Monday, December 31, 2007
“God’s careful instructions for building the tabernacle [in Exodus 31] remind us that his perfection sets the standard for whatever we create in his name. Whatever we happen to make—not only in the visual arts, but in all the arts—we should make it as well as we can, offering God our very best” (p. 38).
“To be pleasing to God, art must be true as well as good. Truth has always been one important criterion for art. Art is the incarnation of the truth. It penetrates the surface of things to portray them as they really are” (p. 39).
Happy New Year, everyone! May your 2008 be filled with Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.
Coming very soon: a new look for the blog and a new website as well as more great interviews
Monday, December 24, 2007
May your Christmas be especially meaningful this year as you think about the baby who became the Savior. Hold your loved ones close, and enjoy the arts of the season.
Next week another “Looking Back” interview.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
I've been talking with Nigel Goodwin, Executive Director of Genesis Arts Trust (http://www.genesisartstrust.org.uk/) about Christians in the cultural debate. Nigel is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art who worked in theatre, film, TV, and radio for over 10 years. He trained under Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri. Through Genesis Arts Trust, Nigel encourages and supports Christians in the arts, both celebrities and “unknowns”, all over the world.
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.
Monday, December 17, 2007
In my next few posts, I'm going to be talking to two experts about using the arts to reach our culture for Christ. My first guest is Nigel Goodwin, Executive Director of Genesis Arts Trust. Nigel is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art who worked in theatre, film, TV, and radio for over 10 years. He trained under Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri. Through Genesis Arts Trust, Nigel encourages and supports Christians in the arts, both celebrities and “unknowns”, all over the world.
LeAnne: What is the church’s role in our culture today?
Nigel: Except for a few notable exceptions, sadly it’s been a role of withdrawal. That goes back to the end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th, when the culture was beginning to lose its Judeo-Christian roots and become more secular. Instead of the church being salt and light and engaging, there was a huge withdrawal, a disengaging. We built our own colleges and universities—our own subcultural system, rather than counter-cultural.
I think Christ calls us to a counter-culture. If He had withdrawn at any point from the world, the world would be worse than it is. But the Holy Spirit still broods over the world. God has never given up on the world that He so loves. True, we are called to be in it and not of the world, but we are called first to be in it—in it with a different frame of reference, a different way of thinking, of understanding, of seeing. We need to take our Christianity out of the comfort zones of the church and into the marketplace. We ought to be in engagement, not disengagement.
LM: How can Christians in the arts impact in our culture?
NG: 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.
Coming soon: In early January, I will be unveiling a new look for the blog and a new website. More details later.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Ned Bustard is the owner of an illustration and graphic design firm called World’s End Images (www.worldsendimages.com). He received his B.A. in art from Millersville University of Pennsylvania. He has done work for various clients ranging from the Publication Society of the Reformed Episcopal Church, White Horse Inn, and Young Life, to ICI Americas, Macy’s West and Armstrong World Industries. He was the art director for the late, great, alternative Christian music publication, Notebored Magazine. Much of his current work is for Veritas Press, for whom he has also written a number of books including Legends & Leagues or Mr Tardy Goes From Here to There, The Sailing Saint, Ella Sings Jazz, and a historic novel Squalls Before War: His Majesty’s Schooner Sultana. In his spare time, he is the creative director for Square Halo Books (http://www.squarehalobooks.com/). He currently is living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with his wife, Leslie, and three daughters, Carey, Maggie and Ellie.
LM: Let’s talk about the arts books you've published. Would you recommend starting with a certain one or just picking one and plunging in?
NB: I'd suggest people begin by reading Art for God's Sake by P. Ryken or Schaeffer's Art and the Bible. All our books assume you have read something like one of those. After that, read It was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God and then Objects of Grace: Conversations on Faith and Creativity by James Romaine. First you read about what artists think about art and faith, and then you read about how artists have worked out their art and faith in specific bodies of work. And there is overlap between books in regards to the artists represented which is very enjoyable. Then I'd read Intruding Upon the Timeless: Meditations on Art, Faith and Mystery, followed by Light at Ground Zero. Then it would be Faith and Vision: Twenty-Five Years of Christians in the Visual Arts, MMAP and The Art of Sandra Bowden.
LM: What's next for Square Halo? Will there be a new book coming out soon?
NB: Books take a long time to make especially when you have a "day job." We have a book on baptism in development and a few in the conception stage. Then there is the running list of titles I'd like to have us do, along with a bunch of artists that I'd like to give the The Art of Sandra Bowden treatment. But that all takes time and money. In a perfect world we'd come out with one or two theological works before we did any more art books, since we started as a theological press.
LM: Speaking of, let’s talk about your day job. You also run a graphic design firm. What do you enjoy most about graphic design?
NB: My "tagline" for my graphic design company is "Committed to Making the World a More Beautiful Place—One Project at a Time." I think that is one of the big reasons I like graphic design. There is so much ugly in the world. I like to make people's lives more beautiful. I also love type. And logos thrill me. And... well, I feel like you're asking me what I like most about chocolate. "Because it is so ... umm ... chocolaty." Maybe I am too close to it so I can't give you a decent answer to this question. There is a delightful new book that deals with this topic well: Graphic Design and Religion: A Call for Renewal by Daniel Kantor. A must read. (After, of course, Art for God's Sake by Phillip Ryken and It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God.) But I guess if people are reading this blog they must have already read those two books! I am tutoring a high school senior right now in graphic design and I made her read all three of those titles. And Objects of Grace: Conversations of Creativity and Faith by the brilliant James Romaine. If we had more time I would assign her other books to read like Jeremy Begbie's Voicing Creation's Praise: Towards a Theology of the Arts, Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water, Flannery O'Connor's Mystery and Manners, Nicholas Wolterstorff's Art in Action, Ted Prescott's A Broken Beauty, Calvin Seerveld's Rainbows for the Fallen World, and The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers--just to name a few. But it's just art. We can't have Beauty getting in the way of Math or Science or other really important things!
Perhaps through graphic design I get to make Beauty an important thing. Or I at least make it pragmatic. Useful Beauty? It sounds crass when I say it that way. But with graphic design I am able to love my neighbor by making their world more beautiful. And I can love the Church, making her more beautiful in ways that they can accept, and with much less education than is required for them to appreciate most fine art. Graphic design also allows you to "Save As" and "Undo"—two things, the lack of which, keep me from enjoying fine art more.
Dick Staub, author of The Culturally-Savvy Christian and one of my interviews for this blog, endorsed It was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God at www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/november/29.81.html.
Coming soon: a new look and more great interviews. Thanks for your support!
Monday, December 10, 2007
LeAnne: Let's talk about Square Halo Books. What is your mission?
Ned: Square Halo Books began nearly a decade ago in hopes of providing a platform for living saints who would handle biblical texts in their proper context—with full belief in the truthfulness of all things contained in Scripture—but who might not have the name recognition needed to attract a larger publisher or who might be speaking about orthodox ideas that fell outside of the interests of the mainstream religious book publishing companies. The End: A Readers’ Guide to Revelation (the first Square Halo book) was published in 1997 after a seminary class at Chesapeake Theological Seminary encouraged A.D. Bauer to make his class notes available to the public.
