On being a Christian. And an artist.

October 14, 2010 at 12:57 am 1 comment

What does it mean to be a Christian and an artist?

I’ve been wondering that a lot lately.  I may be a terrible “artist” – never got beyond stick figures, honestly – but I consider myself an artist in the fuller sense of the word; I am a writer, a dancer, a singer – even if I am still learning how to be and do all those things. 

How should my faith influence my work?  I’m taking an introduction to fiction writing class, and fiction stories will always been my first love, even if the creative essay is also wooing me right now.  Anyway, as I tried to puzzle out ideas for another story, there’s been this nagging question.  Does being a good Christian mean at least one of my characters has to be a Christian?  Do I need to tack on a good Moral Lesson to every story?  (I hate those).  Does it mean I can’t write about the messiness of life, that every thing is cheery and picture-perfect by the end?  Do I need to mention God in every story? 

Some of these answers are an obvious no.  In some ways, I feel like it’s easier to be a painter or composer: of course you don’t need to paint a cross in every painting; just do your best and create beauty and great works of art.  Of course, I can only say that because I can’t even fathom what it would be like to be a painter. 

But what does it look like to “create beauty” and “great art” in the context of a story?  Stories have conflict.  If characters are real, they’re messy, because people are messy.  But I find myself worrying too much about what other people will think: what will my Christian friends say?  What will my nonChristian friends say? 

What does it even look like to write for the glory of God, or to sing, or dance, for that matter?  What does it look like in the context of theatre?  What does it look like to be a Christian artist? 

Awhile back, we at Bloom! Magazine interviewed my friend and author Elrena Evans.  Here’s what she had to say on the subject:

“When I was in college, I took a class where we studied the works of J.S. Bach, and I learned that he wrote the letters “SGD” on all of his compositions: Soli Deo Gloria, to the Glory of God alone.  I can’t think of a better mission.  And it’s also a challenge, I think – a challenge I gave myself at one point: was I willing to write those words on every single thing I did?  to not only identify myself as a Christian, but to be able to answer honestly, yes, this is for God’s glory, this is my very best work?  When the stakes are that high, I think it requires an even greater level of excellence – I am putting my name on this piece of writing as a Christian, as an ambassador for the Lord, as His hands and feet on the earth…that will make me go back and do one more read-through even when I don’t feel like it!”

The greater excellence part completely resonates and makes sense to me.  But like I said, I’m still trying to figure out what that looks like practically. 

Right now, I don’t think there are any constraints to make things overtly Christian or faith-based or have everything be just dandy.  Sometimes an important part of art is revealing the beauty in the brokenness.  And as my wise older sister reminded me last night, as I was piling all these questions on her, “Earth isn’t heaven – and you don’t want to make people think that it is and stay content with where we are here.”

There is a definite line when it comes to things that are crude or things that celebrate sin and brokenness.  But that’s the only line I’ve been able to find so far. 

I’m still thinking about what it means to be a Christian artist.  Have you ever had a similar question?  What do you think? 

(And if you’re interested: two great websites about this “beauty through creative and redemptive living”, as Via Affirmativa puts it, are Via Affirmativa and International Arts Movement.)

Entry filed under: art, faith.

Miscellany Monday summing up my life in one word

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. singamelody  |  October 14, 2010 at 8:48 am

    Amen. That’s some awesome stuff you’ve got there. I agree about the annoying cheese ‘stick the moral in your face’ kind of stories.

    I think if God created you with the talent for writing, then as long as what you’re writing doesn’t go against His word, that you’re still bringing glory to Him. But I think that’s what you just said in your post :-).


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