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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

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How I Know God Loves Art

My wife and I were walking to our community garden this morning when I was struck by how amazing all of the new flowers are. They have popped up over the past two weeks, bathing our neighbourhood in colour. I turned to my wife and said, “This is how I know God loves art: why else would the world be full of flowers and sunsets?”

Beautifultrees

You see, there are many, many beautiful things in this world that seem to have no real use other than to make life better. Colour is one of these things. We could be just fine without colour (dogs seem to do just fine without it), and it doesn’t at all seem necessary in and of itself. I can imagine a far simpler universe that had no colour. Yet, we do find colour, and we are often blessed by its inclusion in our lives.

For me, artists prove that God is alive and well. We do not strictly create things that are necessary for the survival of ourselves or our species, but no one I know would like to live in a world without art. Even those who don’t think art is very important probably wear clothes designed by an artist, listen to music created by an artist, and live in a building designed by an artist. A life without art would be like living in prison, and we tend to save that fate for those people we really, really don’t like.

So, if no one needs art to survive, but we all seem to need art to really live, I must ask the question: why? Why are we so drawn to art? I argue that it’s because God is an artist who designed us for more than mere survival. We are designed to feel, and to emote and to worship. And art allows us to do all of these things.

I’ve heard it quoted that art (or music, I can’t remember) is feeling made manifest. It allows us to put our feelings down for others to experience. In experiencing art, we can join in with the feelings of others, drawing us together as a people who are on the same journey: the journey to find meaning and purpose.

Art can also draw out our emotions, confront us with our fears, our joys, and our angers. Each time we engage a piece of art, whether it is music or a painting or a theatre show, we are given the opportunity to explore our emotional range, giving sustenance to that which makes us human.

In this place of emotion and feeling, when we are taken away from our own little world into something bigger, something beyond ourself, we are able to turn from ourselves to God. When we embrace His joy, His love, or His grace, we enter into an act of worship. When we walk with others through their trials, even through the medium of art, we are worshipping. When we let the world and all of its problems fade and focus on the divine eternity of heaven, we worship Him who created all of these things.

Many throughout the millennia have tried to define what the Book of Genesis meant when God tells us that humanity is created in the image and likeness of God. The imago dei has been argued to be our ability to reason, or our ability to love, or our ability to live in community. I don’t think these answers are all wrong, but I would put forward one other: our ability to create. Up to this point in the story, all that God has done is create the universe (all…) and judge it to be good. He then creates humankind, a being that is to be like Him in some way. Perhaps it is this very creative nature that makes us the bearers of God’s image.

As the summer continues to move forward, I am excited to revel in the beauty of God’s creation. I love the serene beauty of winter as well, but as a Canadian, we see far too much snow and far too little green, so I will enjoy this temporal beauty as long as it lasts. Like everything else of this world, our art will fade and be destroyed, but the moments we experience beauty and art can, if we let them, show us a glimpse of a perfectly beautiful, perfectly artistic God.

Blessings

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Quotes Revisited

Earlier this week, I posted 10 quotes to help inspire your artistic endeavors. Today, I want to look at a few and expand on them. It is my aim to interpret what these thoughts can mean for the faithful artists of today as they seek to find God and maintain artistic integrity. We will explore what art can offer the world one small bit at a time.

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“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.”
– Stella Adler

I don’t know of anyone who can claim that life is always easy and care-free. Life is hard for everyone. It is harder for some than others, but we all face pain, suffering, and adversity throughout our years. Unfortunately, the unstoppable wearing of life can, as Adler so eloquently puts it, “[beat] down and [crush] the soul.”

Yet, life is not a long, dreary march toward oblivion. It is a struggle, to be sure, but it is a struggle that is full of beauty, hope, love, and joy. These are the things that feed our souls, allowing us to continue on our journey through this life. And art, fortunately, has the opportunity to remind us of these moments of glory. It can remind us of the times when we were full of joy, or fill us with awe at the majesty of the Creator. It can be a light-filled respite from the darkness that threatens to encroach on our lives.

