LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Thursday, January 29, 2009

"Art and Spirituality": Essay by Luci Shaw

Check out this essay called "Art and Spirituality: Companions in the Way" from Luci Shaw, poet and essayist. It was reprinted in Direction Journal from The Swiftly Tilting Worlds of Madeleine L’Engle, ed. Luci Shaw (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw, 1998).

Here's a little snippet to pique your interest:

"Art finds meaning in all of human experience or endeavor, drawing from it strength and surprise by reminding us of what we know but may never have recognized truly before, transcending our particularity with soaring ease."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"How My Faith Affects My Art": Dance, Part 2

Today I'm continuing a collection of responses from dancers I've interviewed about how their faith affects or influences their art.

Randall Flinn, founder and director of Dance Ad Deum: I believe my faith and a true understanding of a Biblical worldview of the arts opens my life to the limitless possibilities of the glorious freedom of the children of God. I have come to understand a relevant and redemptive revelation of a New Testament priestly-artist –one that seeks to bless the Lord and serves the culture around him as the Lord’s servant. No need to be religious here in this position and calling. The freedom comes in resting in the relationship and calling and understanding the cultural mandate and claiming the truth that God’s artists can take up their towels and basins and wash the feet of this world with art that resonates with glory and honor.

Katherine Gant, dancer and instructor: I once danced for my own glory and satisfaction but it left me feeling very empty. When I realized that my gift of dance comes from the Lord and can be used by Him, a whole new world opened up. The burden of perfectionism that comes with this art form vanished and a new freedom to simply dance came. I deeply desire to help all dancers find the freedom that comes from surrendering their gift of dance to be used by Him.

"How My Faith Affects My Art": Dance

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I often ask the people I interview about how their faith affects or impacts or influences their art. I have received some fascinating responses so I’ve decided to collect the answers by art form and post them occasionally. Today we'll hear from two of the dancers.

Steve Rooks, Resident Choreographer and Associate Professor of Dance at Vassar College: Particularly now as a teacher, I feel it is a God-given honor to dance and to serve others (as a mentor/teacher) through dance. I don’t think that I could love the art if the Lord had not given me that love. It is pretty impossible for any dancer not to feel that there is a “heavenly endowment” that he/she has been given to experience the world of dance, and I believe that as one passionately seeks to know the giver of all good gifts, it will ultimately lead that person to the feet of Christ.

Marlene Dickinson, dancer and choreographer: Sadly, I spent the first twenty years of my life completely oblivious to the fact that faith and dance had any relationship whatsoever. Church was Sunday and Wednesday, dance was Tuesday and Saturday, and never the two would meet. Fortunately, dance was not forbidden in my faith culture, as it was for many Christians in generations past. But for me, dance and faith were not adversaries, they were complete strangers.

Sometime around 1982 I began to discover what has been known since the dawn of time: Movement has the power to move us. It is for this reason I name my pick- up performance companies “Moving People.” Dance is our universal, primal language. It transcends all barriers of time, culture, and communication.

Now, we know that all powers can be used for good or evil. I choose good. As dancers, we literally offer our bodies as living sacrifices and our work as fragrant offerings to God. It is His work to transform. So, I see dancers as translators of truth and dances as spaces for God to move—not that He needs us to do so. I am thankful for a host of studios and professionals across the country that are now connecting the dots for young dancers, teaching and mentoring them in these principles.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Kate Campbell at the Balzer Theater

On Saturday night, folk singer Kate Campbell gave a wonderful concert at the Balzer Theater at Herren’s, home of Theatrical Outfit. Not only is Kate a gifted singer and musician, she’s also a gifted songwriter. Her songs are full of heart, humor, and layer upon layer of metaphor and meaning. They touch you when you hear them for the first or the 50th time. I always laugh and cry at her concerts but Saturday was extra special.

My husband and I and a few other friends including Tom Key of Theatrical Outfit and his wife, visual artist Beverly Key, went to dinner with Kate beforehand at a diner across the street. We had a marvelous time talking about Martin Luther King, Eudora Welty (a favorite writer of many of us), our new president, and the South.

Using her beloved American South as a backdrop, Kate tells stories in her songs that touch on the universal themes of race, religion, and history. She often writes about the intersection of the old and the New South, alluding to the way of life before desegregation and using her own experiences as a young girl watching the South change during integration. On Saturday, her second set was devoted to her civil-rights-related songs. It was moving and powerful, especially on the eve of the Martin Luther King holiday and tomorrow’s historic inauguration. The location was fitting: the Balzer Theater, former site of Herren’s, a white-tablecloth restaurant that was the first in Atlanta to voluntarily desegregate.

Kate's first set featured other favorite topics in her music, the three icons of the South--Jesus, Elvis, and Coca-Cola. Her sense of humor and her faith shine through in much of her music.

