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.
In my on-going creative life as a faith-driven artist, I’ve come to know that any art I make is the direct outgrowth of my relationship in Father God. Father and I co-labor in the creative process and, together, we birth creative expression. Without my deep, abiding, loving relationship in Him, my art would be a mere object, an artifact, to be sold in the marketplace of the world. It would lack any attributes of either Father, or myself.
I’ve come to understand that, in my work as a faith-driven artist, I need to work creatively from the inside out. The art I make is fully reliant upon my relationship with Father God, not on my skills, not on my ideas. Just as relational-faith works from the gate of First Love, from the inside going outward, so must I as a faith-driven artist. This spiritual direction is in stark contrast to the teachings of the spirit of religion, which says that we’re to work on the outside first and then move inward.
The spirit of religion is concerned most with behavior, just as the world is. Theologists taught me that I need to work on my spiritual actions and attitudes before I am acceptable to God and the church. Conduct, behavior, and beliefs become of first importance, perhaps even idolized. But in relational-faith, Father teaches me that the attitude of my heart is of first importance, and that conduct, behavior, and beliefs will follow as a result of my healing, growth, and wholeness. If I begin from within, in His Presence, all else, in living as Jesus does, follows.
Author and teacher, Ian Clayton teaches this reality in his work on our spiritual gates (see recommended reading below). We begin with our first gate, the gate of our First Love – Father / Son / Holy Spirit. We begin with our relationship with Father, in Father, dwelling in His Presence. If my art is going to be driven by my faith, and not a mere product of my life in this world; if it’s going to be formed and birthed by my relationship in Him, then this is where I must begin.
It’s something of a marriage, Father and me. In as much as husband and wife, in their love, birth a life together, so Father and I birth art together. The life which is born of marriage, a child, carries genetic attributes of its mother and father. In the same way, our art, Father’s and mine, is imbued and endowed with attributes of both of us with what you might call our spiritual DNA.
Madeleine L’Engle put it this way in her masterwork, Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith and Art when she said, “The artist is a servant who is willing to be a birthgiver. In a very real sense the artist (male or female) should be like Mary who, when the angel told her that she was to bear the Messiah, was obedient to the command.” pg18. She says much more, but that’s the heart of the idea. My faith-driven art is the direct result of the depth, richness, and qualities of my intimate spiritual relationship in Father God, and that relationship begins at the deepest level, at the Gate of First Love.
1 – “Gateways of the Threefold Nature of Man”, by Ian Clayton.
2 – “Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith and Art”, by Madeleine L’Engle.
I’m going to begin a new series of posts relating to my creative journey, From the Table of Making. These last few years have seen huge breakthroughs in my art practice as I’ve been growing ever closer to Father God. That closeness has come as a direct result of my relationship with Father, of getting to know Him, and of falling ever more deeply in love with Him.
Some time back, maybe two years ago now, I was in my silent time with Him, I was meditating in His Presence, and suddenly I found myself standing in a huge room way out in the Cosmos. The floor and walls were clear and I beheld the stars and galaxies of His Creation. There in the middle of “the room” was a very large, clear, boardroom table. Jesus sat at the other end.
“Welcome … this is the place from which you and I will commune in the process of your making art. This is The Table of Making.”
I was jaw dropped, and I remember having a few questions, not many, because my spirit trusted in whatever was going to develop in our creative relationship from this place.
These days I go there often, and after just a few visits, when I showed up, there sat Michelangelo, VanGogh, Rembrandt, DaVinci, and many others. I then understood that I was among some very creative company, not because they’re famous in this world, but because, in some way, at some point, their own art-making was faith-driven. What they made, what they “saw” in the midst of their creativity, was driven by the relational faith they had with Father God, and now here I was, enjoying close, intimate, creative pursuits in the Presence of my Creator.
This creative relationship with Father and the journey we share is the stuff of this series of posts.
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 ~
NOTE: I apologize for the lack of open space between the paragraphs. WordPress is having problems just now. Thank you for your patience.
The new goals I’ve set for myself this year is to [try and] read a new book every two-weeks; so far so good. The latest I’ve finished is by musician, worship leader, and author Manuel Luz called Imagine That: Discovering Your Unique Role as a Christian Artist (2009/Moody). This is not a book review but more of a sharing of a couple of his most nourishing points.
