artist! So the summer after my second year, I enrolled in the art program at University of Alberta. However, two weeks before class, God intervened. I reread a paper I had written called The Purpose of Christian Education. I was praying and arguing with God that art was more than thinking biblically about life and art! But I was convicted. I prayed that if God would allow me to be an artist someday, I would return to Dordt College. In less than two weeks, I enrolled in Secondary Education with a Major in English and a Minor in History. In my senior year, I was able to take several art courses at a neighboring college. And most important, I met my life’s partner, Norm Bomer, a Philosophy/English Major and founding editor of God’s World News.

We both taught school for six years until my husband had to quit for health reasons. Then we moved to Kansas without a job. He tried to recuperate while I began to paint. With a new baby on the way, I began my career as a professional artist. Yet we never missed a house payment! My art career hit the road running, so to speak. I immediately had to paint to make a living. I painted landscapes and commissions in watercolor. I did bank shows and sidewalk shows and took classes at the local community college. I was also involved with city art associations.

By the time we moved to North Carolina where my husband began his job as editor of GWNews in 1981, my career in art was somewhat established, so beginning in Asheville was not that difficult. I began entering shows and winning awards in the North Carolina Watercolor Society.

However, until ’84, my artwork was about landscape and still life. Then the Lord intervened again. He brought difficulties and spiritual growth. I devoured the Scriptures. And to quote St. Augustine, “Lord, Thou didst strike my heart with Thy Word, and I loved Thee!” I prayed that God would use my artwork for His glory. I wanted my work to be about Christ and to be biblically based.

LM: You've done many shows and exhibitions, and yet your work is very much biblically-based. How has it been received? Do people ask questions about your work?

It has been well received by secular audiences. Recently, I was awarded First Place at a show juried by Ray Pierotti from Atlanta at the Reese Museum in Johnson City, TN. And one of my Global City Babel pieces was also juried into a show called Appalachian Corridors, an 11-state show, by Eleanor Heartney, a New York art critic. Often it is the message or the hidden meaning of a piece that brings awards, but excellence of craft and awareness of our Postmodern culture are very important issues to consider. We live in a time of relativism, so to introduce the absolute authority of the Word of God is anathema. But who is in control?

The Christian artist who tells the truth about creation and its brokenness but points to redemption through Christ will always be relevant. Christ holds all things together (Col. 1: 15ff) and all men are enlightened by the Light even thought they do not know Him (John 1:9-10). “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.”

Lately I have been incorporating words and the Word of God into my mixed media work. For years, I have incorporated Scripture as titles, but now I am allowing glimpses of Scripture to appear in my work. God’s Word is powerful. I can allow God’s Spirit to capture hearts and imaginations. (It is all about Him anyway). In my recent series Global City Babel many asked about the biblical account of the Tower of Babel and what it meant. I have many opportunities to share God’s word and the everlasting story though my work. I was even allowed to do this in China’s Luxan Fine Art Academy this March.

For more of my interview with Carol Bomer, check out Thursday's post.

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