LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Monday, February 26, 2007

Beverly Key: Beginning with a Box of Crayons

Visual artist Beverly Key’s work hangs in collectors’ homes and corporate offices both here and in England. My husband and I are big fans of her work and have several pieces ourselves, including a commission.

Last summer my daughter, my nieces, my sister and I watched Beverly as she created one of her trademark pours using filters and other elements. It was fascinating to watch the process, to actually see the colors blend into a stunning abstract landscape. Later my husband surprised me with the painting for my birthday. (He did good.)

LeAnne: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

Early on—when I was in first grade and tried to sneak a box of crayons into the grocery cart. As I was growing up I always thought of myself as an artist. I was one of the ones in school who was always doing the bulletin boards for the teachers. Both of my parents painted as a hobby so I grew up with the smell of oil and turpentine. I took some art classes after school with a wonderful woman, Abbott Downing (of course, in south Alabama we called her “Miss Abbott”).

However, I graduated from college with a degree in special education and thought that would be what I would do. I taught for a few years, got married, had 2 boys and in 1986 we moved to Atlanta. At that time, we decided to have another child and I decided to take some art classes at the Atlanta College of Art. Since then I have been painting professionally.

LM: Have you found that the church doesn’t understand your calling as an artist?

Yes, I always had the feeling that as far as many Christians are concerned, the arts are suspect and held to a higher standard than the more “practical” occupations. I think it has something to do with thinking that the senses are evil, not given by God. It is really very Manichaean ( soul=good, body=evil). Jacques Maritain, the Catholic Philosopher who was a confidant of Thomas Merton and Pope Paul VI at the time of the Second Vatican Council has a quote that I have always drawn strength from:

“Thus for the apprentice as a painter or as a composer, the primary rule is to follow purely the pleasure of his eyes or ears in the colors or sounds he will be responsible for; to respect this pleasure and pay total attention to it; at every instant to produce nothing but what the senses are fully pleased with. For the creativity of the spirit, in its longing for beauty, passes through the senses and is vigilant in them, in a fragile way.”

More from Beverly Key on Thursday.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Brad Williams, Part 2: Opening a Door

Today I'm continuing my interview with percussionist Brad Williams.

LM: Have you faced obstacles in the world because of your faith?

I know that all of my musical gifts and talents have been given by God and I feel that desire and responsibility to honor Him with them. It is difficult to be a Christian and a musician in the ‘secular world’ at times. It certainly requires a strong and uncompromising faith to be both!

LM: Have you faced criticism from the church for using your gifts outside the church?

Unfortunately, there have been times when I have faced criticism from church musicians. They have said that I shouldn’t be playing music in the separate world. I personally couldn’t disagree more. I have had moments in my life where I have been approached by individuals expressing their love for my music. To me, this opens a door to share my beliefs and to witness for Christ. I feel that the work to bring people to Christ needs to happen more outside of the church. You never know when you are going to change someone’s life and lead them to Him.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Brad Williams: The Heartbeat of the Orchestra

Classically trained percussionist Brad Williams is not only an Audio/Visual Specialist and Director of Percussion at a private Christian school, Wesleyan School, but also a freelance musician. He plays in a four-piece band in addition to a duo—both of which cover a wide variety of music including jazz, blues, rock, and country. When he is not busy with these two projects or his day job, he freelances in “every kind of group imaginable.”

LeAnne: What are some of your favorite classical pieces? What is your favorite instrument to play?

I am a fan of 20th century classical music and I love the music of the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok. He was so committed to presenting the music of his country to the world. His pieces are based mostly on Hungarian folk melodies and I enjoy them as a performer and listener.

I love the entire percussion ‘family’ but I enjoy playing timpani the most. It is the heartbeat of the orchestra and the foundation for the rest of the group. I suppose that there is a connection with my love for timpani and the fact that I am now a bass guitarist.

LM: Why are you drawn to music?

I remember hearing all kinds of music as a child. My mother is a talented singer and my father is a great pianist. I was exposed to such a variety of musical styles. There was always a song playing at my house! As I think back, I can recall that music affected me emotionally, even at a young age. I love the fact that music is so expressive, yet can be performed with such precision.