In Christian art, the square halo identified a living person presumed to be a saint. Square Halo Books is devoted to publishing works that present contextually sensitive biblical studies, and practical instruction consistent with the Doctrines of the Reformation. The goal of Square Halo Books is to provide materials useful for encouraging and equipping the saints.
LM: Why do you publish arts-related books?
NB: We want to supply the Church with practical theological/biblical instruction and useful insights/instruction in some part of life where believers are (or should be) actively involved in bearing witness to our Sovereign God and His Kingdom through their lives, words and vocations. The arts are an area that I am interested in and there seems to be a need in the Body for art books. The owners of Square Halo care deeply for Beauty and want the Church to be interested as much in Beauty as they are interested in Goodness and Truth.
LM: Why? What does Beauty offer us?
NB: I understand Truth, Beauty and Goodness to be a set. If I said that I was for Goodness and Beauty in the Church but we didn't need Truth, my church family would say that I was unbiblical. If I said that I was for Truth and Beauty in the Church but we didn't need Goodness, my church family would start looking into my "closet" for outrageous sins. But Goodness and Truth without Beauty is okay? No, I think we need all three. As a brief aside, I would like to emphasize that this critique is not a call to leave the church but instead to really invest yourself in the church to see Christ's Bride become more beautiful.
As Gregory Wolfe writes in Intruding Upon the Timeless: Meditations on Art, Faith, and Mystery: "The church, it is said, is a human institution, and a thoroughly fallible one at that. True, but as every artist ought to know, all our forms are imperfect—they are broken vessels. To acknowledge that brokenness is not to invalidate the need to create and strive perpetually to perfect those forms. The wonder of art, and of faith, is that we can still receive grace through the cracks in those vessels."
But back to the topic—why do I think Beauty is important? I have a Kingdom of God reason and a personal reason. In Square Halo's book It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God there is a great essay by Adrienne Chaplin on Beauty. She writes: "To seek and pursue redemptive beauty is therefore not merely a luxury pastime but a call to artists to become agents of restoration and reconciliation. Wise and winsome images—whether in paintings, music or sculptures—can serve as beacons of hope and signs of renewal." I would assert that we need Beauty for restoration and reconciliation--to live out our prayer "...Thy Kingdom come...". Personally, we need Beauty to know and understand what it means to be fully human and to be fully engaged--right here, right now.
Through his excellent audio journal Ken Myers (www.MarsHillAudio.org) has made me think often and deeply on the idea of "poetic knowledge," or for our discussion, let's call it "beautiful understanding." He wrote to me that ". . . Poetic expression conveys a heightened sense of reality because it relies on the connectedness that is the fabric of reality." Right here, right now Beauty helps us to see reality with more clarity and in brighter colors. Like when you get a new pair of glasses. There's nothing better than lying on a grassy hill and drinking in the whole world through clean lenses and a new prescription. You can describe a tree and clouds and flowers to me, but it isn't the same as knowing it through a fresh set of specs. Folks with 20/20 vision will just have to trust me on that. And perhaps they will have to trust me that we need Beauty. It is all very wibbly-wobbly, I know. Beauty doesn't fit into a periodic chart, but we need it like oxygen.
More from Ned Bustard on Thursday.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
The exhibition that drew us was “The Art of Forgiveness: Images of the Prodigal Son.” Here’s the description: “The biblical story from Luke 15 of the loving father who forgives his wayward son unconditionally has inspired artists through the centuries. MOBIA is proud to organize and present an exhibition dedicated to this theme, featuring works from the Renaissance to the present day. More than 70 prints, sculptures, and paintings by artists including Rembrandt, Pietro Testa, James Tissot, and Mourice Langaskens will provide a wide-ranging overview of the impact this theme has had on the history of art.”
Indeed it is a wide-ranging overview. My favorites included contemporary artist Mary McCleary’s large mixed-media which depicted the feast as a Texas barbecue, complete with boots and hats. The work was surprising and stunning in its detail. I also liked Johannes Nilsson’s seven scenes painted on linen, dating from 1750. One that haunts me still was Thomas Hart Benton’s lithograph showing the son coming home to an empty, ramshackle house. It’s too late for a reconciliation with his father. To see a slideshow of selected works, click http://www.mobia.org/exhibitions/.
Most of the works in the Art of Forgiveness are from the collection of Jerry Evenrud, a retired church musician who has an avocational passion for visual arts. I hope to be able to feature him on the blog someday soon.
On Monday, I’m featuring a publisher of art books. You won’t want to miss it! Also, in a few weeks, I’ll be unveiling a new look for the blog as well as my new website. More details to follow.
Monday, December 03, 2007
“One must work, nothing but work, and one must have patience.” Rodin
“It is well with me only when I have a chisel in my hand.” Michelangelo
“Still, there is a calm, pure harmony, and music inside of me.” Vincent Van Gogh
“The song of the brush.” Chinese saying about painting
Coming soon: a new look!
Thursday, November 29, 2007
You can read two of Jill’s poems here:
Her article on poetry here:
And a review of her book, Finding Cuba, here:
LeAnne: Your Ph.D is in Renaissance and Seventeenth-Century literature, yet you wrote a book on Flannery O'Connor. Tell me about the book and about why you feel drawn to her life and work.
Jill: Flannery O’Connor has a lot in common with John Donne, the subject of my dissertation. They both understand that the cross is the center of our faith—that one cannot skip over Good Friday on the way to Easter morning (which many Christians try to do). And the cross is ugly and violent and powerful and scary, but it is also death defeated even though God himself on that cross had to experience the silence of God. Flannery O’Connor deals with all of this and she avoids sentimentality and the pretty religious experience. She understands that we would rather not confront God, that it is often more comfortable not to receive revelation, so her characters are often pushed to the brink before they finally see the blazing light that is God.
LM: What projects are you working on right now?
JB: I’m editing a collection of letters from the front in World War II. A young Army/Air Force chaplain writes home to his new bride and tells the story of combat and life in the trenches, the liberation of the camps, life in liberated France and with Patton’s army. They’re remarkable letters—love letters, adventure letters, spiritual direction letters—everything. And they were written by my father-in-law.
Monday, November 26, 2007
You can read two of Jill’s poems here:
Her article called "Poetry: Why Bother" here:
And a review of her book, Finding Cuba, here:
LeAnne: There’s so much I want to cover with you, Jill. First of all, tell me why you write poetry and then describe your latest chapbook, My Father's Bones.
Jill: I write in order to figure out how to say the unsayable, to put into language that which goes beyond language, to make myself pay attention.
My latest chapbook deals with loss. Its center is the twelve-poem sequence, “Requiem,” which was written in the weeks and months after September 11 which coincided with the death of my godson, a very special young man. In “Requiem” I write meditations on the parts of the funeral mass, so it is highly liturgical, and what I learned in writing it was that the liturgy takes you on a journey and brings you up on the other side of the cross.
LM: As poetry editor of The Christian Century, what advice do you have for aspiring poets?
JB: Avoid cliches and abstractions, be disciplined, pay attention. Upset the ordinary and always connect with something larger than yourself. And don’t send off poems until you have revised them at least ten times.