If for this reason alone, I would argue for art’s value in our lives. Yet it has many other amazing qualities.

“Sacred art draws man to adoration, to prayer, and to the love of God.”
   – Catechism of the Catholic Church

For those who have been reading with me since the summer, you know that my aim is to seek God through the avenue of art. I acknowledge that there are other ways to connect with the Creator, but as one called to create art, it is the path I know best. In this quote, the Catholic Church affirms art’s capability to draw us to a place to meet with God.

As we enjoy the beauty of a created object, we can be lifted up to look at the Creator of all objects. A beautiful landscape, a symphonic masterpiece, or a delicately folded piece of origami each show part of God’s majesty. If we keep our eyes, ears, and minds open, we will soon see God’s fingerprints in the works of all great artists. If the aim of art is to portray truth, then all great art should, in some way, point back to the Greatest Truth.

In this way, art is an invaluable tool to help us along the greatest journey we ever undertake: the search for God.

“The world is but a canvas to our imagination.”
   – Henry David Thoreau

This one was probably my favourite of the bunch. My imagination is one of my favourite qualities about myself. I am easily swept into stories of swashbuckling pirates or fearful runaways or dashing knights that occur nowhere except my mind. I often fall asleep immersed in a world I have created. It may be part escapism, but these worlds are also places to explore greater meanings of life without the danger of actual conflict or injury.

Yet none of these imagination-led wanderings would be capable without an exploration of the real world. Many are based on the question “What if…” as I look around me each day. I see a person at my work and wonder “What if that girl was a spy escaping from an evil plot?” Or I read a novel and think “What if the character had done something else?” I often wonder what our world would have been like if certain changes in technology had never occurred, or if extra technology was at our fingertips. These additions to reality are the jumping off points for a plethora of stories I have that are waiting to be written or staged.

The ability of art to express the imagination and its relation to the real world is the real reason I call myself an artist. I can, like my Father before me, create worlds for His glory. I can mimic God as I create stories and images, beginnings and endings. This is how I relate to God.

But what do you think? What quotes inspire you to create? And how do you use your inspiration and art to seek after God? Or, if you prefer, what do you think about the quotes I delved into today? Do you see something else in them that I missed, or do you see something completely different? Join the conversation!

Blessings

10 Quotes to Inspire Your Art

I want to start off this week with some quotes that I’ve found to inspire your art. No matter what your discipline is, spend some time this week making art. Make good art, make bad art, just make it with all you’ve got.

I haven’t been able to confirm that all of the quotes are attributed to the correct people, but the research so far seems pretty good. I hope you enjoy!

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“None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands.”
Pope John Paul II, Letter to Artists

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which gives value to survival.”
C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”
Andy Warhol 

“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”
Aristotle

“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.”
Stella Adler

“Sacred art draws man to adoration, to prayer, and to the love of God”
Catechism of the Catholic Church

“Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make. Good. Art.”
Neil Gaiman

“Dancers are the athletes of God.”
Albert Einstein

“Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The world is but a canvas to our imagination.”
Henry David Thoreau

Do any of these quotes inspire you? If so, go and be artistic for the week. Come back on Thursday, when I will discuss my top three favourite quotes from this list.

Creative Rituals

We all have rituals. Some are religious, like praying the Rosary. Some are habitual, like flossing your teeth before bed. We use them to simplify our schedules, organize our lives, and affect our futures. Yet how many of us are deliberate about our rituals? If we look at the intended purposes of some of the historical rituals of the Church, perhaps we can find a wealth of tools to use in our creative lives.

As an ex-Catholic turned Evangelical Bible college student, I’ve heard time and again that the Catholic Church is full of empty rituals. I argue that this simply isn’t true. The rituals of the Catholic Church are no more intrinsically empty than anyone else’s. The real source of fulness or emptiness is not the activity itself, but the heart of those participating in it. Yoga can be empty if one’s heart isn’t in it. Belting worship tunes can be empty if a guy lets his mind wander to last night’s game. Kissing your children goodnight can be empty if you are really carrying anger over the latest tantrum. The issue is the heart.

