LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Friday, June 22, 2007

More from Nicora Gangi

I’m on vacation and will be back at my post posting on Monday July 2nd. I have some fabulous features lined up for the next couple of months: dancers, musicians, a culture expert, a writer, and more. I’m excited about what’s coming up so be sure to check back. Also, if you haven’t signed up to receive the blog via email, you can do it now in the box in the sidebar on the right. It’s easy and convenient—the posts show up in your inbox so you don’t have to remember to come to the blog to read it.

A few months ago I featured painter Nicora Gangi. Not only is she an extremely gifted artist, she also has great insight into the issues that face Christians in the arts. The original Q&A, plus some additional answers from Nicora, is now up at my friend Colin Burch's site, www.liturgicalcredo.com. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Delta David Gier: Authenticity

Today I’m concluding my interview with Delta David Gier, Music Director of the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra (www.sdsymphony.org), assistant conductor for the New York Philharmonic, and Assistant Artistic Director of Soli Deo Gloria (www.sdgmusic.org), which is dedicated to preserving, promoting, and enhancing the classical sacred music repertoire
in the biblical tradition.

LM: You have a long list of accomplishments. Name one of the highlights of your career.

The New York Philharmonic debut pretty much tops the list. I have an ongoing relationship with them that’s very satisfying. Last season I conducted one of their Young People’s Concerts. The host cancelled so at the last minute I found myself hosting and conducting. It went so well, though, that next season I will be conducting all of them. It’s very exciting to be a part of such a creative team. We are doing some cutting-edge stuff there, some great music.

LM: Do you have any advice for other Christians in the arts?

That question makes me think of a conversation I had with Brennan Manning, who wrote Ragamuffin Gospel. I corresponded with him a bit when I was on the road doing a tour of Carmen. I was alone for several months. I read 8 or 9 of his books and found them very inspirational because he focuses on authenticity, particularly in prayer. He came to Brooklyn for a week of meetings one year and I went to see him. I was able to chat with him a couple of times and here’s what he said (I’ll never forget it): “With prayer, there are 2 cardinal rules: Pray as you can, not as you can’t, and there’s no such thing as a bad prayer.” I’ve held onto that ever since.

It sounds simple but it’s true: be yourself. What makes the most impact on people is your own walk with God and allowing that to influence your work. Never shy away from asking tough questions. If you’re performing a work of art and you feel uncomfortable about it, engage in authentic talk about it—yes, with Christians but also with nonChristians. Talk about your struggles with it. It will give an authentic representation of your own walk with God. People respond to that so much more than pat answers. None of us has all the answers. It’s about relying on God, listening to the Holy Spirit, and being honest.

Coming soon: dancers, musicians, a culture expert and more

Monday, June 18, 2007

Delta David Gier: Bringing Life to Composers’ Gifts

Delta David Gier has been called a dynamic voice on the American music scene, recognized widely for his penetrating interpretations of the standard repertoire and his passionate commitment to new music. In summer 2000 he conducted the New York Philharmonic in what were described as “splendid performances.” He came to national attention in 1997 while conducting a tour of Carmen for San Francisco Opera’s Western Opera Theater. For the past ten seasons Mr. Gier has been an assistant conductor for the New York Philharmonic, and has served in that role for the Metropolitan Opera as well. He has performed with many of the world's finest soloists, including Midori, Lang Lang and Sarah Chang.

Since the 2004-05 season, Mr. Gier has held the post of Music Director of the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra (
www.sdsymphony.org). During his first two seasons the orchestra has enjoyed great success with its series of concerts featuring works of Pulitzer Prize-winning composers.

As a Fulbright Scholar (1988–90) Gier led critically acclaimed performances with many orchestras of Eastern Europe. Gier earned a Master of Music degree in conducting from The University of Michigan under Gustav Meier. As a student at Tanglewood and Aspen he studied also with Leonard Bernstein, Kurt Masur, Erich Leinsdorf, and Seiji Ozawa, and was later invited by Riccardo Muti to spend a year as an apprentice at the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Mr. Gier has also been in demand as a teacher and conductor in many highly regarded music schools, serving as visiting professor at the Yale School of Music, the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, the San Francisco Conservatory and SUNY Stony Brook. In addition, he serves as Assistant Artistic Director of Soli Deo Gloria (

LeAnne: You’re Music Director of the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra. Tell me about next season.