LM: Why should Christians read good literature?
JB: Good literature is the word made flesh. It enlarges our experience. Since most of us live pretty provincial lives, it introduces the world to us and allows us to live vicariously through the lives of well-drawn characters. We learn how to live and how to love and how to die in good literature. It exercises our imaginations and that is very important for Christians because without imaginations we cannot have faith.
On Thursday more from Jill Peláez Baumgaertner.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” Psalm 106:1
“Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.” Psalm 107:8-9
What great things has He done for you? What good things has He filled you with? Maybe these questions will help guide you as you give thanks this week. I have a long, long list of things I’m grateful for, and on that list are the people who read my blog, write supportive emails and comments, and share their knowledge and passion for the arts with me. Thank you all. Have a Happy Thanksgiving.
Coming soon: a poet, a publisher, and more
Thursday, November 15, 2007
“When we read the poem, or see the play or picture or hear the music, it is as though a light were turned on inside of us. We say: "Ah! I recognise that! That is something which I obscurely felt to be going on in and about me, but I didn't know what it was and couldn't express it. But now that the artist has made his image--imaged it forth--for me, I can possess and take hold of it and make it my own, and turn it into a source of knowledge and strength." Dorothy Sayers, "Towards a Christian Aesthetic"
“One of our most ordinary reactions to a good piece of literary art is expressed in the formula, ‘This is what I always felt and thought, and but have never been able to put clearly into words, even for myself.’” Aldous Huxley, "Tragedy and the Whole Truth"
“We read primarily to discover ourself--above all, perhaps, to discover what St. Augustine refers to as the dark corners of the heart.” Simon Lesser, Fiction and the Unconscious
“We read books to find out who we are...A person who has never listened to nor read a tale or myth or parable or story, would remain ignorant of his own emotional and spiritual heights and depths, would not know quite fully what it is to be human.” Ursula Le Guin, The Language of the Night
Monday, November 12, 2007
All of us had a special part to play. One son-in-law sang a solo and played CDs of beautiful classical music selections; the other escorted our mother into the room where our father was waiting. Both men also captured special moments on film and video. The grandchildren shared favorite Bible verses. My sister read 1 Corinthians 13, and I read an excerpt from a poem by James Russell Lowell, simply titled “Love.” I like what this poem says about the humility and longevity of true love. I hope you enjoy it too. Congratulations, Mom and Dad.
By James Russell Lowell
True Love is but a humble, low-born thing,
And hath its food served up in earthen ware;
It is a thing to walk with, hand in hand,
Through the everydayness of this workday world,
Baring its tender feet to every flint,
Yet letting not one heart-beat go astray
From Beauty's law of plainness and content;
A simple, fireside thing, whose quiet smile
Can warm earth's poorest hovel to a home;
Which, when our autumn cometh, as it must,
And life in the chill wind shivers bare and leafless,
Shall still be blest with Indian-summer youth
In bleak November, and, with thankful heart,
Smile on its ample stores of garnered fruit,
As full of sunshine to our aged eyes
As when it nursed the blossoms of our spring.
Such is true Love, which steals into the heart
With feet as silent as the lightsome dawn
That kisses smooth the rough brows of the dark,
And hath its will through blissful gentleness,
Not like a rocket, which, with passionate glare,
Whirs suddenly up, then bursts, and leaves the night
Painfully quivering on the dazed eyes;
A love that gives and takes, that seeth faults,
Not with flaw-seeking eyes like needle points,
But loving-kindly ever looks them down
With the o'ercoming faith that still forgives;
A love that shall be new and fresh each hour,
As is the sunset's golden mystery,
Or the sweet coming of the evening-star,
Alike, and yet most unlike, every day,
And seeming ever best and fairest _now_...
Monday, November 05, 2007
Materialism. Drugs. Infidelity. Narcissism. When Christians talk about Hollywood, we usually shake our heads and go on about how terrible it is. Because it seems so blatantly anti-Christian, we've written it off rather than embraced it as the true mission field it is.
At least two people, however, have caught God's vision for making a difference in Hollywood. While many in the church consider Hollywood hopeless, Bryan Coley and Barbara Nicolosi represent a growing number of Tinseltown insiders who offer the hope of Christ.
To read the rest of this article, go to http://www.christianitytoday.com/tc/2007/004/13.34.html
Thursday, November 01, 2007
LeAnne: You also sing and play outside of the church. Have you faced challenges because of your faith?
Doug: I’m in two bands that play primarily at corporate parties and wedding receptions. As far as facing challenges, I try to remember that we as Christians are called to be in the world, not of the world. Sometimes at a secular event, the best witness for Christ can be one who just simply shines their light. I love the quote by St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel wherever you go and when necessary, use words.”
LM: In addition to your music, you also act in community theater productions. Recently, you along with three other partners formed a theater company called PlayRight Productions. What are your goals for this company? Has your faith influenced the type of shows you have chosen to do?
DA: I do love to act. We started PlayRight as a group of Christian actors and musicians who wanted to produce wholesome, family oriented plays in the Atlanta area. We also wanted to start a theatrical company that encouraged Christians to use their gifts to glorify God in churches and in secular venues alike—to be a company where cast members are encouraged to pray and have devotions with one another before every show. We like to choose shows that share the Good News of Christ but we also include other subject matter as well. For 2008 we are performing Smoke on the Mountain, Cotton Patch Gospel and Sanders Family Christmas and possibly Narnia, all of which have a strong Christian message. You can find us at www.playrightproductions.com.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
In community theater, Doug has played Burl Sanders in Smoke on the Mountain in a run that yielded 26 sold-out shows. He also played the part of The Phantom from the Phantom of the Opera in Medallion Performing Arts’ production of A Broadway Showcase 2006. His church performances include Aslan in four productions of Narnia and Jesus in The Passion Play. On the lighter side, he has played Ralph Cramden in The Honeymooners, and he regularly appears as nerdy Kyle McGillicutty in the children's production called B.I.G. (Believers in God).
LeAnne: How did you get involved in music? Have you always been drawn to it?
Doug: You’re going to laugh but here goes. My first instrument was the trombone in middle school. I remember watching an episode of “Here’s Lucy” and in this particular episode, Mr. Mooney was playing the slide trombone. Well, I thought to myself (not knowing what the instrument was called), that is a very cool instrument, so I told the band teacher that I would like to play the instrument with the sliding thingy. I went on to play the trombone for many years. My main instrument now is piano and voice. I also play the guitar.
Yes, I have always been drawn to music. My mother told me that I broke the springs in the back seat of her car bouncing to the beat of songs on the radio. True story.
LM: You are Pastor of Worship Arts at Dunwoody Community Church (DCC). Talk a little about the vision for the Worship Arts Program.
DA: I started at DCC in 2000 as the worship leader and was ordained as a pastor on August 10th, 2002. My vision for the Arts Program at DCC is that we would all become authentic and zealous worshippers of our Lord and Savior Jesus—a people that worship God in spirit and in truth. It is our goal to utilize all of the art forms to inspire us to see the beauty of the One Who created everything, and I pray that in these moments of beauty, our eyes would be opened to truly see the One Who makes all things new. God Himself is the Ultimate Artist so He understands the value of the arts. I pray that through the arts, we would have a renewed sense of awe and wonder for our creative and loving God.