Rituals are important for several reasons. First, they force us to make room for something. Twice a week, I slow down from my schedule to sit and write this blog. It has become a ritual for Monday and Thursday afternoons. When I read the Bible, I am making room in my day to sit and be with God. When I go for a run, I am making room for my health. Many rituals cause us to leave our normal, daily lives to seek out something higher, or at the very least, something different. They draw us out of ourselves to make room for something else.

Secondly, rituals can connect us with a long line of people who have participated in the ritual. Knowing that others have come before your God (or gods) in the same way that you are is an awe-inspiring and often humbling experience. To join thousands of pilgrims in Mecca for the Hajj is to also join with millions of Muslims over the centuries. In a world that values individualism over community, this connectedness is a breath of fresh air and a huge boon for humanity.

Thirdly, rituals can be an opportunity for learning and growth. Many rituals are handed down through the generations. As we struggle to find a deeper connection to our spirituality, the chance to join someone else in their ritual can be of great value. Perhaps fasting can help bring you closer to God. Or reading through your Scriptures daily. Or reciting the prayers of those who have come before. Not all rituals will succeed in helping everyone, but the search can be very rewarding.

Finally, rituals can be a comfort and a guide when things are not going well. When I have hit low points in my spiritual journey, some of my daily rituals have been incredibly comforting. Many find reading the Bible to be boring or dry, but it has been a source of peace and joy for me, and a place I can connect with my God when other avenues fail. We tend to rely so heavily on our feelings and refuse to act unless our hearts are totally behind us. Yet there are times when our feelings are just tired or worn out, and the adherence to a ritual can keep us headed in the right direction until we are able to sort out the heart issue.

While most of the conversation so far has revolved around religious and spiritual rituals, I believe each of these concepts applies to our artistic lives as well. Let’s have a look.

As artists, we have skills that need practicing. Whether it is stretching, sketching, or singing scales, we need to keep our craft sharp thought repetitive practice. If we see our practices as rituals, then our first point above makes perfect sense. Writers don’t always feel inspired to write, but taking time out of each day for the ritual of consistent writing will keep them better at their craft. Devotion to taking photos will create a better photographer because it forces him or her to leave what is comfortable and make room for practice. We won’t become better artists without work, so we need to make room!

Every time I pick up a quill and ink pot to write a letter by hand, I think of the many writers throughout history who have done that very act before penning their words. I lay out my paper, thinking of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle writing by gaslight. I laugh at ink spots on my hands, wondering if Shakespeare was always covered in ink. I know that literate humanity has done just these very things for hundreds of years, and it’s exciting to be part of that company. We have a long list of people in our world’s history and it’s really cool to know that we have something in common with many of them.

I spent two years at a Theatre School learning acting. Looking back now, I realize that most of that time was spent learning and practicing the rituals of my professors and other actors. This is how the Royal Shakespeare Company tackles text, so it is how I will try to tackle text. At the end, I was able to walk away with many ritualistic tools that allowed me to be a better artist. I still practice them whenever I get to perform, so their usefulness has not diminished with time, a testament to the power of rituals.

Finally, artists sometimes need encouragement. Like everyone else, they can be caught up in the difficulties of trying to live out one’s calling. Especially during dry times of no work or little creative muse, consistent practice can be the assurance that we haven’t lost our purpose. The class we attend can be a reason to get up or leave the house. The weekly meeting with a mentor can be uplifting and encouraging. It is in the harder times that we must allow the ritual to do it’s work, even when we don’t feel like it.

So, what are your rituals? A more important question, I believe, is do they work? Do your spiritual rituals draw you closer to God? If not, spend some time thinking about the issue and see if the problem is with the ritual or in your heart. Do you have artistic rituals? When is it hardest to keep them? These are the moments we must hold onto our practice or risk falling into a slump and dulling our tools.

Until next week!

Blessings

Challenges of a Christian Artist

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!

Blessings

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