Personally, I am still working to figure out what art is, what the purpose of art is, and why some human beings even bother to make art. When I go back to the beginnings, the earliest expressions of what we now call art – cave paintings & carvings – I am captured by the thought that those primordial people had something other than making art in mind. I don’t think for an instant that our primordial ancestors asked about what they were doing. It’s almost as if an urge needed expression and carvings and cave paintings were simply the necessary outlet.
I believe as well that expressions through singing, chanting, dancing, drumming and the like all came into being and developed because of a rising need for the release of celebration and expression that could not be suppressed. They could not simply sit on their hands and ignore these creative urges that were rising up within them.
Today – and I promise to be very brief – art is treated as are all human products as an economic commodity. Those who buy and sell art, after stealing it from the artist – that is all but the motion picture artists – run off with the many objects of art in the world to buy and sell them with vigorous abandon. Success is often measured by the auction block price tag. And while the artist never sees a dime of those later transactions, that artist is deemed a great success because some of their work sold for thousands, even millions, of dollars. These are transactions which completely exclude the artists.
How did we get from our ancestral heritage of mark-making to today’s “art market”? It’s a question that has interested me for the past decade. Before that time I was all too willing to sell whatever artwork it was that I had made in order to become a “success”. No longer though. I’ve absolutely no interest in playing the art world game with all of its sham, glitter, and goo. I know why I make the art I do and the source from whence it comes. I even know the purpose of my art, and it isn’t to garner personal fame or fortune. In fact, since there’s little or nothing that I want to do to change that condition, is the question even worth my asking?
I think it may be of some value on a personal level because I am still trying to grasp my role as an artist in this world.
As I’m “talking” here, perhaps the question that I’m after is indeed deeply personal and can best be shaped by asking, how I can reconnect with those primordial ancestors who made such innocent and selfless marks? How best do I draw from their drive because I believe that, for them, it was a spiritual drive. So is mine.
In those primordial days, I don’t see someone sitting around thinking in terms of bison anatomy and landscape beauty that they wish to capture visually. I see someone whose entire world was spiritual. This is one of the marks of the emergence of humanity, the acknowledgment of connection with the spiritual realm(s).
I see a duality of vision – harmonious to be sure – wherein those early peoples could see both the living animals as well as their spirits at the same time. I neither know nor care what that looks like in literal terms. What I do care about is the fact of this dual vision they experienced and carried within themselves.
Somewhere, somehow, a person chose to celebrate and express that dual vision in imagery. Carving – even desiring to carve – and painting developed into a means of that celebratory expression. I want to know this selfsame celebration and expression – the primordial essence of what it means to be human and to make marks of meaning.
In my own parallel experience, my life has been deeply touched by Father God. He and I developed a relationship and to this day we live in that relationship. Because Father created me as an artist, something of our spiritual relationship rises up in me and will not be silenced or ignored. I must express and, yes, even celebrate, this relationship through my artmaking with Father. It is this celebration of relationship that leads me to see our artmaking together as an act of worship. If I’d been born as I am, millennia ago, I would have experienced this selfsame life, not of creativity, but of artistic expression.
As it is, I do chant and play drums as worship. I do paint and write as worship. The writing I am doing right here, right now, is an active celebration of my relationship with my Beloved Father God. In a way, I suppose I am that so-called caveman who has dire need to share, celebrate, and express his dual vision of the physical and the spiritual with the others of his tribal clan.
In my recent two-way journaling with Father, we discussed the idea that all art is spiritually born. All art comes from a person’s relationship with whatever it is they place their faith in and worship. It may be the world’s values of ego, fame, and fortune. It may be in one’s political inklings, or socially meaningful pursuits. It may be one’s religion. Whatever it is we value and worship, there too is the dwelling place of our heart/art.
Father showed me that, in the same way that our tongue (what comes out of our mouths) reveals what’s in our hearts, so too does the art we make. No matter the medium, the art itself reveals what and where our treasure is. He has shown me that all art is born out of how we use the gift of creation and creativity, which He has endowed into the spiritual DNA of every human being from before His laying the foundations of this World. It is this sharing of the creative gift what makes human beings unique among all of His creatures. He went on to say that, in the arts, the use of the creative gifts has far reaching effects on history, on societies, on cultures.
Back in 2012, I was invited to a wonderful gathering of faith-driven artists. Some worked in music as a composer and a singer/songwriter. One was a recording studio producer. Several of us were visual artists. One created movement inspired works, and another shared views of the Earth and the Cosmos in breathtaking beauty. One was a director / producer of theatre. A few days before this wondrous gathering, we were all was asked to prepare a 15-minute presentation about where we had come from creatively, where we were at now, and where we saw ourselves going in the future of our art practices. The most startling thing for me was the process of preparing that presentation.
