Art

Why is it that I, who have spent my life writing, struggling to be a better artist, and struggling also to be a better Christian, should feel rebellious when I am called 'a Christian Artist'? Why should I feel reluctant to think or write about Christian creativity? - Madeleine L'Engle 

Have you ever read a book that made you feel like the author knew something about you? Something that was so much an answer to questions or doubts you'd had that it made you want to cry with relief to find out someone understands? For me, this is that book.

It may sound over-dramatic, but some of the things Madeleine L'Engle talks about in this book are things I've wrestled with since starting my hardcore art classes back in college. In those classes? I felt like a part of me woke up. My choice to major in studio art went from feeling like a default to having a purpose. I know it may sound over the top, but it became my passion (we don't really talk in terms of "passion" anymore. It sounds so dramatic but it's really the perfect phrase to describe my feeling about it.)

I remember during one of my summer sessions my senior year, the studio we worked in was a bit small too small for the ten of us taking the class. The T.A. gave me permission to move upstairs to an unused studio. For the entire four week term I spent four to six hours a day in that studio. I still remember the 2-story high ceilings letting in the summer sun, the smell of the paint and the sound of my CD player echoing off of the concrete walls. I was in heaven. I created small pieces, large scale pieces, painted, hammered, gessoed (not sure that's a word but since I went through a gallon bucket of gesso that summer, it's appropriate) and felt like I was finally on the right path to grow into the artist God had created me to be.

I believe some aspect of that showed through because the T.A. went from casually observing to becoming more and more interested in what I was doing. She would hang out in the studio after class, offer opinions and help me think more about why I was doing whatever step it was that I was doing at the time. It really was one of the best times of my life because I felt affirmed in my desire to be an artist, felt that the need to create was legitimate regardless of whether it was "practical" or "useful". But? I didn't really see the spiritual side of my desire to create. Actually, I almost felt the opposite.

My feelings during the time I spent in the studio were so strong, to the point of being overwhelming, that I wondered if it was ok as far as my Christianity was concerned because, let's be honest, the arts haven't always seemed compatible with Christianity. Sometimes it's because bad art gives all artists a bad name. Sometimes it's because art is inspired and therefore powerful and sometimes powerful can translate as dangerous. I think sometimes as Christians we are afraid to feel anything powerfully unless we feel it in church (or on a retreat, or small group or whatever.) And for a Christian to feel something so strong about something that is not blatently Christian? Can seem like we're somehow betraying God or our beliefs.

"And as I listen to the silence, I learn that my feelings about art and my feelings about the Creator of the Universe are inseparable. To try to talk about art and about Christianity is for me one and the same thing, and it means attempting to share the meaning of my life, what gives it, for me, its tragedy and its glory."

For L'Engle, finding "cosmos in chaos" is basically what determines "Christian" art from "Non-Christian" art. If you can look at a piece of artwork, read a book, sing a song that, while not necessarily being blatantly Christian, makes you see some sort of divine meaning – cosmos, creation, life – in the chaos of a fallen world? Then it is good art. And it is Christian art. Because life, cosmos, creation? Are God.

Obviously the painting or song or book isn't God incarnate. But they reflect the characteristics of God. If you view artwork, sing songs, read books with this idea in mind, it's very freeing. Who are we to say that God is limited to working through the people we deem to be "Christian"? God works through everything. **Note: am I saying that all non-Christians who do "good art" are going to heaven? No. I'm not talking about the people. And I don't know so I'm not getting into it. It's not the point.

Back when I was nine or ten, I read "A Wrinkle in Time" and was enthralled. When Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin travel to other galaxies and encounter stars singing praises to God? Not hymns or churchy songs but wild, unadulterated praise to their Creator? It was a picture of Christianity I hadn't seen before.

The core of those stories is that the universe is God's creation and all things in it worship Him just by being. It was amazingly powerful and yet not preachy. I read all four of the books in that series and still re-read them as an adult. So when I stumbled upon "Walking on Water" and heard that it was an "artistic book" (and that wasn't said in a very nice way, I have to add) I bought it the first chance I had.

Madeleine L'Engle is a gifted writer. But my love for this book really has nothing to do with her other than she is the one person who heard God's call and put this down in writing. What she's saying isn't new. But I think a lot of it has been forgotten over time. Whether it's technology, our culture, who knows. I don't know that I care at the moment. But to find some of my own doubts and confusion addressed so eloquently – and always with the main focus being God and our role as artists, writers, whatever in respect to Him as our Creator – has been life changing for me (cheesy and cliche, I know. But true. ) I've actually felt like my identity as an artist isn't something I have to apologize for anymore. Thank God.

If you're an artist who also is a Christian? Buy this book. If you're an artist and you're not a Christian? Buy it anyway and you'll find out that you might be making art that glorifies God whether you like it or not - Ha!

Comments

Emily said…
Hi, it's me, Emily (Janet's friend) again. If you haven't already read it, I think you would enjoy the book "Velvet Elvis" by Rob Bell.

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