Faith & Art: How and For Whom?
The most challenging question I encounter from other artists of faith is how. How do I live out both my faith and my art? What does that look like? What does that feel like? At this point, I can offer you this hard won hint: It should look and feel completely natural, as if we’re designed for it. Because we are.
In my own search for guidance, I’ve read gobs of books, gobs of blogs, and followed the careers and ideas of well-established artists of faith in many media. Two well known artists who come immediately to mind are painter, Mako Fujimura and author, Madeleine L’Engle.
Our Biblical Model
However, the very best guidance I’ve yet found is from God’s Word in the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9). It’s taken me years to appreciate this, because it’s application in this context wasn’t obvious to me.
In this brief passage, God provides us with a complete working model for incorporating our faith into every aspect of our lives. Our faith is to be as leaven (yeast) is to bread – an essential ingredient which drives everything (Luke 13: 20-21). Faith is a daily discipline, in continuous development.
I suspect, however, that our question pertains more to the art itself than to the development of faith. In my own experience of faith-driven art-making, I find myself in something of a trap. That trap is having been accused by Christians of being too secular, pagan, or worldly. And of being accused by non-Christians of being preachy, or religious.
He Goes Before Us
Looking at God’s Word however, I find that Christ himself walked this very same road. He didn’t come here to start a religion, or to make us into Christians. He didn’t come here to remove Rome’s dominance from Israel. He came to fulfill the law (Matt. 5:17-20) and to make disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). There’s nothing either political or merely-religious about Christ. He avoided political entanglements (Luke 20:21-25). He railed against the self-centric religious leaders of the day (Matt. 23:13-14), and avoided zealots who sought a new king in Israel (John 28: 18-38). The central road Christ walked was a perfect example of obedient faith in God the Father. The will of God the Father is the entirety of His vision, and, of course, He calls each of us to do the same, to become His disciples.
In short, I don’t make art to please the world, or to satisfy the marketplace with art that is culturally fashionable or politically correct. I don’t make art to please my fellow Christians, nor to satisfy whatever is spiritually in fashion or religiously correct. As He has gifted me, I make art to please God. I make art that is unique, original, and authentic to who and what I am in Christ.
Choose Whom You Shall Serve
So, for me, the question becomes: For whom am I making my art, God or man? Christ warns us, “You cannot serve two Masters…”, (Matt. 6:24). In this context, that particular scripture took on an entire new set of meanings.
In a 1997 creativity documentary titled, INSPIRATIONS, musician/artist David Bowie warns against making art to please people. He counsels artists to make art for themselves; art that fulfills their own creative aspirations. He continues by assuring us that our audience will eventually find us if we persist making enough art for a long enough time.
To Glorify Him
Some may well ask then, how do we make art both for ourselves and the glory of God? For me, the answer has two parts.
First, God is my Lord. I obey and follow Him. God has gifted me. I strive to discover, develop, and use my gifts in excellence. I strive to glorify God by becoming all that He has built and birthed me to become. Therefore, I make art (authentic to me) to please Him, not Christians who write me off as “worldly”; not non-Christians who accuse me of being “religious”. I make art (authentic to me) for my Lord God. In fact there is absolutely no other way to glorify God than to allow Him to complete us as He has designed each of us to become (Phil 1:6-11).
Blessed To Be a Blessing
Second, I make art in response to how I’m gifted. That’s what I mean when I say my art is authentic to me. I use my God-given creative voice in every work I produce. That’s the real, genuine, authentic me – not a futile attempt at imitating someone else.
God loves variety. According to His will, God has gifted each of His faith-driven creatives with a unique voice. Together, we become a bouquet of sights, a symphony of sounds, all speaking the truths He gives each of us to share with the world.
I’ve also discovered deeper truths in my walk of faith & art. If I “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,” I have found, indeed, that all I need is added to me (Matt. 6:33). In other words, before I can make faith-driven art, I need a deep, abiding, faith in God; no faith, no drive.
To develop faith I need a regular prayer-life. I need to study the Word, daily. I need to worship regularly. I need to fellowship regularly, and more than just at church. These are my four power sources of faith. Without them I have nothing to “say”; I am literally disconnected and adrift.
Second, I must constantly work to discover, develop, and use my creative gifts to God’s glory – whatever that looks like. That means I must commit to a life-long pursuit of excellence, offering God the very best; the first-fruits of my creativity. In this way, God is glorified.
No Excuses, No Apologies
We artists of faith simply need to move past our many critics who seem to believe they have an obligation to tell us what and how to make our personally authentic, faith-driven art. We need to venture into that deeply-personal place reserved for ourselves and God, and as gifted and guided by Him, we need to create whatever delights Him.
The rest is already taken care of. (Matt. 6: 25-34)