I love how Luz reminds us that the life of an artist, and the daily act of art-making has a transformative effect on those artists for whom Christ is Lord. “In my own life, I have found that my music – and art in general – is a means by which I am drawn more closely in communion with God. God has formed me through the discipline of music. The discipline of worshiping while rehearsing… the discipline of songwriting and song journaling.
“And this should make sense if one understands that to grow as artists is, in part, to increase in our Christlikeness.” Luz / 127
To my mind this is another example of the purest essence of the convergence of faith and art; it not only affects those who engage the work but the artist as well. I love the Presence of God wherever I am. I love knowing that He’s not far off, up on heaven listening at a distance, but through His Spirit is literally with me 24/7. I love our discoveries in the process of making art, at whatever stage of the work. I love those discoveries which enrich my relationship with my Lord God.
I don’t usually talk about art work that I’ve not finished, let alone haven’t even begun. A powerful thing happened to me a while back as I was reading Matthew 9:20 / Mark 5:25, the story of Mary Magdalene being healed by merely touching the edge of Christ’s shawl.
There I was in the middle of my daily Bible readings and up came this story, with it’s beginning, its middle, and end; complete in every way. Heck, it even fits the 5-sentence story structure of a good Western world tale.
So, there I was reading and as I savored each word, something built up in my heart. Here was a woman who’d made mistakes (don’t we all) and who was seeking full healing. Mark’s verse 27 tells us that she’d heard Jesus was near. She resolved to merely touch His shawl or tunic – that’s all, just touch his clothing. That’s all, the merest gesture, and she knew that she’d be healed. To my mind she got more than she hoped for. She got salvation, redemption, a whole new life in that single experience. What a powerful story. Then I heard it, I call it the silver bell. “Dinggggggg”; there it was, that resonance of recognition that this was an important story. My heart quickened, as itProcess as Transformation always does when that “bell” rings. I know I’m in the Presence of His Spirit and being offered a gift if I’ll just listen and receive it.
As I began journaling about the encounter, something I often do in preparation of making a work, God was right there, revealing one level of meaning after another; a simple story, a single, brief encounter but layer upon layer of relational / spiritual significance. The practice of even preparing to make art was transforming me. I was growing and being nourished in the experience. I was savoring the Divine Presence of the living God whom I follow and serve. I was enjoying a deeply personal, intimate, private relationship with Him.
It’s this self same experience Manuel Luz was on about in his book. Art making, for the artist who is a follower of Christ, can (if we’re willing, open, and receptive) have a transformative effect on us – it ought to. Then the work itself goes on to affect the lives of those who engage it elsewhere, as long as they too are willing, open, and receptive. And I know I’m repeating myself, but I assure you that it’s deliberate repetition – process is an art-maker’s transformative journey. There is no destination, only journey, ever changing, ever growing.
I’m experiencing something of a grand transformation in these last weeks. Ever since my friend Sue Beckman introduced me to a book by Pastor Bill Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth I’ve had a completely different outlook on my relationship with God.
Then, in one of his blog posts (Feb-12), Dick Staub shares some thoughts on the Christian life of meditation and contemplation via AW Tozer. The book he mentions is Of God and Men (I’m going to have to get a copy). I ran out and bought Tozer’s The Pursuit of God. I don’t know if that was an “accident” or a God-thing (I’ll take the latter), but Tozer, like Johnson, just blew me away.
This year God has been leading me away from the shore out into deeper spiritual waters. I’ve come to understand that my theologically heavy Christianity has taught me many really good and important things, but it’s a Christianity in which we talk about God. It’s a head-filled Christianity, and I’ve been looking for more… much more. I’ve been looking for an experiential relationship with God. Tozer and Johnson have helped me to begin that transformation.
I no longer talk about God, I talk to/with God. I’m experiencing Him deeply, intimately, and personally. What I’ve come to conclude is that this deep, personal, intimate, experiential relationship has been His plan all along. I’ve concluded that while theology is vital, it’s not the main thing. Theology is only about 20 to 30 percent of my relationship with my God. Deep, intimate, experiential relationship is the other 70 to 80 percent. To quote Tozer; “Sound Bible exposition is an imperative must in the Church of the Living God. Without it no church can be a New Testament church in any strict meaning of the term. But exposition may be carried on in such a way as to leave the hearers devoid of any true spiritual nourishment whatever. For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth.(The Pursuit of God / pg 9 – my underline)
So in this and other ways I’ve let go of the dock post, and swam away from the shallows, out into deeper waters with my Lord God. It’s changing everything in one way or another. The most awesome change has to do with my hearing Him, often suddenly and out of the blue. I no longer stop and go find Him, because His Presence is 24/7.