LM: You are also a songwriter. What inspires you to write?
DA: Yes I do write songs. I am a runner so I am most inspired by the beauty of creation and nature. I have a favorite running trail near Kennesaw Mountain called Cheatham Hill. This trail winds through beautiful, green forests and makes many twists and turns as it opens up into majestic, far reaching meadows. When I run there, I see God’s fingerprints everywhere I look. For me this has always felt like an anointed trail because God has given me so many creative ideas there, not only for music but for drama scripts, sermon ideas, etc.
A memorable songwriting experience for me came as I was working my way through a case of writer’s block. I had hit a wall while working on a song called “Freedom’s Calling.” I struggled for several weeks to finish the lyrics to this song when suddenly the creative floodgates opened, right in the middle of trying to place my order at the drive thru at Wendy’s. It was pretty funny actually. I was frantically searching for something to scribble on while ordering a Number 1 Combo with Cheese. I finished the song right there in the drive-thru line.
More from Doug about singing and acting on Thursday. If you’d like to hear him and the DCC band, go to www.dunwoodychurch.org.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
LeAnne: Do you see the students you know grappling with integrating their faith and their art? Do they face unique challenges as art students who are Christians?
Yvonne: The students I interact with now are grappling with integrating their faith and their art--otherwise I might feel like I'm failing. Seriously, though, I know that the students I've been blessed to talk with have thought more critically about the relationship of their art and their faith. They're seeing how "Christian art" does not necessarily have to be art including an overt Christian message (or symbols for that matter), and how God can use even "secular" art to speak of Gospel truths.
As Christians in the arts, they face the obstacle of being taken seriously if they do choose to integrate their faith and their art. While many encounters the students have had aren't as extreme, there are some cases where they've seen that the idea of Christians making art is taken as a joke.
LM: How do you encourage them in their walk and in their art?
YB: I encourage them to strive to their best potential in art making, and that all the "pointless practices" like color wheels are not pointless. Cultivating the gift of art is glorifying to God, because it discovers more about His creation. I also encourage them to hold onto integrity as they make art and venture through the art field, which can have so many pitfalls of dishonesty and the compromise of morals. In my talks with them, I try to drive home that all things matter and belong to God and so we ought to live/be stewards accordingly.
LM: Tell me about your own art.
YB: My work is an outpouring of my faith and will commonly have themes surrounding relationships: relationship to and with God, relationship with others, and relationship to self. The most prominent way that this is expressed is through imagery of Freedom vs. Bondage--psychological or spiritual. My work is a heavy (perhaps cryptic) mix of traditional symbols and my own symbolic language, and will often take inspiration from the Bible, Christian literature, theology, and humanity's response to these things. I do not, however, focus primarily on the Biblical narratives themselves but rather on principles behind them and Christian ideas.
Although printmaking is my first love, I lack direct or immediate access to a printmaking facility. This has caused me to experiment with painting/mixed media painting, as well as pen drawings on paper. A body of work I'm still attempting to develop involves collagraph printmaking on Plexiglass, pencil drawings, and light boxes.
I focus on human and animal figures and visually I would say my work is very illustrative in nature and can even take on an iconographic feel. An example would be of a solitary bird weighed down by stones with a black background.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
LeAnne: You work with the Coalition for Christian Outreach in Philadelphia, ministering to art students at the University of the Arts and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Tell me a little about each of these schools.
Yvonne: The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) makes the claim as being the "oldest art museum and school in fine arts in America." This is where artists such as Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt, and Maxfield Parrish attended school, so as you might be able to imagine, they have a long line of traditional fine arts and academic training. This is a small school with two buildings (one is a museum, and the other houses classrooms and studios) and has about 300 students in attendance. PAFA also strictly focuses on the visual arts. They have a certificate program as well as a masters program, and through the University of Pennsylvania, students can get a bachelors in fine arts.
The University of the Arts (UArts) is much larger than PAFA with 2,300 students. UArts also has a wider spectrum of studies besides visual arts, such as dance, theatre, music, industrial design, and others. It is also one of the oldest art schools in the nation.
LeAnne: What are some ways you minister to these art students?
Yvonne: At PAFA, it's difficult to find ways to minister to students because there are only two buildings, and you need a pass or an escort to even get in. Last semester I was able to facilitate a prayer group, and aim to do the same this year; it's difficult to find a room to do this that is open, and match up with students' schedules. It is also difficult this year because the bulk of the students that attended last semester have graduated and left. I have tried meeting with one or two students one-on-one, however.
Right now, a lot of my time is spent with UArts students. This is probably because the school is bigger, and it's much easier to engage students. As opposed to PAFA, there are coffee shops and small restaurants all around the school buildings and I spend a lot of time in these places. I meet with students for one-on-one mentorship (primarily with girls), but also in a group that discusses what it looks like to be an artist and what it looks like to be a Christian at the same time. We also talk about why art even matters to God, and how faith factors into the arts. In addition, there is a Bible Study led by two men from a local church who also minister at UArts - and who I'm now working with. I attend to get to know the students and offer my own insights.
At the moment, most of the students I interact with are Christians, and I hope that next semester or the next I would be able to engage non-Christian students more by taking a class at UArts.
LeAnne: Do you think that art students deal with different issues than students in other fields? If so, what are those issues?
Yvonne: This is a question I've tossed around in my head quite a bit, and some days I want to say art students deal with very different issues than other students, and other days I want to say they don't. But, here are the reasons I think they might:
(a.) Identity is a huge thing that can easily be wrapped up into how "good" one's art is: how it is accepted, criticized, rejected. I think that early on, art students deal with the criticism of their work as a personal issue.
(b.) The idea of ruthless competition is probably also a big deal in art school. Perhaps more so in theatre and dance circles than visual art circles. You "have to be the best there is” to make a living, or you just don't make a living.
(c.) Being an artist, perhaps as a rule of thumb, does not guarantee money. It would seem that you have to cultivate some other skills in order to make a living—if you're not a designer of some sort, or aiming to be a gallery director, teacher/professor, or something of that sort.
(d.) Art students constantly have to deal with their peers (non-art students) saying things like, "You're lucky because you don't have to do so many essays or buy as many books”, etc. I faced this a lot myself at Kutztown University.
(e.) Art students tend to feel looked down on with the "why don't you study a real major/get a real job" mentality from those who are not artists.
More from Yvonne Boudreaux on Thursday.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Roger’s photograph “Night Money” won the Exceptional Merit Award at the 2007 Statewide Fine Arts Competition at the Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson, Michigan. His photographs have been featured in juried exhibitions such as “The Faces of Christ” gallery on the Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) website at www.civa.org. Here are a few links to his work:
LeAnne: How has the time you have spent in Kenya, China, and other parts of the world helped to shape your photography?
Roger: Just today in my Photo I class, we were watching a video on the history of photography that explored the classic "Family of Man" exhibit from the 1950s. It talked about the post-WWII shrinking of the world and the leveling of humanity—that more of us were beginning that journey of seeing each other as equals.
