art as an act of worship

| No Comments

I have a thought (or two) about art, the artist, and the dance between the creation of art for the sake of communicating gods truth and creating art as a response to god as an act of worship. These are two very different approaches to life as an artist. I beleive they can coexist but need to be recognized as different. One, the act of communication through visuals assumes that the viewer (target) will have a response. There is a goal. Simplistically, if you show a group of people an image of something touching or tender you may be hoping that the image will illicit a touching or tender response. This is one way to do art, with an expected or desired reaction of the viewer.

I am presently exploring another way. An act of worship unfettered by my thoughts of what others will think, or more importantly, what I want them to think. This approach sometimes seems selfish to me because it appears to not have a goal, and therefore must be self indulgent. I know that is ridiculus, but it is a part of my personality that I struggle with, and unfortunately a part that is reinforced and rewarded by our present culture. What does a pure artistic act of worship look like? When I am prompted by the creator to create it seems unreasonable at first. If I follow my creative instincts within that moment, feeling, inspiration (whatever) something truly amazing happens. Not only am I rewarded with a sense of fulfillment that takes place at finishing a work of art, but I have a very strong sense of being with god. The act of creating while in worship is like being in the same room with the master, touching, having him guide your hands...

Often times I am in production mode. A skillful artist can pull this off pretty easily and still seem like it is annointed, but the greater connection can be missed. Art as an act of worship is more like a spiritual discipline.

I appreciate some of the churches efforts to recognize that visual art in various forms can bring people closer to their creator. We are in the awkward, babystep trip and fall stages of this. I fear that it can easily become the next "flavoring" in worship. What can be a prophetic voice can be reduced to an "ingredient" to the program/service, whatever. What I find dangerous about this is what happens to artists who are serving their local church body with their art. Because the present church is so attracted to formula it is easy for an artist who has a willingness to serve god with their art, and a trust for those who navigate ministry to become only production oriented instead of creating art as an act of worship. Or at least striking a balance of the two.

As an artist this can have deadly consequences. I have experienced some of this. Our present consumer culture drives it. The artistic ego is more than happy to play along as long as it is fed with approval. The cycle that results is artists who settle for the affirmations of man instead of god, and art that, although it looks really good, may fall short of what god intended. Over time this can leave an artist with an empty well, and a practiced skill of just making things look pretty.

I think in the context of the emerging church their is hope for the artist. It seems that the focus is shifting from a formula, get ‘em in the door with a great program, and then they can experience god's love, to something a lot simpler. Loving your neighbor. I truly hope so. Because I think the spirit of the artist can thrive here.

Prayerfully considering artistic expression in a corporate worship setting is key. The question is who is praying? The artist? The leader in the church that "wants" art? I think these are important questions. Do we want to fill a slot if time with something "cool" or can we seek something greater? What does God want to say? Are we really listening, or forging ahead with an agenda that is really about production, not community.

I saw something at the emergent conference(san diego) that bothered me in this regard. I have to give credit to the planners for wanting to include a visual art piece (other than just screen media) for the purpose of educating pastors that visual arts are an important expression in the emerging church. But I was disappionted by what was presented. Understand that my perspective doesn't come from just an artists point of view but also as a planner. My husband has been in the planning seat in a number of denominational settings for almost 20 years. I have been an active participant with him. Together we have seen some of the evolution that has taken place within "programming" in some of these denominations. So I can sort of put myself in those shoes. Sometimes those shoes are hard to fill, and sometimes they have big targets on them for people to lob personal opinion grenades at. I don't want to lob any granades. But I want to understand, and as an artist, and a leader of artists, I want to be part of the discussion as we birth this baby.

Picture it. In the center of a room filled with conference attendees, an artist was set up infront of a canvas that appeared to be blank. After prayer and a brief explanation of what this artist was intending to express, that the art was an act of prayer for a friend who had cancer, he began to paint. Or so I thought. I was so encouraged by the fact that an artist was allowed to open up to god's spirit and create art as an act of prayer, and as a body we could collectively pray along with his creative act. So risky. What if it took longer than the slot of time allowed in the context of a conference? What if it was too breif? What if it wasn't any good? As an artist I had a sense of hope. But as the artist worked I realized that what I was watching wasn't an act of prayer in the moment. Instead of painting the canvas he was removing paint to reveal an already finished piece of art. Mood music played as he wiped away paint with a brush as if he was applying paint. At first I was confused. I was in prayer along with him waiting to see what god would reveal in his art. I prayed for the artist and his friend. But as I saw the progression of paint being removed, and finally realized that the art had been finished ahead of time, I felt betrayed. I was also curious about what the non-artists in the room experienced. I still look back and wonder if I somehow misinterpreted what I saw.

This is where I feel like I am not brushed up on blog etiquette and how what one can ask from potential readers, but I have to ask a question. And if in my arrogance I can believe that anyone would read this, I would invite answers. What was this exercise intended to teach us? That visual art needs to be present in the church as another "cool" element, but it must be controlled? I am still mulling over the choice that the planners made in including what I can only define as performance art. I think performance art is a valid form, but because it had been framed as an act of prayer I felt somewhat manipulated. If we are to explore the role of visual artists in the context of corporate worship my hope is that we are careful not to settle for what is less for the sake of formula. Do we dare to seek the voice of God?

So I continue to explore what it means to personally worship God with creating art. And I remain an observer, participator, pilgrim, in what art is and will become in the corporate act of worship.

Leave a comment

October 2010

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Blair published on May 25, 2004 9:12 AM.

the world is still flat and I am dog paddling off the edge was the previous entry in this blog.

apostles creed, herbs and mutant lettuce. is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.