Kate's latest project is Save the Day, which came to her after reading a quote from Frederick Buechner. If you’re not familiar with Kate Campbell, check out her website and listen to her music.

And watch this blog for a Kate Campbell feature coming soon!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Five Minutes with...William Edgar

Today I’m kicking off another new feature. Called “Five Minutes with...” these features will be shorter than normal and are meant to spark questions and provoke thought rather than provide lengthy answers. My first five-minute interview is with William Edgar, Professor and Coordinator of the Apologetics Department at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He serves on several boards and is a Senior Fellow at the Trinity Forum, a speaker and advisor in the Veritas Forum programs, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, and more.

Professor William Edgar studied musicology at Harvard and Columbia. He has written about music and he plays in and manages a professional jazz band. “Music is part of my soul, and it’s been in our family for generations,” he says. “I cannot live without it. Plus, it is one of God’s best gifts.”

In Edgar’s essay, “Why is the Light Given to the Miserable?” in the excellent It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God (Square Halo Books), he asserts that Romantic composer, Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), was not afraid to address the problem of evil in his music. What might we learn from his courage in facing "the drama of human suffering with passion, but not always with clear answers"? “The same lessons as Job teaches us,” Edgar says. “We know God is good, but we don’t see how and why he allows evil. We know there will be final justice, but we don’t see how the chaos of the present world is fully in his control.”

Still, Edgar urges artists who follow Christ to avoid the extremes of pessimism and optimism and “forge a third way: hopeful realism.” He sees a big difference between joy and happiness. “My aesthetic is moving from deep misery to inextinguishable joy.”

Edgar, author of several books, wrote Taking Note of Music, which he calls “an attempt at a biblical theology of music. It asks where music comes from and what is its purpose.” He takes a “somewhat unusual approach of rooting music in the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:26 ff., and the role of Jubal. I explore such questions as the power of music and its place in the world.”
In addition to writing about his love of music Edgar, Apologetics Professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, has written an apologetics book, Reasons of the Heart. When asked how followers of Christ can share and defend their faith in a way that reaches the culture, he says, “I urge them to get over on to the ground of an unbeliever’s heart and world view in order to help him/her to see their inability to live successfully on their basis in God’s world. Culture is not a bridge, but the life we all live. To reach our culture is to reach humanity in the midst of its life.”

Sunday, January 11, 2009

“Why I Do What I Do”: Poetry

If you’re a regular reader, you know that the first question I ask each person I feature invariably goes something like this: “Why do you do what you do?” I want to know what draws artists to their art forms. I want to know and understand what motivates and inspires them to create. I have received some fascinating responses so I’ve decided to collect the answers by art form and post them occasionally. First up: the poets.

LeAnne: Why do you write poetry?

Jean Janzen: 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.

Jill Peláez Baumgaertner: 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.

Brad Davis: I am drawn to images and ideas. By image (plain, textured, or figured) I mean a sensory impression, and by idea I mean anything from a concept to an emotion to a motivation. In poetry I find a concentration of both image and idea that is usually compressed into a brief language event. And yes, I am drawn to brevity, perhaps because I am drawn to contemplation, the poem functioning nicely as a springboard to, as Merton spoke of it, thinking into and with the heart of God. I also love the music of language, especially of plain speech. Though I am not as much a sensualist (one who, apart from virtually anything else, loves language for how it plays on the tongue and in the ear) as many of my poet-friends, if a poem is aurally clunky (without meaning to be), it cannot be an excellent example of the art. I am drawn to poetry for the experience of how it makes my brain work: in an encounter with a well-written poem, whether on paper or articulated at a reading, I see, hear, feel things vividly in my inner self that enlarge my experience of the beautiful, broken world in which you and I serve as stewards.

Coming soon: new features!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Peter Bannister on Olivier Messiaen

Today I want to focus on music. Peter Bannister, a Franco-British composer, performer and musicologist, composed a large-scale choral and orchestral work Et iterum venturus est in memory of composer Olivier Messiaen. Commissioned by Soli Deo Gloria, the work recently received its first performance at the church of La Trinité in Paris.

Bannister wrote an interesting article about Olivier Messiaen for Thinking Faith in which he addresses the inevitable accusation aimed at any artist who professes Christ--that his work is simply "propaganda" for the Christian faith. Bannister makes a compelling argument to the contrary as he discusses Messiaen and his music.

Coming soon: new features

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Arts Theorist Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin

Today I have a thought-provoking article to point out to you. It's a
Q&A with arts theorist Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin in Comment Magazine. Chaplin—formerly professor of Philosophical Aesthetics at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto—is writing a new book from her home in England. (Thanks, Byron Borger, for sending the article to me.)

Coming soon: new features!

Thursday, January 01, 2009


Happy New Year! And may 2009 be an art-filled, wonder-filled year for you and yours.

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