Thursday, December 18, 2008

ON BEING A CHRISTIAN ARTIST

(I wrote this piece some years ago. I re-read it every once in awhile. The perspective is not too bad at all, I think.)


Let’s face it. Artists are strange people. Christian artists are stranger still, because – as Christians – they aren’t sure if strange is acceptable. Or not. Or could be. Or should be.

It’s all very confusing.

Have you ever been to a party thrown by and for artists? Here is how I remember them. Everyone begins by dressing in whatever will express individual disdain for taste. There’s always alcohol on hand, food, drugs … as the evening progresses, the music gets louder and older. And artists have a generally - and genuinely - boisterous form of fellowship.

Likewise, as Christians we know the importance of fellowship. Ever been to a Christian artist gathering? Try a mix of painters, musicians, photographers, writers, poets, and actors. You should have a truly exciting and creative atmosphere. Of all of God’s people, every single day artists clearly see the results of God at work. Why, then, do you have a quiet, polite, and generally cautious little party that’s right up there with watching dishwater?

The truth is, for being free and liberated, we don't feel very. There's not a whole lot of celebration in the celebration.

Shame on us for hiding what God intended us to be! In Galatians Paul admonishes Peter for being one way with the Gentiles and another way with the Jews. Aren’t we doing the same thing?

It’s time for a few great truths.

First truth; as artists, we work alone. Always have, do now, always will. You can have twenty artists working right beside you, and, unless you are making a quilt, the end result will still be the product of your hand and eye alone. People can teach you, critique your work, praise and/or criticize, and the end result still has you stamped all over it. As Christians, we are uncomfortable with this. Where’s the sharing? Where’s the support? You want to support an artist? Make dinner, do laundry, and stay out of the way.

Have we got that point established? Alone. I would suspect God intends it to be that way – perhaps so we can create something, well, individual. The problem is, after awhile, we take possession. The Daffy Duck paranoia – “Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!” After that, we take identity. “I am an artist.” “I am a photographer.” Or in my case, “I am a writer.”

Well, I hate to disappoint myself, but I am NOT a writer. I am a child of God, who writes what God prompts me to write. A child of God. That’s WHO I am. I understand that. Still doesn’t quite satisfy that slippery “what” question.

Time for the second great truth – the gift is not ours – it belongs to God. Not ours. Never was, is not now, never will be. Let’s make this even more interesting; we don’t HAVE the gift – we ARE the gift! Want proof? Consider this; I know an artist who molds, decorates, and fires pottery. Is she a gift from God? You might think so, if every other pot in the world was Tupperware. From the world’s view, if art is inspired, THEN the artist is considered to have value. Doesn’t it make sense that if something is inspired, the inspiration had to come first? From God’s viewpoint, art is a witness to the value ALREADY placed in the person.

So this begs the next question. As an artist, is it really necessary to suffer for my art? Can I still be a good artist if I just feel mildly uncomfortable? Am I going to be really bad if I feel really good? And just where does God fit into all of this?

Time for the next great truth. Let the Spirit in. I sit at my computer, stare at a blank screen, and pray. It’s not one of those “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned” prayers. (Although that’s probably not a bad place to start.) Rather, it’s more like “Okay, Spirit, where are we going today?” Then I wait. Unfortunately, we live in a culture accustomed to instant gratification (I want my cheeseburger, and I want it NOW.), so waiting isn’t always easy. If, after a period of time nothing happens, I try again. “Excuse me, Spirit, I’m ready anytime you are.” Then I wait again. Now I’ll be honest with you, if something doesn’t happen within a day or so, I do tend to get just a little nervous. In any case, (and in God’s time) the answer eventually does come. At times the answer has always been right in front of me, I just didn't recognize it when I saw it.

But given enough time, I get it.

And this brings us back to the original question. As an artist and a Christian, should I try to be good (whatever that is)? Or even more formidable, should I try to be Christian? Wasn’t it in Romans that the Apostle Paul said, “the harder I try, the worse it gets.” (Or words to that effect.)?

Time for the last great truth. Let the Spirit out. As a Christian artist, I don’t try to be either a Christian OR an artist. There isn’t a whole lot I can do for myself, in either case. I believe that if I concentrate on HIM, who HE is, what HE is doing, then HE will make the changes, and what I am will grow closer to what I desire to write.

I believe that. I count on that. Hey! I’ve figured it out! I know what I am.

I’m a work in progress.

JB

And how was your day?

2 comments:

Dave said...

Wow - thanks for these words. They boil down a lot of what I feel as a Christian artist.

One thing I continue to strive for is community, because I think that is important for anybody, but perhaps especially "crazy artsy types". So it was interesting to read your section on "we work alone". I think I'd have been filed under "uncomfortable with this", but thinking more about it, your are right. And true artist community must allow for fellowship AND that alone time. Gives me something to think on, so thanks!

I'm going to link to your post over at bodycreativenetwork.com.

Sam said...

I really like this piece.Its thought provoking.