i will not take these things for granted

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Location: Little Rock, Arkansas, United States

Friday, July 20, 2007

Why should there be any starving artists?

Why, when it came time to choose a college and a major, did I, as a person with some artistic talent, feel that in order to put my talent to use and at the same time make a decent living I had to become an architect? Why, when I found that architecture wasn’t for me, did the architecture advisor warn me that in my decision to switch majors and study art I was taking the risk of becoming a starving artist? As an art major, why are media such as graphic design or photography seen as avenues to good jobs while painting, drawing, sculpture are not?

We reap the benefits of art everyday—from music on the radio, to TV shows and movies, to clothing fashion, to architectural design, to the books we read, to the posters and pictures and paintings we use to decorate our homes, and on and on it goes—yet art as a career is disparaged because it’s less lucrative than a degree in something like business or engineering.

But what would the world be without art?

Boring, lifeless. That's what.

I’ve been blessed this summer with a couple opportunities to travel—around the Czech Republic with my parents and around Italy (with a stop in Vienna, Austria, as well) with friends. And all of it centered on art. Whether enjoying the beauty of God’s artwork along the coasts of Italy or humanity’s artwork while craning my neck in the Sistine Chapel, or orbiting Bernini’s sculptures in the Borghese museum, or experiencing Hundert Wasser’s art and architecture in Vienna.

In the Hundertwasser museum, one of his quotes on the wall read something like: To paint is a spiritual experience.

It really is. Making art is very spiritual. As is experiencing the art others have made.

And God is the Great Artist. And we, created in his image, art artists as well.

We need to realize this again in our churches.

What happened to the days when churches supported artists—when they commissioned artists to create art to express the story of God in the Bible and church history and to help people to experience and connect with God? What if instead of just having paid ministers and missionaries, churches also had artists whose ministerial job was to create art and to teach others to create it as well—all with the purpose of helping God’s people to express themselves and their experiences with the Divine in their journey through life?

Could that not aid our worship?
Could it not help us to wrestle and mature spiritually?
Could it not be therapeutic and healthy?
Could it not provide avenues for sharing the good news with others?
Could it not serve as a vehicle for calling both the church and the world to more responsible and ethical living?

I think so. And I pray that our churches may experience renewal through the arts.

[And if a day comes when churches or individual Christians take artists under their wings, giving them the opportunity to create, I hope that those providing the money will not control those they've hired, but rather give them the freedom to create what they feel compelled to create, even if the end product turns out to be a criticism of the church or society.]

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8 Comments:

Blogger mmlace said...

"God is the Great Artist"

What a beautiful thought, indeed!

I was just thinking of you all and praying for you all (Saturdays at 3, that's me!) and I was just reading the newsletter you sent out earlier this week. I'm glad your summer is going well, that you're getting a break from the intensive language study, but at the same time, being able to apply what you've learned as you make friends with those around you and are able to touch them in a positive way. May God continue to bless you in that way.

Also glad you all are having good visits with the parents. Some representatives from your overseeing congregation? Do you mind if I ask who, from PV, is headed over there? Just curious...

The Central European Retreat sounds so exciting, I'm sure you're looking forward to it! I'll be sure to remember you guys as y'all prepare for it.

Hope all continues to go well on your side of the world.

Much love--mmlace

2:00 PM  
Blogger Alan Gable said...

Good thoughts, Mitchell Goosen.
I agree. It seems like we have become almost afraid of art. Ironically, the American founders and folks throughout history saw the arts as a higher form of success. John Adams said that he studied war so his son could study architecture and politics so that his son could study the arts. They seemed to view the ability to study and take time to develop artistic pursuits as a benchmark that they had arrived. They saw the depth in it.

8:46 PM  
Blogger Ashley said...

Art is wonderful, isn't it? Vienna, Italy... it doesn't get much better. As an artist myself, I've also found myself wanting to use art to draw near to God. I've had similar philosophies about art and faith.

So on one level, Mitch, I agree with what you're saying. God is the ultimate artist. The world around us is a masterpiece of his. God is the supreme Creator; when we put our own God-given talents to creative use, we are paying tribute to God. Thus, human artistic expression can be a powerful way to commune with our Creator. Art can even communicate spiritual messages among people.

