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!