At some point in time, every art student gets asked the same question, “So . . . You’re an art major . . . What’re ya gonna do with that?” It is an impractical major, if you consider the point of study to be learning a trade and figuring out an expertise that can make you money. Perhaps this particular art major started out in graphic design, or maybe this literature major started out in journalism, or maybe this music major started out in teaching. And now here they are, doing that impractical thing, ditching the plan that might give them an easier future, and deciding to follow their heart. Why? And, a secondary question to that: Isn’t this a sign that they’re a little crazy?
I grew up in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), this Protestant denomination that comes out of a free church tradition. Each congregation is self-governing, largely lay-led, and guided by the old saying, “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, freedom. And in all things, love.” Our churches, back then, were buildings that had a kind of spare aesthetic about them. Perhaps there were banners with bible verses on them, or some paraments (those fringed, brocaded cloths that lay across communion tables and hang off of pulpits), or some stained glass windows. But in no Disciples of Christ sanctuary of my childhood were there icons or paintings that would detract from the Word being proclaimed. The spaces were built for speakers and preachers and hearers of that Word. Anything else was embellishment—and, more often than not, thought unnecessary.
I’m now here to tell you the church back then was missing something essential. On some level, I knew it. Even as a child, I used to think about how I could give back to my church when I grew up, how I could serve God with my gift. My mother was a writer. She’d write columns for our church newsletter and think about weighty matters she wanted to discuss in her essays. I noticed that, and how fulfilling it was for her to share her thoughts on God and life in a forum that spoke to her community of faith. People responded to her writing and started conversations with her and others about the things she put down on paper. From time to time, she’d write a dialogue or a puppet show or a poem that would be shared in worship and the community would be changed by what she had brought. And I looked out at the bricks of our walls and the bulletin cover with the church’s photograph on the front of it and wondered if perhaps maybe one day I might grow up to draw the little illustrations in our church newsletter—since that was the only place I saw art impacting much of anything in my church. Today, as I look back, I see the missed opportunity. I had thought, once I became truly serious about art, and then as I became truly serious about ministry, that I had to pick one, because they didn’t really fit together. I was terribly wrong.
God wants us to use what we’re given. God has given us the arts and expects us to use the arts to convey the hope we’ve found. Jesus told stories about Samaritans and seeds that grew into trees and houses built on sand. When David wanted to express his deep regret or his gratitude, he’d write songs that would be sung in worship. When Stephen was in the middle of his greatest trial and death, he saw a glittering vision he just had to tell others about of Jesus at the right hand of God. There are descriptions of the colors and the patterns and symbols that were to be put into the tabernacle in the wilderness, the golden candlesticks and the rich purple fabrics. Why wouldn’t we use what gifts we have to express what God has put on our hearts, too?
These next few months, we’re going to be exploring what the arts have to teach us about the walk of faith. People create art, not because they’re unbalanced or impractical, but because there is something within them they must share. Like the best of evangelists, artists want to convey a message beyond themselves—this is what separates fine art from commercial art, a masterpiece of music from a catchy jingle. Good art tells a story bigger than the artist, deeper than one person’s experience. Art is an essential part of every culture. And appreciating art causes us to experience life from a different perspective than our own.
If you’re an artist who hasn’t really ever felt like you’ve had a place in a community of faith, or if you’re a person who has always liked art but didn’t know what it had to do with church, or if you’re a person who loves God but doesn’t really understand art at all, come and stretch and grow with us. Find a calling, have your eyes opened, gain a new perspective.
We always livestream on Facebook, so there’s a way to catch the weeks you’ve missed, too!
Here are the weeks of the series, January 12-February 23:
1/12 “Where’s the Light?” Acts 10:34-43 The Starry Night, by Vincent Van Gogh
1/19 “What God Has Done” Isaiah 49:1-7 Icons and Religious Art
1/26 “Idealism and Realism” Matthew 4:12-23 the art of Armin Mersmann and Chuck Close
2/2 “Find the Makers” Micah 6:1-8 storytelling in art, “Finding Home Again” art show (with Ginger Wagoner), Faith Ringgold, and other storytellers
2/9 “Caring for a Culture” Matthew 5:13-20 Public Art around town
2/16 “Values and Desires” Matthew 5:21-37 Kintsugi (Japanese pottery repair), theater movements like Theatre of the Oppressed
2/23 “Living with a Vision” Matthew17:1-9 Banksy, Makoto Fujimura, Mahalia Jackson
While this will just be a taste of the richness of arts traditions around us, and doesn’t even consider arts like poetry, motion pictures, and creative writing, it is a beginning. I’m glad you’re on the journey.