But I do not think it is the place of churches to commission or support artists. Yes, I know, there is much historical precedent. The Catholic Church, for example, has done it for ages. But then again, the Catholic Church has many practices that I believe do not appropriately promote the Kingdom of God.

Just because it's been done before or it sounds like a good idea doesn't mean it would please God. The first question we should ask ourselves is: "Is this biblical?" I didn't see you deal with this question in your blog. As far as I know off the top of my head, there isn't biblical support for churches funding artists as a ministry. If anything, the earliest Christians avoided spiritual artwork due to the Old Testament commands about NOT creating spiritual images. Maybe there's a good reason for those commands.

Then again, maybe the new covenant gives us freedom, as Paul says, and "all things are lawful for me." No matter how liberal one wants to be with this concept, we still have to be careful that what we do in freedom does not become a stumbling block. I'm afraid the risk is very great that church-sponsored art would offend as much as lift up. Artists by their very nature are constantly pushing the envelope. This can be done profitably, to achieve deeper spiritual growth and draw nearer to God, but that takes great maturity, I think. On the contrary, artistic experimentation can also easily lead away from God. Art meant to shock can also offend and cause stumbling. Paintings or statues can become icons and idols. Images meant to symbolize the invisible spiritual realm become the standard idea of what that realm really looks like. Why do we picture God with a white beard, Jesus as an expressionless European, and Satan in red with horns, hooves, and tail? Spiritual art risks reducing the transcendent divine to a finite picture, and, while some viewers may appreciate the artistic symbolism and be deepened in their faith, others will likely let the image become their truth.

I understand the need for artists to have freedom of expression, but a church giving carte blanche to an artist in their commission is simply irresponsible, in the same way it would be to send out a missionary without knowing what message he planned on preaching. If artists need free reign, then they shouldn't seek church sponsorship.

I'm not necessarily saying that using art to express faith is wrong. (Though at least the visual arts come with a big warning label.) I strongly believe that art done sincerely can be a great devotion of the artist to God, leading him closer to the Creator. I've used my creative gifts in this way before. The artist's most intimate probing of his spirit--in union with God's Spirit--expressed as art, may be the most intimate encounter the artist can have with the Lord. Art can be a prayer, a worship, an offering from the artist to his Maker. But that doesn't mean it will communicate in the same way to other viewers. Perhaps they'll have faith-building responses to that art, but just as likely they won't. Spiritual art is probably best when kept between artist and God. It has power to do good and evil when unleashed upon the public. And when the artist creates for God alone, art can be at its purest. Creating for a public or for profit can lay temptations before the artist.

So maybe art can play a role in spiritual growth. But let's be aware of the risks and do it responsibly. And let's find healthy ways to support the arts. I do not believe it is appropriate for churches to commission and support artists in the way you proposed.

11:32 PM  
Blogger Keith Brenton said...

All I can tell you is that there's a brand-new poster-size printer in the church office at PV, and a lot of blank, gray walls ...

... and that if someone sent me electronic art of an inspirational nature at publications@pvcc.org I might be willing to risk my employment at the church to print it and frame it and hang it there.

7:13 PM  
Blogger astraughnomer said...

hey mitch! i like your post. even though i'm a scientist, which is about as far away from artist as it gets :) i totally understand where you're coming from. i also know what it's like to have your passion for your work spill over into your worship. it's beautiful!

i went to a concert a while back (shawn mcdonald) who has an artist tour with him, and he does a painting during the concert along with the music. it was cool.

hope you are doing great over there. we think about you guys alot!!

2:52 PM  
Blogger Shelly said...

WOOOOOO!! Go Mitch, my fellow graphic artist! I'm behind ya ALL the way!

7:36 PM  
Blogger Saline County, Arkansas Photos said...

Why does food that taste good (like cake) have to be make you fat?

10:42 AM  
Blogger Aaron P said...

art is pretty. i did a hybrid cross hatching and stipling painting of us standing in front of the GASETERIA in springfield gardens, NY.

1:31 PM  

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