To be honest, the title of this blog post pretty much describes how I feel being an artist within the evangelical church. In my experience artists tend to live on the fringes of societal norms due in part to seeing the world in a different way but when you add faith into the mix it can further cause the artist of faith to feel further isolated and without a community that really understands or appreciates their often unique vision and ‘take’ on the world. Interestingly, the first person in scripture to have the Holy Spirit bestowed upon them was Bezalel, the head artisan of the Tabernacle. (Here’s a blog post with some interesting information about Bazalel- The Importance of Art: The Story of Bezalel (Exodus 31:1-10) by Matt from the blog The Left Hand of Ehud)
This topic has been an ongoing conversation between my husband and me for a number of years. Over time, I have observed what happens when my husband has been asked what he does and the responses typically go like this “Oh….you are an artist. How interesting…” And then…an awkward change of topic generally ensues. Immediately.
I’ve watched my very laid-back husband just roll with the conversation without getting perturbed about the perceived lack of comfort when the essence of his being is dismissed, albeit unintentionally. Over the years, he’s even stopped saying he’s an artist (which I chide him about), I think because he’s been around long enough to have learned that it’s a ticket to “no-wheres-ville” in most conversations. Now, he says he’s a Professor of Art, or a PhD student. People seem to identify a little more with those descriptors. If people hang around over time and discuss much with my husband they can’t help but be drawn into a conversation about art at some point. It’s his life. He lives and breathes art, and to ‘get’ him, one must have an understanding of what is important to him at his core and the top two things are matters of art and faith.
In recent years, I’ve found myself joining him in the vocation of artist. Now it’s not just about watching my husband navigate the question of “What do you do?”, now I have to navigate it as well. I sort of preferred him being in the ‘hot seat’, to be honest; it was more fun being an observer. : )
Why do people seem to be so uncomfortable around art and artists?
I have a few suspicions. Among them I think the genesis, in the evangelical church at least, may have roots as far back as the era of the Reformation Iconoclasts. I think there came to be a fear of esteeming created work too highly, and due to the destruction of so many religious works of art there came to be a dissonance, or dissociation, with art and therefore with the creators of art. I also think that as a part of that heritage and other factors we have come to de-value beauty in its various forms perhaps because we have simply forgotten how important participating in and receiving beauty is to our overall sense of well-being. There is a reason why home renovation and décor shows are a hit these days – people crave beauty and want to surround themselves with it. In my opinion, it’s an unconscious nod to something people can’t quite put their finger on…
I have seen several articles lately that discuss how the church can support artists and I’ll link a few at the bottom of this post. In my opinion, two of the best ways the church can support artists is to have art be a topic of conversation by bringing in those knowledgeable on the subject who can facilitate conversation, but also for the church to actually purchase a few competently done pieces of artwork and have them permanently displayed on-site. Providing shows for artists and their work in properly lit spaces is also nice and very much appreciated and can be a great outreach to the community. As an artist searching for a church, I can get a fairly immediate sense of whether or not a church values art (and therefore me, as an artist) through a short tour of their lobby and sanctuary. Churches that are void of elements of beauty do not hold much appeal for me in a very physical sense; they feel uncomfortable and more like stopovers on the way to…somewhere else. I don’t think I am alone in this feeling, nor do I think it is only artists who might feel this way. The more a place feels like “home” by acknowledging beauty and the creative process which are a large part of who I am, the more I am able to participate not just in body, but at my core, the place where I live deep down inside. The places people don’t ask about.
Life is messy and we bring that mess to the altar, but beauty dwelling around that altar lifts the spirits and helps to impart peace which can open the door for hope.
It’s ok if one doesn’t ‘get’ art, but I think there are many more appreciators of art in the world than detractors. I think many feel in some respect that they are not qualified to speak about art, in one way or another, which results in the seeming unintended dismissal of the very subject and through that the dismissal of a whole segment of society. Let us artists know if our work evokes any emotion within you, let us know what you see, what you like, and even what you don’t ‘get’. In doing so, you will learn a little about us, and we might, too. : )
Remember, what we create is a reflection of us and often a form of personal worship for the artist of faith, not worship of the object or the thoughts behind its creation, but of the One who willed all things, even the beautiful, into being.
A few links on the topic:
How To Discourage Artists in the Church by Philip G. Rykin President of Wheaton College in Illinois and author of Art for God’s Sake
Art and Church: The Missing Link by Manuel Luz Worship Pastor at Oak Hills Church in Folsom, CA and author of Imagine That: Discovering Your Unique Role as a Christian Artist “The church still really doesn’t know what to do with most artists.”
81 Things You Can Do To Be A More Artist Friendly Church by Manuel Luz