How the Church Can Embrace Artists and the Arts, Part I
- Thursday, October 22, 2009
While we were in Canada I spoke at a Toronto-area Vineyard church that was interested in the Finding Divine Inspiration message. Scott Roe, Pastor at the Cambridge Vineyard—which is on the grounds of a lovely old monastery—opened his church up to us not knowing if anyone would show up. We were both surprised when people just kept coming… until the fairly small room was packed out. These Canadians were our most attentive and inquisitive audience so far, and their questions were excellent.
One person asked a couple of questions along the lines of, "Who can be called an 'artist'?" and "What art is 'good enough' be displayed in the church?" Important things to ponder when talking about a New Renaissance in the church. Of course, the fear behind that question is that "everyone" will start making art that God "told them to," and instead of getting away from the reputation that Christian art is schlocky, we will perpetuate it.
In any given church, there may be a huge range of people who get involved in the creative process, from the child with crayons, to teens expressing their angst in sketch books instead of listening to the sermon... from the adults who think they might be artists and want to explore that, to those who have been trained, have mastered their craft and are making a living at it. On both ends of the spectrum you can have some flawed thinking. The beginner—even the adult—might have a "making art is magic" mindset, believing it will all just magically come together or that God will instantly make him or her a good artist. Conversely, the master may hold an elitist view that only those who are accomplished are truly artists.
Making inspired art requires inspiration from God, but that doesn't necessarily make the work effortless. Although God can empower beginners to make meaningful art, as a rule we collaborate by learning the craft and growing our skill. I understand those who are trained and accomplished wanting to protect any progress that's been made in upgrading the quality of "Christian" art—I certainly want to do that—but I suspect God's idea of what art is or who could be called an artist is not so exclusive.
On this trip to Canada I visited a funky district in Toronto called Kensington Market, where I was inspired by a place called "Wanda's Pie in the Sky." I love pie, so I took the existence of a pie restaurant as a gift from God. But He also gave me something a little more substantial. In a cramped used bookstore that was playing Mexican trance music, I found the book, The Arts and Human Development by Howard Gardner.
It seemed God led me to this book, as he has wonderfully done so many times. I read in the preface Gardner's thoughts on this question I been asked just the night before:
"Perhaps the chief mystery confronting the student of artistic development is the relationship between the mature adult practitioner—the skilled poet, the painting master, the virtuoso instrumentalist or composer—and the young child playing with words, humming and inventing melodies, effortlessly producing sketches and paintings while engaging in many other activities that have only a tenuous relationship to the arts. Clearly there are important differences in skill, acquaintance with the artistic tradition, sensitivity to nuance between the child and the adult participants in the artistic process. But a more fundamental question for the psychologist is whether the schoolchild must pass through further, qualitatively different stages in order to become an artist. On this question I have arrived at an unexpected conclusion: the child of 7 or 8 has, in most respects, become a participant in the artistic process and he need not pass through any further qualitative reorganizations (to be called that)."
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