Though I had always heard that we are all God's children, it only made sense when I stayed awhile in other parts of the world. It's so easy to think that God speaks English and that the rest of the world needs to have his voice translated. My images in the "Faces of Christ" gallery at CIVA [the links are above] probably come the closest to explaining what my overseas time has done to me and my image making. Beyond the people themselves, it has also made me an amateur anthropologist. This interest in culture, started by overseas observations, has followed me home and fueled my questions about who we are.
In a sense, my nodes project is a cultural inventory. What does the American landscape say about who we are? Is this what it means to be human in the 21st century? Does our landscape give evidence of our connectedness?
Much of my work is about selecting views of the world and holding them up as commentary. Though certainly not always religious subject matter, I work from the assumption of this being God's world and we are his greatest creation. Our imprints on the planet then say something about who we are and indirectly about our relationship to our Creator.
LM: You've touched on this a little but I'd like to hear more about how your faith informs your work and vice versa.
RV: My faith is a starting point that eventually works into a Christian worldview, a lens of sorts. The meanings of what we see and how it all pieces together relies on some sort of meta-narrative, in my case my faith. Coming back the other direction, I think all art, photography included although it has its own unique quirks, has the power to help us see beyond the obvious. My photography has helped me to think more deeply about God's world and how my piece of the puzzle fits in with the other six billion.
The other side of the cycle, work informing faith, happens through the process of learning to see more clearly, to see beneath the surface. In the words of the rearview mirror, "things are not as they appear".
LM: You are associate professor of art/history at Spring Arbor University, a Christian liberal arts university. Do your students struggle with integrating their faith with their art? If so, how do you address that struggle?
RV: Overall, I don't think the art students at Spring Arbor struggle enough with integration. In the interest of helping students avoid an "obligation" to do "Christian" art, it is avoided almost in total as subject matter. Excellence as offering is the mantra, but I want more than a perfect aesthetic. Having said that, I think I'll let it stop there unless you want me to open a can of worms.
At the same time, one exercise I do every term with my Photo I students is to tell them to take a Christian photograph. I explain no details other than I want them to think about it. Of course we get the range from literal to generically symbolic, but it starts some very good discussions about the connections between faith and the visual world.
Monday, October 15, 2007
When not photographing other cultures, Mr. Varland explores the American cultural landscape as a student of the New Topographers. Like them, he captures unsentimental images of the landscape and everyday moments filled with meaning. His photograph “Night Money” won the Exceptional Merit Award at the 2007 Statewide Fine Arts Competition at the Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson, Michigan.
Mr. Varland’s photographs have been featured in juried exhibitions such as “The Faces of Christ” gallery on the Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) website at www.civa.org. Here are a few links to his work:
LeAnne: In February of this year, you won the Exceptional Merit Award at the Ella Sharp Museum 2007 Statewide Fine Arts Competition for your photograph "Night Money." Congratulations! Tell me about the piece and about the night you shot it.
Roger: It's a dusk shot of an ATM presented head-on with about 40 feet of space on each side. The sky is a graduated blue and signs glow in the distance. The light over the ATM is a combination of green and yellow due to the different types of sources. There was nothing remarkable about the night. I just wanted to shoot it at dusk and my timing was on.
LM: “Night Money” builds on your MFA thesis work at Eastern Michigan University. Your master's show, "Ubiquitous Nodes," is a collection of "landscapes documenting the endpoints of social networks." Tell me more about it and about what draws you to ATMs, dead-end road signs, and more.
RV: The network idea grew out of looking at all the ways we are connected, the systems that we all participate in. Most of these have hubs and nodes that appear seemingly everywhere, hence "ubiquitous". I am also fascinated by typology studies, what I smugly refer to as "same thing only different". This led to shooting all the post offices in our county, then all the pay phones along a 15-mile stretch of Michigan Avenue, then the dead-end signs, and finally the ATMs. By the time I got to the dead-end signs, it became obvious that the central interest of the project was the spaces around the hubs and nodes, not the objects themselves. I am still adding to each of these categories, but am not sure what will be the next node.
More with Roger on Thursday.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
LM: What are you working on now?
JJ: I am just now closing my seventh collection of poems entitled PAPER HOUSE, which will be published next year by Good Books. Also I am working on essays which I hope will become a collection. These are a mix of memoir and meditations on various topics that intrigue and amaze me.
LM: What would you say to encourage young poets who are Christians?
JJ: Being a Christian involved in the arts is a place of amazing grace. We not only have the gift of a narrative by which to live, but also the permission to explore everything that exists in its relationship to the Creator who desires us and our best work. I would encourage young poets to be patient, not to force work, and to remember that the most important thing is to allow a rich, maturing self to develop, one who is open to learn, change, and give.
LM: Is there anything you’d like to add?
JJ: At a time when endless information is at our fingertips, and when war continues as solution to world problems, we desperately need the arts for focus, for honesty, and for correction. If we take the call of Jesus seriously, we can see how the arts are essential to worship and work. All true art is subversive to misuse of power, to lies, divisiveness, and self-promotion. Artists in our churches, then, are essential to pull us out of feel-good worship toward the holy, the mystery, and the disciplines and possibilities of the Kingdom of heaven to transform us.
On Monday, I’ll be featuring award-winning photographer Roger Varland.
Monday, October 08, 2007
LeAnne: What can we learn from poetry?
Jean: As with all the arts, poetry teaches us in ways which can transform us. We may learn, as in gaining information, but the ultimate gift of poetry is that we can be changed by it. Poetry with its intensity of language and its distillation of thought set in the beauty of musical language and cadence, awakens our bodily senses and our minds together. We are invited into large spaces, even as we are moved into better understanding of what is hidden and deep within us.
LM: Why do you write poetry?
JJ: Having grown up with hymns and the King James Version of the Bible, I was exposed to the power of language. Who can explain why a child responds with her own words? I wrote poems occasionally and studied English literature in college. My first attempt to study the craft came after my children were in school, when I gave myself permission to continue my education at graduate level. I had grown interested in telling my father's history in an artistic way, his journey as an orphaned teen from Ukraine to Canada. That moved into a poetic investigation of all of life. I write because I sometimes am able to make connections in unexpected ways, and I find places in my soul that continue to long for discovery of meaning and mystery.
More from Jean Janzen on Thursday.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
“The failure to read good books both enfeebles the vision and strengthens our most fatal tendency—the belief that here and now is all there is.” Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (1987)
“The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.” Ursula LeGuin, Dancing at the Edge of the World (1989).
Coming soon: a poet, a photographer, a painter
Monday, October 01, 2007
LeAnne: What has been your experience as a Christian in theatre?
Steve: The communities I did theatre in were fairly conservative. In that atmosphere, there wasn’t a demand for edgier shows, so the issues of morality in terms of show content rarely came up. I don’t think there are as many obstacles in theatre in general as we imagine. Some people who work in theatre are often there because it is a last refuge of acceptance. Naturally, if I walk in as a stereotypical Christian—judgmental, condescending—I will have created my own obstacles to genuine relationships and potential ministry. Christians need to learn to lead with love. It is there we find more opportunities than we can imagine.