One of the joys of being Music Director is crafting an entire season’s repertoire. The SDSO is growing in every aspect. We have hired four new full-time musicians and another string quartet (we already have one string quartet and one woodwind quintet full-time), which is a big step for us. As we grow, we are taking on a more difficult repertoire. Our chorus is growing as well. We closed out last season with Mahler’s 2nd Symphony and we’ll be doing Brahms’ Requiem next season, both with the chorus. Next season Midori the violinist will be coming. We are premiering an SDG commission—a piano concerto composed by Jacob Bancks (www.sdgmusic.org/CurrentProjects/Index.html). In addition to our regular season, we are hosting a series of composer readings, expanding on a program that the Minnesota Orchestra already has in place.

We will also continue to develop our work with Native American musicians. There are nine reservations in South Dakota so, from my perspective, it doesn’t make sense for us not to be making music with them. Ultimately, we would like to do a tour side-by-side with Native musicians. Each group will play for each other on the first half of the program while having a public discussion about what music means in our different cultures, then on the second half we will commission new works for us to play together. The purpose is to find a means for cultural understanding, to enable cross-cultural dialogue.

LM: How has your faith affected or impacted your passion for music?

That question actually prompted a bit of a crisis for me. I wondered, how does a committed Christian give his life energy over to the performance of this repertoire? For me, it came down to the principle of common grace. Jesus said that God causes the sun to rise on the righteous and the unrighteous and the rain to fall on the just and unjust (Matthew 5:45). The gifts of God are given liberally to all mankind, and we recognize them in places and from people that may be unexpected. It’s easy to see it in Bach, who wrote all of his music to the glory of God; it’s more difficult with Wagner. (Of course Wagner was a genius, his music incredible.) It has taken a lot of soul-searching for me, but it keeps me honest in terms of faith. My response to great music and great performers is a welling up of thankfulness to God. And when I perform, I realize that I am participating in bringing life to the gift God gave this composer. All of us are exercising God-given gifts, which makes me thankful and prayerful. It’s a life-long journey, finding a way to worship God through the re-creation of this music.

Soon I’ll be going to the Masterworks Festival, a dynamic Christian youth camp in Indiana. The curriculum is written specifically for artists who are Christians. It started with orchestra and now includes dance, opera, theater, lots of different art forms. It’ll be my tenth year as a guest conductor. Faculty—players from major orchestras around the country—and students sit next to each other in the orchestra. It fosters mentorship, both professionally and spiritually. At night, we break up into small group Bible study. I’m amazed at the interaction, and the worship—if you can imagine—is fantastic. It’s intended to equip the next generation of artists to be salt and light in what is sometimes a very dark world.

I enjoy interaction with people of different beliefs. Sharing my faith is simply that. It’s who I am and it’s the motivation behind why I make music. When rehearsing works from the sacred repertoire, bringing the text alive is very exciting to me. Other times, it’s more complicated. For example, Mahler’s 2nd Symphony that we just did is subtitled Resurrection. On the surface, it appears to have a Christian text, but when you look deeper, it’s really about universalism. We can have a discussion about where he was spiritually at the time he composed this piece, what he was trying to say. Of course it was just his 2nd Symphony, still early in his career and his journey.

On Thursday David will discuss one highlight of his career as well as his advice for Christians in the arts.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

More from My Collection: On Poetry

Here are a few more quotations from The Christian Imagination, edited by Leland Ryken (Shaw Books, a division of WaterBrook Press).

What is poetry?

The rhythmic creation of beauty. Edgar Allan Poe

The art of doing by means of words what the painter does by means of colors. Thomas Macaulay

The expression of the imagination. Percy Bysshe Shelley

Speech framed to be heard for its own sake and interest even over and above its interest of meaning. Gerard Manley Hopkins

The art that offers depth in a moment. Molly Peacock

Perfection of form united with a significance of feeling. T. S. Eliot

A way of using words to say things which could not possibly be said in any other way, things which in a sense do not exist till they are born…in poetry. C. Day Lewis

Coming soon: a dancer, a poet, a musician, a composer, a culture expert, and more

Monday, June 11, 2007

More from My Collection

Last Christmas my husband gave me the book The Christian Imagination: The Practice of Faith in Literature and Writing, edited by Leland Ryken. It has reflections from Tolkien, Flannery O’Connor, Madeleine L’Engle, Frederick Buechner, Annie Dillard, Francis Schaeffer and others. It also has lots of quotations. Here are a few I especially like about writing and story:

When we are at a play, or looking at a painting or a statue, or reading a story, the imaginary work must have such an effect on us that it enlarges our own sense of reality. Madeline L’Engle, Walking on Water

The poet’s job is not to tell you what happened, but what happens: not what did take place, but the kind of thing that always does take place. Northrop Frye, The Educated Imagination