I feel like a little kid again who’s walking along with his Grandpa. I’ve got His finger as we walk. He points out something to me and together we giggle and ooo and aahh together in utter delight. He loves to show me things, insights of His Word both written and living, His universe, His love and guidance of me. I love my Lord God more deeply, more intensely, and more intimately than I ever have in all of my 60-years of life here on Earth.
In as much as God has invaded my life as personal, intimate, and experiential this new “walk” can’t help but permeate my art practice. He gives me new work at the mere mention of a relational thought, usually from someone I’m chatting with. Or I’ll be reading The Word and suddenly, as the words pass my eyes, precious bells of pure gold will “ting” and my heart quickens… there’s a new insight, a new work He’s giving me to make for Him.
My faith is literally driving my life and my art. It’s as L’Engle says in Walking On Water; “I learn that my feelings about art and my feelings about the Creator of the Universe are inseparable. To try to talk about art and about Christianity is for me one and the same thing.” (pg 16). With each passing day, a new deeper layer of meaning of those words comes to light. I don’t shut off my Christianity at night. I don’t shut off my being an artist. They’re “on” all the time and they’re inextricably interwoven; part of the self-same fabric of His Great Cosmos.
Recently I was re-reading my notes from the Kindling’s Hearth I attended (Oct 2012). I came across something Dick Staub, our host brought up – Holistic Readiness. We were asked; What does it mean to be holistically ready creatively? How do we remain ready? What happens when we don’t remain ready?
I’m reminded of a story from a now famous TED Talk given by author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love). She was talking about a poet friend who could feel the approach of a poem from far away over the landscape. Her friend, because she was hanging laundry that day, had to run to the house to get paper and pencil so she could write down the poem as it passed by. For me however, it’s that word holistic (emphasizing the whole and all of its parts and their interdependence) that implies something larger than having paper and pencil at hand.
As an artist whose art-making is literally driven by my relationship with God, holistic readiness begins with the health and depth of that relationship. For me, that relationship is far more than just going to church, doing daily devo’s, and attending a weekly Bible study. Holistic readiness, in terms of faith, has everything to do with remaining fully surrendered to God, with constant prayer, daily journaling, and literally seeking His presence. It’s a 24/7 kind of relationship, not a, “Let’s see when I can carve out 15-minutes for God.” kind of thing
In the studio I know He’s there partially because I invite Him in. He’s directly involved, often in a dialogue, as I’m in the process of making. He’s always reminding me that there’s no such thing as a mistake, and that I’m not bold enough in the creative risks I take. He’s my comforter, my counselor, and my Lord. Sometimes I’m so overwhelmed by the wonder of what we’re making that I just have to raise my hands, and looking up, pray the Doxology; Praise God from whom all blessings flow / Praise Him all creatures here below / Praise Him above the Heavenly host / Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost / Amen. My holistic readiness is founded upon my walk with God, without which I have nothing creatively to say.
Holistic also implies other life areas as well; diet, exercise, leisure, rest, and ArtJournaling. Like Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages from her groundbreaking book The Artist’s Way, art journaling has become something akin to scrapbooking or doodling. It’s an artform all by itself. For more on the value and power of doodling, look up Sunni Brown on TED. But my art journaling (Lessons From My Art Journal) has become a vital tool in remaining holistically ready.
In that journal I make messes and “waste” time and materials. I find out what various media* are able to do. I discover, play, and experiment. I take creative risks, and develop my skills with various media to use them well when making art. Mostly I find ideas that work and develop them toward becoming finished works.
I’ve learned that when I neglect my relationship with God, my health, or my exploration time, I’m not ready; I’m not creatively primed to work on making art.
Oh… and one last thing. I also need my coffee, and great music so we have an espresso machine and a boombox in the studio as inspiration.
Thanks for listening.
*Please help stamp out the misuse of the word mediums. I’m serious. This misuse has become an embarrassing epidemic in the art community. It’s bad enough how few people take us seriously anyway that we don’t need to empower their disdain by this simple mistake. Medium = single art medium (paint or ink or etc.) Media = many art media (paint and ink and etc.) BTW: Mediums are not art supplies, they’re people who predict the future or tell fortunes. Thanks!