LM: For the last few years, you have been a member of the Creative Team of Art Within, an arts and media organization that develops scripts for stage and screen “that are relevant to contemporary culture and that explore Hope and Truth from a Judeo-Christian perspective” (www.artwithin.org). What is your involvement with them now?
SB: At this point, I’m a distant supporter of Art Within. Since they moved their offices, I have been unable to make the weekly Creative Team meetings. There has been talk of reviving a screenplay I wrote for Art Within three years ago. So now I have to determine whether or not I can dedicate the time it would take to recommit to such a task. I have several other writing projects in various states of completion that I would love to finish. However, recently I have done more work consulting with others on their writing projects. But God’s purpose for me right now is clear; I just need to continue to practice my art and be ready for the opportunities when they arise.
LM: Tell me about your role with Christians in Theater Arts (CITA, www.cita.org).
SB: As a CITA regional director I am the point person for the CITA south region. In addition to being a rotating member of the CITA board, I am also charged with coordinating regional meetings and events. Right now, we’re in the process of planning new long range goals for the south region as well as the national organization.
I believe in the vision of CITA to equip Christians with practical tools in the dramatic arts and to create networks for artists across our region and the country. The south region is overflowing with talented artists, working in their local communities to glorify God in the dramatic arts. We need to foster a greater awareness of each other’s work and a chance to learn and grow from each other’s expertise.
For more info on CITA, check out LeAnne’s Q&A with Dale Savidge, Executive Director, at http://christiansinthearts.blogspot.com/2007_03_01_archive.html.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Steve has designed sets as well as designed lights and sound for over 40 productions. He has also consulted on theatre construction projects. He has toured the country with drama and music groups and directed high school and college drama teams. Steve has acted and directed in community, church, school, college and graduate school theatres. He was a commissioned writer for Art Within in 2003 and is a graduate of the MTI Broadway Classroom in New York and a member of the Thespians Society and SETC. Steve is also the regional director for the CITA (Christians in Theatre Arts, http://www.cita.org/) south region.
LeAnne: What is your background in acting? Why do you love theatre?
Steve: My theatre background is scattered. My first play was in the 10th grade—I was a sophomore in a senior play. I played Earnest in The Importance of Being Earnest. Theatre, though, for me, didn’t really kick in until after college. I began to make a name for myself in the local community theatre. When we moved to South Carolina in 1989 I began to look for new connections. Eventually I found two. Besides directing large scale musicals for my church, I hooked up with the Foothills Playhouse and soon began managing, directing, designing and acting. It didn’t take long for me to realize a door was opening and that walking through the door was going to be a huge step for me and my family. So, in the spring of 1998, we sold our house and many of our possessions and moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia, where I attended graduate school at Regent University.
In many ways it would be arrogant for me to say I was making conscious decisions all along the way. As a child who grew up with undiagnosed learning disabilities, all I knew was that I, somehow, understood the world from a perspective I couldn’t seem to express scientifically or mathematically. For me, story telling is the oldest art form—when it is done well, it activates all the senses and intellectual faculties to get its meaning across. That is Theatre. Naturally, my Creator didn’t give me an option. One way or the other, I was going to come back to theatre at some point in my life.
LM: You are a drama teacher. Why do you believe students should be involved in theatre?
SB: I always remind the students that, whether they want to do theatre ever again, a theatre class can change their life. It is a proven fact that a person’s level of success in whatever field they choose bears a direct relationship to their skill in public communication. In theatre we ask students to overcome their stage fright and get on stage. We show them that they communicate with their whole body. We ask them to memorize a script and perform it. We ask them to write a script and perform it on our main stage. All of this prepares our students for times when their performance up front will be for much greater stakes.
LM: What made you decide to teach? What do you like most about it?
SB: Teaching, for me, was an acquired taste. I think I finally got to the point where I understood that teaching was just another form of telling a story—albeit a very structured, organized one in which the student has to learn to tell your story before they tell their own. When I made that transition to telling my own story is when I realized that I wanted to teach. I enjoy the discovery of teaching. To watch a student realize they have a comedic side or to hear a student learn to speak clearly and with power is a rush.
More from Steve Broyles on Monday.
Monday, September 24, 2007
The mission of Project Dance is to bring hope and healing to culture through the universal language of dance. The Atlanta event took place over the weekend, with classes for and performances by participants, who came from all over the country to dance, to learn, and to be inspired. This year, Project Dance events have also taken place in New York and Sydney, Australia.
Saturday’s dance concert in the park was open to the public, and a crowd had gathered in the amphitheater facing the stage. After we spoke with Katherine Gant, the Atlanta Event Coordinator (I featured her on my July 30th and August 2nd posts) and Cheryl Cutlip, we sat down to watch. Every group’s performance was different from the last—from a traditional ballet piece using an instrumental rendition of "Amazing Grace" to an edgy contemporary retelling of the death and resurrection of Christ.
At one point, five young women wearing college t-shirts took the stage. We were too far back to read the name of the college. Early in the song, the CD skipped a few times so the audio technicians started it over. When the CD skipped again, the young students proceeded to dance without music. Occasionally we could hear one of them singing or humming the notes to keep time as they calmly went through their movements. A moment later, Cheryl Cutlip, founder of Project Dance, took the microphone and explained that this group of dancers was from Virginia Tech—their piece was a tribute to those who were killed on campus last year. Cheryl said that perhaps the dance being done in silence would allow us to reflect more on what the piece meant. As the girls danced, we all shared a moment of silence for the victims whose lives were lost in a moment. It was very moving, and the girls received applause and cheers when they finished.
As I watched each group perform, I felt encouraged and inspired. I felt grateful that dance overtly glorifying the Lord Jesus could be seen and enjoyed in a public park. Kudos to Cheryl for her vision for Project Dance and to her, Katherine Gant, and the rest of the team who brought it to Atlanta.
On Thursday, I’ll be featuring Steve Broyles, actor, teacher, screenwriter, and CITA region director (www.cita.org).
Thursday, September 20, 2007
“In all my work what I try to say is that as human beings we are more alike than we are unalike.” Maya Angelou, Interview in the NYTimes (Jan. 20, 1993)
“…this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, as my friend Dale puts it, How alive am I willing to be?” Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
“The greatest thing in style is to have a command of metaphor.” Aristotle (384-322 BC)
Coming soon: an actor, a photographer, a classical musician and more
Monday, September 17, 2007
Earlier this year, Paxson issued a Call to Artists at his church to create works based on the theme of the Ascension. The work that resulted was fascinating and meaningful for the church as a whole.
LeAnne: Let’s talk about the submissions themselves. There were paintings, collages, photography, poems, essays, and more. Describe one or two pieces that stand out in your mind as particularly powerful or compelling.
Paxson: Sally Apokedak, one of our newer members, wrote a parable called “The Kingdom of Heaven is Like a Pregnant Woman.” She used a dialogue between the woman and her quadruplets in her womb. They asked her questions about the world and told her how comfortable they were in the womb. She said to them, “Oh, but you don’t know what you’ll be able to experience here—or how much more wonderful the things are that you’ll be able to see, taste, and touch.” Sally’s parable showed the tension of living in the world with the presence of Christ (and with darkness too) and the longing for our final home. But one day the King of Glory will be with us!