The primary job that any writer faces is to tell you a story of human experience—I mean by that, universal mutual experience, the anguishes and troubles and gifts of the human heart, which is universal, without regard to race or time or condition. William Faulkner, Faulkner at West Point

My assumption is that the story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all. Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life

The poet is not a man who asks me to look at him; he is a man who says “look at that” and points. C. S. Lewis, The Personal Heresy

I’m always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality. Flannery O’Connor, “The Nature and Aim of Fiction”

Coming soon: a poet, a musician, a composer, a culture expert, and more

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Tyrus Clutter, Part 2: Christians in the Visual Arts

Tyrus Clutter is a painter and printmaker. He holds a BA in Painting from Spring Arbor University and an MFA in Painting from Bowling Green State University. Clutter's award-winning work can be found in many private collections as well as in the Print Collections of the New York Public Library and the Spencer Museum of Art, as well as the collections of Spring Arbor University and Union University. Images of Clutter's work have illustrated journals and magazines including The South Carolina Review, Chiron, The Christian Century, and Arts & Letters: Journal of Contemporary Culture. The Beginning: A Second Look at the First Sin, by Square Halo Books, also incorporates Clutter's illustrations. Clutter currently resides in Massachusetts where he works as the director of Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA.)

LM: What are some ways the church can support or encourage Christians in the visual arts?

The old mentality that the mission field is only in some far off land where the heathen have never heard of Jesus is fading away. The contemporary church can see that right here in North America many people have heard of Jesus, but they do not actually understand the message of the gospel. Therefore, one of the most important things that the church can do is validate the role and calling of the artist. The roles and callings are as various as the types of art people make. Some artists are called to be liturgical designers. Their work is specifically made to function in the setting of communal worship. Others are called to be fine artists working in the national and international art scene—exhibiting in major galleries and museums or teaching at secular universities and art schools. The message of their work will surely be informed by their faith, but they are also a form of missionary to the cultural set in society. Their role is to make great art and live in a Christ-like manner in the world. Still others may be called to work in the film industry or graphic or industrial design. Again, all these people are called to be Christians in their workplace and we all know that that is no small task. And it is not just the practicing artists but the art historians and critics that need to be encouraged as vital within the Body.

Young people need to hear from the pulpit and from those in church leadership that all occupations are needed. Christians are called to every type of work, including the arts. I am not necessarily calling for a sermon on the arts from every pastor, but it would not hurt. And the support from leadership needs to begin at the level of seminary education, too. There is a surge of interest in the cultural class by young seminarians. They understand that this is a largely unchurched segment of society, yet few seminaries are preparing men and women to be conversant in the arts. While they will not be experts, they need to be comfortable around artists if this corner is to be turned.

LM: Tell me about your background as an artist and how you became involved with CIVA.

I did not grow up in a family that embraced visual art. All of us were musicians—very acceptable in the church setting—but no one was serious about art. My siblings and I had dabbled in art but by the time I reached high school I recognized that this was the direction I needed to take. My parents, like many, were concerned. Our culture recognizes the term “starving artist” and that can easily put fear in the heart of any parent who only wants the best for his or her child. I reached a compromise with my parents to major in art and minor in business. The reasoning was that I would work toward a graphic design emphasis and have some hope of gainful employment. The minor disappeared after a year and a half when I declared that I was going to become a painter. That was not met by applause.

It was during these years at college (Spring Arbor University) that I first began to seriously consider how my faith and vocation should be integrated. Somehow during that time I first heard about CIVA. It was not until I was working on my MFA in painting at Bowling Green a couple of years later that I really began to look closely at CIVA. As one of two Christians in my MFA program I was in a very different place than at Spring Arbor (a four-year Christian liberal arts college). The topics of the CIVASEEN newsletter were timely. The news about projects, exhibitions, and conferences was exciting. The books suggested to read were formational. I longed to be part of that larger community and I knew I was, if only through my annual membership and the occasional mailings it provided to me.

In 1998 and 1999 my involvement in CIVA took off. I was accepted into the “Ignite” traveling exhibition of young emerging artists from within the ranks of CIVA. At the same time I took my first full-time teaching position and was able to attend my first CIVA biennial conference. When I look back now I see myself as so young and naïve at that first conference. I was in awe of all these people I had only read about, and now I had an opportunity to meet them. It is somewhat laughable today, because many of those same artists are now close personal friends and there are literally hundreds more I know through CIVA. Still, I remember that first conference and I know the exhilaration and intimidation that many feel at their first conference. I strive to let people know that CIVA members are generally the most open and giving people I know. There isn’t the vying for position that one finds in the broader art world. The network of CIVA is just like the church. We are a group of people at various levels of development who all need each other to press forward on our journey.

