Being an artist is hard.
It is a life of looking for work, running to auditions, waiting for callbacks, creating portfolios, long nights, early mornings, day jobs that have nothing to do with your real passion, friends and family that don’t “get it,” and many other challenges that accompany a calling into the arts. Yet, for those artists who have been called into a life of faith, there are several unique challenges that must be faced.
I write from the vantage point of an evangelical Christian actor. There will be hurdles that I face that may not be an issue for artists of other faiths, and others may have obstacles that I will never have to deal with. I merely want to start a conversation for the mutual encouragement for artists of faith. When we realize the difficulties we all encounter, our ability to empathize grows and we create community.
Christian artists that I’ve known have tended to travel in two distinct circles: the “Christian” circle, and the “Artist” circle. They have their church, their Christian friends, and perhaps family who serve and worship God together. They also have their theatres, studios, rehearsal halls, and artistic friends who create and work together. I have no doubt that this is probably true of many callings, but the artist’s world tends to be incredibly secular with very little overlap. In my life, for example, I know of one girl at my church who is a professional actor, and one practicing Christian from my entire graduating class in college.
Many artists are wary of religions (especially Christianity), with the rules and restrictions and “judgment” that are tied into organized faiths. While they may not outright attack a fellow artist for their commitment to a belief, the disparaging and insulting comments that are thrown around the average rehearsal hall have been enough to make me incredibly uncomfortable. It can be lonely not joining in while friends are drinking all night, partaking of recreational drugs, and spending their small income at the local tavern. Yet, depending on the faith of the artist, many social aspects of “the business,” are unappealing at best.
From a business end, artists of faith must spend time figuring out how their morality will interact with their work. He or she must draw a line in the sand and turn down work that would require them to cross it. Will you contemplate nudity? Or adult language? Sexuality? Violence? These are questions that each artist must answer, preferably BEFORE a job is offered that contains something he or she is uncomfortable with. Many shows also perform on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, making it difficult for a church attending artist to join with their congregation for worship. The arts business is becoming incredibly secular, and we must be aware of how far into this world we are each willing to go.
Christians, on the other side, often do not understand the calling of an artist, or the deep connection that our work has to our faith. We often do not have pastoral leadership that fully understands the trials of an artist, and are left without the support that many housewives and businessmen find at church. Pastors and ministers do their best, and I have been blessed with mentors that have the heart of an artist, but this is not always the case. They often are shepherding a flock of older or conservative sheep who would not appreciate the gifts that a rebellious young artist could bring.
As with all artists, financing our call is almost always a problem. Work can be scarce, especially when you begin turning down jobs for moral reasons. We rely on patrons, audiences, and grants to finance our ability to create. Yet the market for faith-centered art is very small. I’ve found that Christians, as a whole, do not value the arts as highly as the secular world does, and do not go to theatre or art galleries in the same numbers as the rest of society. An artist catering to the faithful must then rely on other sources of income to continue their work. However, grants are also less available for those seeking to put on a “Christian” show. The only options left are to work in the secular world and embrace the difficulties that brings, or to split one’s focus by working a side job for longer hours at the cost of time that could be spent on the art.
My final burden has been perhaps the most challenging for me: the issue of pride. We are often told today that pride is a virtue, that we should be proud of ourselves and our work. Yet the Bible repeatedly warns against the sin of pride. The selflessness that Christ taught comes into direct conflict with the self-centered nature of many of the arts. We must focus on ourselves because we are often the product that we are selling to potential employers. We are to boast of our past accomplishments in our resumes and our interviews. We must constantly be reminding people that we are still working and are desirable in the business. For performing artists, we must also ensure that we look our best, toying with the temptation of vanity in order to compete. We are given curtain calls where people praise us and our work, but we are not encouraged to give the praise to God instead. I do not argue that these challenges are inherently evil or sinful, but we must be aware of the danger of pride if we want to be faithful in our calling.
The challenges are many, and oftentimes overwhelming, but the rewards are beyond measure. We who know the beauty of the Creator and have the ability and calling to share that beauty with the world are driven to do so. Finishing a project that has been bathed in prayer for the glory of God is incredibly satisfying, and the joy of living one’s calling definitely outweighs the dangers. My hope is that together, we can make the journey a little easier for all of us.
So, what are the challenges you have met so far on your journey through faith and the arts? Have you thought about lines you will draw in the sand and refuse to cross, or are you open to anything, as long as God is honoured? Can you help support a local artist of faith, either by going to their show/gallery/concert or with an encouraging word over coffee (if you treat them, they’ll be even more blessed…see the point about finances above)? Let me know your thoughts on how we can make these challenges a little easier!