Friday, June 22, 2007

art + god

“How much time have we wasted trying to make “bigger and better” or slicker and sweeter messages instead of just being the messengers?”
– Betty Spackman

I struggle with this question a lot. First as a Christian, and second as an artist, who happens to be a Christian.

I’ve just begun reading for a new class called “Theology and the Artistic Impulse.” I’ve listed the course goals and objectives below for your reading pleasure:

Course Goals
1. To expand awareness and understanding of contemporary visual art through learning how to look, then see, then feel, then analyze.
2. To connect this art to the human and cultural realities of our time to be on the planet.
3. To think, speak and write creatively, yet authentically, about the relationships of reality, mystery and poetry discovered in the theological implications of contemporary art.

Course Objectives
By the conclusion of this course you should be able to:
1. Begin a lifelong appreciation of contemporary art as the messy and risky production of living artists, which can bring pleasure, wit, beauty, interest and revelation to a living culture.
2. Think in a dialectical manner in the formation of relationships between visual expressions and ideas.
3. Strengthen Christian belief by risking its application to the questions our culture is asking through its art.
4. Plan, make and present a work of liturgical or “gallery” art for exhibition.

I’m terribly excited to finally be taking a class on art and theology – these two things are the reason why I’ve felt most called here to Mars Hill.

The quote above came from an article I’m reading by author and installation artist, Betty Spackman. The article, Play Time – Finding the Freedom to Imagine and Explore, is essentially about how art and theology do in fact go hand in hand, despite how hard our post-enlightenment minds would like to separate them.

Her quote is in response to a story she tells about a Christian theatre group putting on a production of “Thumbelina,” where they had gone to great lengths to turn the story of Thumbelina (a butterfly loses his life while rescuing a little girl) into a parable about Christ.

She says,
“…at rehearsals we found we were very good at portraying the evil crows and the lusty frog but very bad at portraying the innocence and beauty of the child and the butterfly. It all came across as unbelievable, stupid and sentimental – a kind of shallow ‘feel good’ fable that was neither good theatre nor a true representation of Christianity."
She goes on tell of one possible solution which would have been to drop the Evangelical spin all together and just tell the story with truth and authenticity.

Which takes us back to her quote at the very beginning…
”how much time have we wasted trying to make “bigger and better” or slicker and sweeter messages instead of just being the messengers?”
A new friend of mine recently gave me a great bit of advice for artists in the church. He was telling me how he thought our role should be mirrors and not teachers. As artists, we should be given the task and responsibility of mirroring back to the church its present state and its relationship with the world. I think many people would be very uncomfortable with a bunch of weirdo artists going around “mirroring” things and not providing any kind solution…so of course, some common ground would have to be found. (Please excuse the logistics…this is a new idea!)

Often as artists in the church we’re asked to tell the truth in very clear and precise ways so that the “average guy in the pew” will get the message, in other words, teach. Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t take all people into account when we’re preparing something like a film, a song, a painting, a dance, or a play. But if we have created the piece with the expressed purpose to only explain and teach, we have suddenly become biased and thusly complicated things a great deal more than if we had just created…just because.

My girlfriend works at a large, mega-church in Chicago. We often talk about the difficulty an artist has working in an evangelical institution. Thankfully, this particular church does place a high value on the arts. However, oftentimes the “average guy in the pew” argument beats the artist’s original conception because someone believes the “average guy” won’t “get it.” Now we could go back and forth about what is more important…either everyone logically understanding everything that might be going on in a piece of art, or the feelings of wonder, beauty and awe that the piece of art created. (For the record, I don’t believe that those things are mutually exclusive!)

At any rate…back to our post-enlightenment minds…I think most of us believe in the separation of art and church whether we know it or not. Betty Spackman writes,
“Whether one is an artist or not, I think as Christians we are all implicated in the horrendous deficiency of imagination, the visual illiteracy, the dispassionate celebrations of “the joy of our salvation,” the uncaring lamentations of our sorrow for the oppressed and wounded, our lack of protest for the destruction of our ecosystem and the consumerist kitsch that is the predominant expression of faith in most of the Christian community.”
This is a scathing indictment of the state of art in many of our modern-day churches. I don’t claim to have the answer, though Spackman’s words do seem to bring with them an air of the prophetic…what if we were just the messengers?

Click here to read the whole article by Betty Spackman

Monday, June 11, 2007


It has been quite awhile since my last post. As I was awaiting the switch from the beta version to the new blogger, as well as a new, cleaner design...I simply stopped writing. That combined with classes, papers, relationships, projects, etc...this blog really took a backseat.

Now that I'm back in Seattle for summer classes, my hope is to pick up where I left off. Though it does feel kind of weird to start writing on this thing again. You wonder if anyone still reads it and then there is the "blogger-guilt."

I have a few friends that run online communities and find that sometimes their entire lives are focused on constantly producing new content. Because in the online world, if you don't have new content you basically die.

Despite months of nothing new, I stand alive.

For the two (hi mom!) of you who still read this, I thank you for your patience!

Consider this my humble, re-beginning.