Because I was willing to volunteer in various roles for CIVA, was making contacts at the conferences, exhibiting work by CIVA artists at the college gallery I directed, and having work accepted by a variety of jurors for some CIVA shows, many on the CIVA Board knew who I was. When the Board took the step to hire a director everything came together at the right time for me to move into my current position. Directing CIVA’s programs was not something I would have imagined myself doing; nor was teaching, for that matter. God has other intentions for our lives sometimes and it takes faith to discern that leading.

LM: Is there anything you'd like to add?

I have come to understand that the term “Christian artist” needs to be put to rest. There is always a problem when the word Christian is used as an adjective. I try to keep it in the realm of a noun. Christians are people, but so are artists. I prefer the term “artist of faith.” While I know that it is problematic for some, because it does not describe what the faith is in, it also does not come with a preconceived idea of what type or style of work the artist creates.

I meet many people in both the higher ranks of the church and the higher levels of the art world. If I was to ever describe myself as a Christian artist, people from both camps would arrive at the same preconception—that my work was illustrative biblical narrative, some kitschy reworking of a scene of angels, or some equally generic scene with a biblical quote attached. There is probably a place for each of those but to think that every artist in CIVA is doing that style of work is absurd.

A major thrust of my job is to have serious conversations with both sides. Usually this happens without words. I show lots of examples. CIVA is not simply a liturgical art and design organization—though those people are in our ranks and some of their work would inspire the imagination of even a die-hard atheist. CIVA encourages artists at every level to reach their highest potential. Good art work is simply good art work. It will be engaging and expanding for the viewer and it makes little difference whether it is created for use strictly inside the church or not, with an obvious and overt evangelical message or not.

We are in a time of openness in which the church knows that the visual can no longer be overlooked and the broader culture realizes that spirituality is essential to our well being. I find that, both as an artist and the Director of CIVA, this is an exciting time to be working.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Tyrus Clutter: Christians in the Visual Arts

This week I’m featuring Tyrus Clutter, painter and Director of CiVA (Christians in the Visual Arts).

LeAnne: According to your website, "CiVA exists to explore and nurture the relationship between the visual arts and the Christians faith." How did CiVA get started?

No one actually thought about starting a large organization in the early days. CIVA actually came into existence through the initial work of Gene Johnson, the former chair of the art department at Bethel University in Minnesota. Johnson realized that there were Christian colleges with art departments all over North America and that it was likely that the art professors in some of these remote places felt as isolated, from both the art world and the church, as his colleagues did. That was the atmosphere of the time; both the church and the art world were equally suspicious of an artist working from a Christian worldview.

Johnson began calling around to the various colleges in 1976 and planned to host a small conference at Bethel the following year. Key participants were asked to give presentations, to ensure that there would be a core group in attendance. Johnson assumed that around fifty people would show up. As word got around between 200 and 250 gathered at Bethel. Everyone was astounded at this turn out and the real need for fellowship and networking was keenly felt. A second conference was planned for 1979. When there were just as many participants that time, bylaws were drawn up and the organization was formed that year.

LM: What are some ways the organization is fulfilling its mission?

CIVA is currently in the process of beginning implementation of a new strategic plan that fine tunes the mission of the organization to “supporting the artist, serving the church, and engaging the culture.” The traditional means that CIVA employed to accomplish this were the biennial conferences (rotating to various locations around North America) and the newsletter (CIVASEEN). The newsletter eventually became a semi-annual journal called SEEN and now CIVA has annual media specific workshops on the campus of Gordon College and a range of traveling exhibitions.

At the core of CIVA is a network of nearly 10,000 individuals and institutions. CIVA cannot do every good thing that integrates art and faith, but it has always been a catalyst to see that these things can be done. In the realm of culture, CIVA has collaborated with the Museum of Biblical Art in New York City to produce an exhibition entitled The Next Generation. That show is still traveling to churches and college galleries around the country. The catalogue essay on the artists and their work has opened the eyes of many in both the church and the culture. The message is that excellent contemporary art can be created from the context of faith.

Other exhibitions and projects specifically in collaboration with churches have helped the general church-goer to see that faith and theology can be deepened through visual media. Thirty years ago there was simply not this kind of openness and it is exciting to see the warm reception more churches have to the arts today.

Plans are in the works to start affiliate local groups around the country. Still, in an electronic age we realize that the website, more and more, will be a means to educate and inform. In the coming year there will be more resources online to help the mission along.

On Thursday, Tyrus Clutter will talk about why the term “Christian artist” needs to be put to rest, one of the most important things the church can do, and how he got involved in CiVA.

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