Another example was of a poem by Linda Drummond, who recently became a Christian and is filled with the newness of that relationship. She was going to encourage her son to write something for the literary arts category but she started reading the scripture texts herself and before she knew it, the words to a poem came almost faster than she could write. She only made two changes before she submitted the poem, which she titled “You Choose.” She had planned to encourage her son but ended up submitting something herself.
LM: Would you say that you have a large number of artists in your church, perhaps more than other churches of similar size?
PJ: We may have one or two professional artists, but for most of the people who participated, this was a way to express something latent in them, a passion that they have not had the time or the focus to reach back and pull out. I love giving people the opportunity to express themselves and a theme to work with. It’s a way that we can all value and celebrate the arts.
For Sally Apokedak, it was encouraging that her new church home holds the arts up as a high value. It shows that we have a place for creative people to use their gifts to edify the body. We’ve been intentional about trying to draw them out. These are small steps. We have also bought paintings and commissioned photographs that we have hung in the narthex.
And we’ve recently issued another Call to Artists as our church is about to be immersed in the Gospel of John. The theme is “Signs”, which comes from the heart of John’s Gospel narrative found in John 20:30-31, which begins, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book…”
LM: This sounds like a great theme—there’s so much to work with, both graphically and otherwise. Before we finish today, tell me how we can listen to “King of Glory,” your song that kicked off the Ascension theme.
PJ: Our CD, Ascension, is on iTunes. Just search under my name and it should pop up. “King of Glory” is the second track on the CD. Also, the Ascension CD is available for purchase from our website, www.rhythmofworship.com.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Earlier this year, Paxson issued a Call to Artists at his church to create works based on the theme of the Ascension. In March, he distributed a brochure outlining the idea and, to help artists get engaged with the theme, he included relevant scripture texts from Psalm 24, Luke 24:50-53, and others. The work that resulted was fascinating and meaningful for the church as a whole.
Participant Molly Blass, who introduced me to Paxson, had this to say: “The Call to Artists has been used of God in many ways in the life of our church. Chiefly, it helped showcase the creativity of our Creator God but it was also a great display of the way He has gifted His children. The positive reaction to my essay has been a huge encouragement to me to pursue writing, and to use it in a way to bring glory and honor to Christ.”
LeAnne: Tell me where the idea for this Call to Artists came from and how you arrived at your theme.
Paxson: We had actually done a call to artists about four years ago based on the theme of images of servanthood. Fewer people participated in that one but it set a precedent for the one we did this year.
The Easter Season includes the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ as well as the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. But Ascension Sunday and Pentecost Sunday are often not as recognized as Good Friday and Easter Sunday. So, in order to help our church engage fully with the Easter season, we asked artists to submit creative works on the following theme: “Ascension: Setting Our Sights on the Realities of Heaven.” The works fit into three categories—literary arts, visual arts, and performing arts—and were displayed in the gym on Ascension Sunday, which was May 20th.
I’ve always wanted to celebrate the arts. Music is my first passion, but I also love photography, dance, drama, and the visual arts. My wife and I were finishing up our second CD worship project. On my way to the church one day, I had a chorus going through my mind which seemed to have some potential. When I got to my office I immediately began to craft what became the song, “King of Glory.” As I began to study and meditate on Psalm 24, the biblical foundation for the song, I was led to some interesting insights regarding the ascension of Christ, an often neglected aspect of His life and ministry. One commentator noted that, with respect to the ascension of Christ, the disciples saw His “going.” Psalm 24, however, is a view into his heavenly “arriving.” For me, this was a profound insight and I’m still thinking about its implications.
LM: How many people participated? How was it received by the church at large?
PJ: We had sixteen submissions which were displayed in the gym on Ascension Sunday. The worship service focused on the theme of Ascension and after that, people had a chance to explore and linger in the exhibit. The whole day was an immersion into the Ascension.
Our pastor called it a “win/win” because we were able to celebrate the arts as well as an aspect of the life and ministry of Christ that often gets overlooked.
LM: You provided a program for people to use as they walked through the exhibit, right?
PJ: Yes. I had asked each artist to include a brief paragraph about the creative process behind the work. I love the creative process, both mine and hearing about others’. I wanted to be able to educate our people on the creative process, to give insight into it, since a lot of our members don’t live and move in the creative world.
On Monday, Paxson will talk about two of the pieces submitted.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Here are a couple of my favorite quotes from L’Engle.
“What do I mean by creators? Not only artists, whose acts of creation are the obvious ones of working with paint or clay or words. Creativity is a way of living life, no matter what our vocation or how we earn our living.” Walking on Water, pps. 89-90.
“Too much concern about Christian art can be destructive both to art and to Christianity. I cannot consciously try to write a Christian story. My own life and my own faith will determine whether or not my stories are Christian. Too much Christian art relies so heavily on being Christian that the artist forgets that it also must be good art.
"When we write a story, we must write to the absolute best of our ability. That is the job, first and foremost. If we are truly Christian, that will be evident, no matter what the topic. If we are not truly Christian, that will also be evident, no matter how pious the tale.” The Rock That is Higher, pp. 199-200.
And here’s the obituary in the NY Times:
On Thursday I’m featuring Paxson Jeancake, a worship arts director who conceived of and organized an art exhibit at his church based on the Ascension. The results were fascinating. You won’t want to miss this.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
LeAnne: Tell me about these shows.
Dena: We are employed by a 375-seat professional music theater company named Rockbox in beautiful Fredericksburg, Texas. We do a 2 hour, family-friendly music variety show 4 times every weekend for locals, groups, and tourists. (Fredericksburg has about 1.2 million tourists a year.) The music changes week to week but we perform oldies, country, rock n' roll from the "golden age" of that genre, comedy, and gospel/patriotic numbers. It's a great mix...and it's always G-rated!
We do "Amazing Grace" at every performance, along with an original song that thanks our country's veterans and servicemen. The Rockbox staff-- from the administration down to the concession stand workers--are all committed Christians and see the theater as a marketplace ministry opportunity.
LM: How does the audience react when you perform “Amazing Grace”?
DD: At times, we've had people who were offended by our rendition of it and our confession from the stage (during the song) that our faith in Jesus gives us eternal life. But more often, we've had people thank us because we take a stand and confess Him before men.
LM: Have other Christians criticized you for performing what could be called secular music?
DD: Yes, at times (though rarely, thankfully!) we've had Christians who don't "get" what we do. And we just thank them for their opinion and move on--because it's God who has called us, and we have to answer to Him. We try not to take it personally, though it's hard. Not everyone is going to understand our calling, and that's okay. But you know, if we did a two-hour gospel show, it wouldn't be a marketplace ministry. We are able to speak the name of Jesus to so many people who might never, ever step inside a church. It's amazing!
LM: In addition to your singing and acting abilities, you're also a writer. Tell me about your books.