Father and I worked together to gather what I really believed about making art as a faith-driven artist. The single point I want to focus on here is that Father God revealed to me that faith-driven artists are sanctified in Christ, consecrated to His work, and are of the priestly tribe of Levi. Why the tribe of Levi? Because art is the second voice of the Church. We artists, through what we create and express, are able to connect and communicate in ways that no tract, no preacher, no teacher can. Through personal permission, the works are invited into the lives of those who choose to engage them. In that engagement, it is hoped that they find something special and of personal significance.
In these ways; the creative design of our spiritual DNA, the sanctification of our life’s work, and the consecration of our Destiny, all come together in the realization that all art is spiritually born.
For years, decades really I’ve struggled with rest, not mere inactivity, vacation, or sleep, but true, deep rest. I was once a firecracker burning at both ends, always working, and always busy. I suffered severe burnout three times. You’d think I would have learned my lesson the first time. In these vain pursuits of success, productivity, or achievement I found my identity and value, just as my culture instilled in me; work hard, live fast, and you’ll be a success.
Author, consultant, speaker Jeremy Mangerchine had a similar experience and writes about how Father God was finally able to get him to pay attention to his health, his identity, and his relationship with Him. The book is The Quitter’s Manual: Finding Rest in a World Gone Berserk, and Jeremy’s idea of quitting isn’t what most of us might think. It’s a nice brief 108-pages of essential life changing wisdom.
In a wonderful autobiographical series of anecdotes Mangerchine brings us along on his own journey into Father’s realm of true rest, of a powerful life in the Presence of God without strife, without struggle, or futile busyness.
What I enjoy so very much is how Jeremy shares his own journey, and doesn’t wag a finger at any of his readers. For us it’s a take it or leave it proposition, but personally, I found this book liberating, and affirming. I’ve come a long way on my won rest-seeking life journey and for me, it was good to read how I can better that journey as well as find encouragement in what I’m already doing well.
Great book. Short and powerful read. Life changing, if we want it.
This evening, I watched a film (80 mins) on photographer Annie Liebovitz, Life Through a Lens. It’s aptly titled because following her early career to today, it’s an historic walk through the 1970’s, 80’s, 90’s, and now. We revisited San Francisco and the sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll era. We wandered through several decades of Rolling Stone magazine, read by anyone wanting social and cultural change. We moved on to her current work with magazines, Vogue, and Vanity Fair. It was 40-years of American, New York cultural history and influence.
What struck me most was how so many up and comers find their creative expression in such destructive lifestyles. She talked about her incredibly close friendship with the late Susan Sontag, singer & visual artist Patti Smith, and her engaging work in the lives of a vast array of celebrities. This film is a whirl wind tour of the back half of the twentieth century all seen in the tumultuous context that is artistic New York.
This morning Manuel Luz, singer/songwriter and author wrote a wonderful post. In Science, Hendrix, Banned Books & Brokeness he spoke of how truth is so often found even in the midst of lives of death and destruction.
“Angst is real. It’s a part of what is true. So if you’re wanting music or any art form that is true, you go for truth, regardless of where it comes from. I think Jimi Hendrix was doing something that was actually really true. Now he was coming from a sense of brokenness, and I feel bad for that because he never was able to reconcile that. My faith is what has helped me to reconcile…”
So many Christians in this season – and it’s becoming less so, praise God – keep ugliness and unpleasantness at arms length simply because it is unpleasant and ugly. They’re not really looking for God’s Truth, but merely a quiet, pleasant life. When it comes to their kids being seduced by pop culture, or secular humanism, their tendency is to wall themselves off with their families lest they be contaminated. In this way, these Christians are operating from a posture of fear and are allowing themselves to be neutralized by their enemy, the Liar. To them God isn’t very powerful, and evil must be battled even here in the physical / material realm. Folly this.
This is perhaps the main reason the institutional church fights to manage artists who are Christian; much Truth is found amid ugliness and unpleasantness. If the artists are forced to seek Truth in stringently clean, fully Christianized contexts, well then, it will be not only beautiful, but pleasant. However it will contain absolutely no Truth.
Because artists are open, brave, and receptive to the world around them, their lives are often lived as loose cannon, rolling around the deck of life and doing “damage”. Christians who wall-off and shelter themselves from unpleasantness and ugliness seek peace and order, something that life has very little of, and in so doing endeavor to present a Theology of Aesthetics. In effect these wall builders seek to dictate and control expressions of beauty and the arts. Therein lies much of the basis of the centuries old friction between the institutional church and artists.
This is why I am creative outside of the church, and in The Church (Body of Christ). I do not allow any institution to dictate to me what I will or will not produce as art. If the creative person is censured, there is little or no Truth in the work, just Christian propaganda; yet another reason why 1-million Christians are leaving the institutional church every year and seeking God in person – directly and relationally.
And all of this was triggered and unpacked just by a documentary film on the greatest cultural photographer of our times. Amen ~