More from Brad Williams on Thursday.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Art and Worship: The Call to Create

Musician, songwriter, and author Michael Card, in his book Scribbling in the Sand: Christ and Creativity, writes, “God is beautiful. His beauty demands a response that is shaped by beauty. And that is art.”

Art—whether it’s Monet, a book, a song, or ballet—can lead us to express worship to God. Both an artist creating a work and a person experiencing a work of art can be moved to deep and meaningful communion with our Lord.

“That is what true worship is—a response,” writes Card. “Because it is a response, it does not originate with me. He speaks. He moves. He is beautiful. We respond. We create. We worship…The call to creativity is the call to worship.”

The Call
Because God created us in his image, we too are creative. Author and singer Carmen Leal says, “I like to think of myself as a work of art made in God’s image. With my writing and my singing I am actually a work of art creating art. We are on this earth to proclaim to the world that God is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. When we serve and proclaim that news we are actively worshipping.”

Dena Dyer, actress, singer, and author, agrees. “My role as an artist is working in conjunction with God—or, rather, allowing him to work through me, to express his creativity.”

Sculptor and author Wendy Lawton has experienced God working through her during the creative process. Lawton, award-winning doll designer and president of The Lawton Doll Company, has sculpted more than 300 different editions of more than 75,000 handmade porcelain dolls now in public and private collections worldwide. She says, “Once in a while the finished piece transcends the medium and the artist to become a thing that astonishes me. When I realize that there’s more there than these two hands could manage, I know it’s a tribute to the Master Sculptor.” As she works, she usually engages in a dialogue with God.

The glory of God—and a need to use their gifts for him—drives many Christian artists. Nichole Nordeman, singer, songwriter, and musician, says, “I believe that when we return the gifts we’ve been given, God is glorified.”

Tere Halliburton, dancer and artistic director of a dance company, describes how dance helps the dancer worship. “Something happens when you use your entire body to worship. You are more vulnerable before God and consequently you are more open before him. As I let myself be more free in movement, it has allowed me to get to a whole new level of worship and trust in God.”

Excerpt from an article I wrote that first appeared in The Lookout, September 15, 2002.

Coming soon: Q&As with a poet, an art and architecture historian, executive director of a nonprofit devoted to the sacred works of classical music, and an occasional series on arts appreciation for kids.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Beauty: "A Joy Forever"

We are surrounded by beauty if we have the eyes and the heart to receive it. May these quotations remind you to seek out the beauty in your life, whether in art, in creation or somewhere else, and to use it to draw you closer to the Lord.

“This world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair. Beauty, like truth, brings joy to the human heart and is that precious fruit which resists the erosion of time, which unites generations and enables them to be one in admiration!” Pope John Paul II, Letter to Artists, Easter Sunday, 1999.

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.” John Keats

“God has given us the Morning Star already: you can go and enjoy the gift on many fine mornings if you get up early enough. What more, you may ask, do we want? Ah, but we want so much more…We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” C.S. Lewis,
The Weight of the Glory

Thursday, February 08, 2007

“Reverence as Awe”

Here’s a quote I love from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Although it’s a book for writers, I think this quote applies to artists working in any field.

"I honestly think in order to be a writer, you have to learn to be reverent. If not, why are you writing? Why are you here?

"Let’s think of reverence as awe, as presence in and openness to the world…Think of those times when you’ve read prose or poetry that is presented in such a way that you have a fleeting sense of being startled by beauty or insight, by a glimpse into someone’s soul. All of a sudden everything seems to fit together or at least to have some meaning for a moment. This is our goal as writers, I think; to help others have this sense of—please forgive me—wonder, of seeing things anew, things that can catch us off guard, that break in on our small, bordered worlds."

Monday, February 05, 2007

Teena Stewart: A Connecting Point

Artist Teena Stewart works in several mediums including acrylics and oils. Also a writer, she has a book entitled Secrets of Successful Small Studies, which is projected to be released at the end of the year. Teena is currently working on a novel.

LeAnne: Can we learn or gain anything from art created by nonChristians?

