How the Church Can Embrace Artists and the Arts, Part I
- J. Scott McElroy Author, Finding Divine Inspiration
- Updated Dec 02, 2022
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 sketchbooks 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)."
Interesting! So Gardner seems to think that if a person—a child in this case—is involved in the artistic process, she could be called an artist.
Whether you agree with Gardner or not, you can't deny that with technology the ability of the average person to be creative—even artistic—and express themselves in a public arena, is greater than it has ever been. Nearly every kid I know has a Myspace or Facebook page where they are constantly creating and adding content, photos, stories, ideas, and messages. This explosion of access to creative tools may change the world in the next ten years. In the future the majority of people may be adept at some kind of creativity, even artistry. We may experience interactive creativity and art in ways we never dreamed possible. We in the church need to embrace the wave of accessible creativity and try to discern how God can speak through it. The Church can and should be involved in the business of drawing out people's creativity and connecting them to the source of it.
The Body of Christ will be on the road to maturity, and the world will see a more accurate representation of God's personality when all of our gifts—fully developed or not—are able to work together and flourish in the Church. Therefore, I think there should be a place in the creative life of a church for most people who feel drawn to making art, from the beginner to the master. That doesn't mean everyone's work gets displayed publicly, but there are ways to encourage people of all skill levels to collaborate with God.
So how can we open up our churches and our minds so that more people can get involved in the creative process, yet continue to raise the quality of our art?
J. Scott McElroy is the author of Finding Divine Inspiration: Working with the Holy Spirit in Your Creativity (2008, Destiny Image). He is a writer, voiceover artist, visual artist, and award-winning radio producer who is passionate about redeeming the arts through collaborating with the Holy Spirit. As a voiceover artist, he hosted the Animal Planet TV series "Wildlife Journal" from 2004-2007. His voice is heard on national TV commercials, video games, websites and more. He lives in Indianapolis, Indiana with his wife Danielle daughter Hailee and son Kaia.
Visit Scott's Finding Divine Inspiration blog at jscottmc.wordpress.com.
Original publication date: October 22, 2009
Photo Credit: Mahendra Kumar/Unsplash
5 Books You Should Read about Great Christian Art
We learn a lot about making good Christian art by looking at the art that exists and what makes it work. The following books describe how to find good art and recommend good art made by Christians and non-Christians.
1. On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior
What makes a good book? Prior argues that an important feature is what the book teaches us about virtue. However, that doesn’t mean that the book will be boring. In fact, “great books teach us how (not what) to think.” Prior considers 12 books that explore different kinds of virtues and provoke readers to think about what makes for a virtuous life, from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road to Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.
2. Rembrandt Is In the Wind by Russ Ramsey
Ramsey discusses nine painters who produced masterpieces, each with a complex attitude to life and faith. Some, like Edward Hopper, lived dysfunctional lives but captured the human side of their tragic subjects. Others, like Lillian Trotter, wondered whether to serve art or the ministry. Each left an engaging body of work that can teach Christians vital lessons about beauty and craft.
3. 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know by Terry Glaspey
Glaspey gives readers a whirlwind tour of artwork that Christians have created throughout history across different mediums. From T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings to Larry Norman’s Only Visiting This Planet, he shows how each one engages with spiritual questions in compelling ways.
4. Through A Screen Darkly by Jeffrey Overstreet
Some Christians assume that only movies with a clear spiritual message serve God. Others assume that movies are best seen as evangelistic tools. Overstreet shows how both claims largely miss the mark because God is more mysterious than we realize, and the strangest films may help someone make a change. Overstreet describes the films that have influenced him, from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Wings of Desire, and the (often unexpected) lessons he discovered about exploring spiritual ideas in films.
5. More Than Words, edited by James Calvin Schaap
The 21 essays in this book were written by members of the Chrysostom Society, describing classics that influenced them. Eugene Peterson talks about learning to be a better pastor from the religious themes (and warnings) in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s work. Emilie Griffin talks about the ambition and arrogance of John Milton. Robert Siegel talks about discovering great poets during his first year at college. Each contributor shows in some way how these books made them better writers and better Christians.
(Excerpted from “50 Great Books about Christian Art” by G. Connor Salter)
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Photo Credit: Getty Images/KuznetsovDmitry