DD: I was inspired to write Grace for the Race: Meditations for Busy Moms after searching for a devotional for young moms and not finding what I was looking for: one that was funny, inspirational and didn't talk down to me. The forty-five meditations in Grace offer true-life situations, humor and a practical life principle, and they each close with "Notes from the Coach"--scripture that ties it all together.
The Groovy Chicks' Road Trip to Peace and The Groovy Chicks' Road Trip to Love are both compilation books I put together with a friend. We like to compare them to "Chicken Soup meets Laugh-In"--but with a Christian twist. Some of the pieces are hilarious and some are moving, but all point to the true path to peace and love--Jesus Christ.
LM: Is there anything you'd like to add?
DD: God is so good to call me into something I enjoy so much. It's a privilege and joy to share His grace and peace with others through writing, singing, speaking and teaching. Thanks for letting me share a little bit of my story with your readers. I hope it encourages them.
Coming soon: a sculptor, a photographer, a composer, an arts enthusiast, and more.
Monday, September 03, 2007
Coming soon: a sculptor, a photographer, a composer, an actor/singer/writer, an arts enthusiast, and more
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Also, in the next few weeks, I’ll be featuring a sculptor, a photographer, a composer, an actor/singer/writer, an arts enthusiast, and more. If you know of someone you’d like to see featured on the blog, leave a comment and I’ll get back with you.
Now, for the writers and quote-lovers among us, here are a few thoughts for your day:
“A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.” William Faulkner, Writers at Work—First Series (1958)
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekhov
“A work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art should carry its justification in every line.” Joseph Conrad
“A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” Thomas Mann
“I have always liked to let things simmer in my mind for a long time before setting them down on paper.” William Somerset Maugham
“The pen is the tongue of the mind.” Miguel de Cervantes
Monday, August 27, 2007
LeAnne: What advice would you give artists who are trying to bring salt and light to the culture?
Dick: The first thing would be to cultivate their personal walk with God. When my dad was a teenager he got the chance to chauffeur A.W. Tozer around to his speaking engagements. Thinking this was his chance to get insight into how to go deeper in faith, he asked Tozer the secret to growing in the knowledge and practice of the holy. My father expected a deeply intellectual and profound response, but Tozer’s pastoral response lacked any lofty theological pretense. “Young man” he said, “read the Bible and pray everyday and you’ll grow like a weed.”
Secondly, I would advise them to hone their craft. I'm reminded of what Samuel Johnson said regarding one writer’s work, "Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good!”
Third, I would urge them to stay true to their artistic vision instead of allowing it to be subsumed by economic drivers. We need to provide for our families, but we also need to make good authentic art.
Fourth, if you have the talent and are called to do so, serve culture by making art as a Christian rather than simply creating art to be consumed by a Christian sub-culture.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
LeAnne: How can Christians be culturally savvy without becoming culturally saturated?
Dick: This is the 'in the world not of it' challenge. Ultimately we find our place in culture by going deeper in our faith. Only the person who is experiencing God's loving, transforming presence personally is in a place to offer the same to culture.
A person of deep faith will also take seriously our three roles in culture. We are countercultural like aliens, in that we should be different from the world around us. We communicate like ambassadors, learning the language of both faith and culture and interpreting each to the other. We are creators of culture like artists.
There is a paradox here. I find many Christians eager to transform the world, but not so willing to allow God to transform them. I'm learning that God isn't interested in transforming me so that I can transform the world; God wants to transform me so that I can become fully human. Transforming the world is the by-product, not the aim of being fully human, and it only occurs when transformed individuals seek and do God's will as Jesus did.
The key to cultural transformation is personal transformation and the key to personal transformation is the deep presence of God in the human life.
LM: Why are the arts and artists so important to transforming today's culture?
DS: The artist's first calling is to make good art to the glory of God. Loading them down with an agenda crosses the line from art to propaganda; a bad thing to do!
Artistic influence is a by product of art not its aim.
Having said that, I do think artists operate in a creative mode like God in Genesis 1, where the creator God sees potential and brings things into existence that were not there before. The artist is like a prophet in that when he or she sees something, they want to communicate the good, true and beautiful as they see it.
This truth telling is essential for anyone creating authentic art and inevitably carries the possibility of transformation. This is what journalist Malcolm Muggeridge meant when he said, "Only mystics, clowns and artists, in my experience, speak the truth, which, as Blake keeps insisting, is perceptive to the imagination rather than the mind. Our knowledge of Jesus Christ is far too serious a business to be left to theologians alone. From the Middle Ages these have monotonously neglected art and the imagination as guides to religious truth. I find myself in complete agreement with those who wish to reinstate the mystics, the clowns and artists alongside the scholars. To modify Wittgenstein; what we cannot imagine, we must confine to silence and unbelief."
More from Dick on Monday.
Monday, August 20, 2007
He’s also a friend. I’m pleased to have him on the blog discussing his new book, The Culturally Savvy Christian.
LeAnne: Describe today's culture as well as what you call Christianity-Lite.
Dick: My interest in popular culture began in the 60s when we all had high hopes of ushering in a spiritual, intellectual and artistic renaissance. Instead we’ve created an unbearably light popular culture that is diversionary (entertainment), often mindless (amusement) featuring celebrities known for being known. Profit motives, targeted marketing and new technologies drive this enterprise instead of good art and ideas.
American Christianity, particularly evangelicalism, in its quest to be ‘relevant’ has become like the culture instead of transforming it. The result is a diversionary, mindless celebrity religious culture that is good at marketing for numeric growth. Evangelicals are known as a voting block, a purchasing niche but not as an intellectual or aesthetically enriching force.
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn said at Harvard University in 1978, “After the suffering of decades of violence and oppression, the human soul longs for things higher, warmer and purer than those offered by today’s mass living habits, introduced by the revolting invasion of publicity, by TV stupor and by intolerable music… If the world has not approached its end, it has reached a major watershed in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will demand from us a spiritual blaze; we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life.”
I think Christians are supposed to be that spiritual blaze in culture and to do so requires that we be culturally savvy Christians of deep faith.
LM: What are some characteristics of a culturally savvy Christian?
DS: Christians have fallen into three unproductive relationships with culture. We cocoon ourselves (circle the wagons keep the ‘good guys in’ and the ‘bad guys out’), or do combat with culture, or we conform to culture, becoming like it.
Jesus was a loving, transforming presence in culture. He was in the world (he could not be cocooned), he loved people (so he did not just want to combat culture), but he also wanted to transform culture (so could not be conformed to it).
In that sense Jesus was the prototype for the first culturally savvy Christian!
I define the culturally savvy Christian as someone who is serous about faith, savvy about faith and culture and skilled at relating each to the other. To be savvy means "to get it", and we need to be savvy about both the culture and faith we are in.
We have forgotten that for centuries Christians were known for their intellectual, artistic and spiritual contributions to society. Bach, Mendelssohn, Dante, Dostoevsky, Newton, Pascal and Rembrandt are but a few who personified the rich tradition of faith, producing the highest and best work, motivated by a desire to glorify God and offered in service of others for the enrichment of our common environment: culture.
It is time for Christians to discover and rekindle our spiritual, intellectual and creative legacy.
More from Dick Staub on Thursday.