Teena: We can see that there is beauty all around in different forms and that those who don't necessarily profess faith can still express beauty. By looking at art by nonChristians we can develop a sensitivity to people and their values. We can pray for the artist's salvation. We can see where we might make a difference by correcting injustices the artist has pointed out or connecting with specific cultures and belief systems—to recognize their struggles and issues. Or we can use the artwork as a springboard to discuss with others what the work means, what is moral or immoral about it, etc. Art can be a huge connecting point. It is very subjective. If someone likes a specific artist, we can find out why that particular artist or artwork speaks to them. By doing so we develop a common denominator that may open the door to discussing spiritual matters.

LM: Who are some of your favorite painters?

TS: Whenever I look at the work of some of the old masters, I can’t help but praise God for the incredible gift they were given: for example, the energy and power of Michelangelo’s work, the light and shadows of Carravagio. Even though not all of the artists who painted such works were believers, their work still stands as a witness to God. When you see the incredible talent and the way their work is rendered, you can't help but praise Him.

LM: We have talked before about worshipping through creating. Tell me more about your experience.

When I work on a drawing, painting or even something that is more graphic design, I tap into the God-given gift he has given me. I find myself praying a lot. “Lord help me do my best. Lord, thank you for giving me pleasure in art and creativity. Thank you for this gift. Help me make this pleasing to others and maybe touch lives.” Creating in this way uses a different part of my brain and it removes me from the usual grind and things I normally focus on.

There is this overwhelming sense of peace. A lot of times it’s like having a quiet time with God. If I am doing something from nature I find myself praising the creation I am studying. If I am doing a human figure I can't help but think of the verse that talks about us being fearfully and wonderfully made. We are all so different and so unique and He loves every one of us for that uniqueness and that makes me praise Him.

What is really special is when someone comes back and says they really love my work. It’s so tempting to want to take the credit, but I say “thank you,” and then I thank God, for giving me the ability and helping me accomplish it, because I know I could never have done it by myself. It keeps me humble.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Calvin Edwards, Part 2: Engaging the Arts

In the next few days, I'm going to be changing from the old version of Blogger to the new one. Hopefully it'll be a seamless transition but if you check in and I'm offline, you'll know why. Thanks for your patience.

Now, here’s more of my interview with arts enthusiast Calvin Edwards.

LM: Do the arts impact or enhance your daily life? How?

Yes. But not easily, not automatically. Like many others, I live a very busy, full life with many demands. Clients, staff, family, and others seem to want something all the time. In other words, my life is packed with non-arts before the arts show up. So how do they fit in? One has to make time, make space for them. I schedule time for the arts during what downtime there is.

But back to your question, does doing this make any difference to the rest of my busy, pre-programmed life? I think it does. In a manner that is hard to explain, I am a better person after an encounter with the arts. I am more sensitive, more informed, more prone to listening, more attuned to life’s nuances and subtleties. I am refreshed, re-created a little closer to God’s image.

To philosophize for a minute, if this is true, we would do well to bring the arts to ourselves every day, to seek to engage in some manner with the artistic, imaginative, and beautiful as much as possible. Though some may disagree, I think this is possible to do in the space around us, where we live and work. I recall reading of architects who wanted to create places to work that were inspiring, restful, provocative of good thinking and sound decision making. Places that bring out the best in people. Recently I read a book by a businessman who pointed out that he rents superior office space because he wants his staff to think well for their clients! These characteristics seem to be wholly absent in the modern architecture of soviet Russia and eastern Europe, but compellingly present in the magnificent cathedrals and palaces of Europe for hundreds of years.

We can, I believe, bring the same principles into our homes. I find pleasure and reward—daily, since I live there—in furnishing and decorating our home in a traditional, gracious manner. If I can’t encounter the arts every day, I want to bring them into my home so I live with them. There they soothe and inspire as they transport me away from the urgency and jagged edges of the business world.

LM: What else would you like to say about the arts?

Perhaps I’ve said too much already! But just one more thought. The arts are not some special realm for the initiated, for thespians, musicians, painters, and dancers. Shun that snooty stuff where only the initiated know why a painting that looks plain awful is deemed “brilliant.” Engage the arts where you are, with what you like, and how you prefer. The arts are a part of God’s diverse creation and bring you into the world of imagination and beauty. Go there on your own terms.

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