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 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.
I’ve been to Orcas Island. I’ve walked and talked, and broken bread with other thoughtful creatives. I’ve been loved back to my senses and out of my own self-inflicted doldrums. I’ve been quickened among other friends at KindlingsFest 2013. Last night, I listened to a podcast and took notes from Dick Staub’s talk on day one, The Good Life as the Godward Life. Let me share a particularly powerful gift I was given while there.
The “terrible” parable of the talents… it pierces me through the heart time and time again. I drift away in some form of self-inflicted confusion or misery like a skiff that has somehow come untied from the cleat on the pier. With the slightest breeze, the briefest lapping of the waves, I slowly and inexplicably drift away from my purposeful place at the dock where I await my next commission.
I say terrible not because it’s a bad story, or because it’s a tale of retribution. I say terrible in the sense that Madeleine L’Engle calls human freewill a terrible gift. Like fire that warms and feeds, human freewill can also destroy the very thing it was meant to nourish and support. One’s home can be either warmed and brightened, or burned to the ground by that self-same power.
Talent is like that. Oh, I know the parable is dealing with a measure of material wealth, but that’s just a metaphor for any gift God, in His infinite wisdom, has designed us to bear; and they’re terrible gifts too. These same gifts woven into the very fibre and nature of our being can either bring great abundance and prosperity, and glory to God, or they can reveal what we’re made of through our cowardice of their neglect.
God doesn’t “gift” us just so we can run away in fear and trepidation and bury that thing He’s graciously made us to be. He’s not a malicious God of tricks, but a God of love, and yes, even of tough love; the kind of love that kicks us in the butt when we really need it. His is the love that restores our self-respect, gets us out of the ditches of our own digging, re-equips us, and sends us on our way, refreshed, restored, and a little wiser.
Love is restorative; we the prodigal child and He the Divine Father, embrace with the sudden realization that we’re off course and the brutality of some aspect of life was needed to bring us back to our senses. All He waits for is our own realization that we’ve somehow gone astray and need His help. He awaits our return with open arms, a ring for our finger, and yet another cloak to cover our nakedness. And with these gifts of restoration, He embraces us, kisses us on the cheek and says, “All is well now. What have you learned? Let’s go celebrate the new depth of our relationship together.”
I’ve neglected to regularly post on my blog, to show up every single work day in my studio, and to get an artist’s website up showing what I’ve been doing.
KindlingFest-Day One: I was at lunch and got to talking with some friends about our creative lives in general, and that embarrassing question came up again, “Do you have a website?” My friend asked in genuine curiosity. She wanted to see my latest work, and in the context of our conversation, I wanted to show her and the other friends round the table what I’d been working on. I couldn’t though.
Then it hit me; How long have I been asked that question? How many years have I been asked about a website of my own? How much longer am I going to keep my talents buried in mere conversation? I mean how tough is FREE for Pete’s sake?
“I don’t have one yet, but I promise you here and now, that I will before the year is out.”, and I shook hands with everyone at the table. I was “safe”, it was late July and that gave me about 4-months to undertake the huge, complex, website project.
Well, it’s been just two weeks since KindlingsFest, and like so many other attendees, I’ve been processing the tremendous wisdom and counsel we received. I’ve also been getting my website together. And today I can tell you that I kept my promise to my friends; more importantly I’ve finally done what I ought to have done years ago. Now I can share the work that God and I do together in the home studio we have. Now I can deposit the talents my Lord has given me and return them unto Him with interest. Now I don’t have to stand around trying to describe with words what I ought to be sharing with pictures. Oh, and one more thing, I now keep a portfolio of my work on my Smartphone as well. I don’t ever want to be asked again, with enthusiasm and interest “if” I have a website, what my work is like, what kind of art I make. I want to show and share the gifts God has built into my very being on my way to becoming fully human and living the good life to His glory.
Here’s the link: http://lcurtiss.weebly.com/index.html
“People don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it.” – Simon Sinek
Joey O’Connor of The Grove Center for the Arts & Media, posted a TEDx talk by Simon Sinek about “Why.” While Simek’s brief 18-minute talk focuses on inspirational leadership and what I call, invitational marketing, the power of “Why” resonates with the faith I love by, the art I make, and their convergence wherein I dwell.
Before reading on, please watch the Sinek talk because nothing I say from this point will make much sense without it. Thank you.
Okay, now that we’re all on the same page, I want to share with you what I saw in this idea of “Why.” As I said, for me it had absolutely nothing to do with inspirational leadership or invitational marketing, but everything to do with faith, with art, and with Faith&Art.
Here in America, we seem to treat our church-life as if it were a job, and our churches as if they’re businesses. We seem to need to develop programs which, like modern corporate marketing, will “bring ’em in!” If however our churches taught and lived by discipleship; if they taught us how to find and develop our own “why-story,” I really believe that the Christian faith in America would be growing by leaps and bounds.
To my mind, it’s virtually impossible to invite someone to the foot of the Cross by explaining a boatload of facts, figures, rules & laws, and scripture. The walk to the foot of the Cross is not a head trip, but a heart trip. As I see it, we each need to know our own “why-story” really well. We need to be able to share it when it’s asked for; “Always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within you.”~1Peter 3:15. And maybe we need to learn how to gently help others find their own “Why” when they’re seeking Him.
Recently, arts advocate, Christy Tennant Krispin mounted a showing of the Krispin’s private collection of art. Entitled Close to Home, Christy gave a brief talk about why they had chosen each piece of art. It was about relationship; their relationship with the artist, with the artwork, and the artist’s relationship with the work. Christy didn’t wonder if a certain piece would go well with her draperies. She was buying someone’s story; their “why”.
I have heard a very few sage counselors say that we artists need to know, deeply, our own story and be able to articulate it. When people buy our art they’re buying a chapter of our lives, or at least a page. If we’re ready to share what’s behind our creative journey, we can connect with those who wish to make some of our work a part of their own lives.
Faith & Art
In these earliest of years of my journey into the convergence of faith and art, I find that my “Why” drives it all. In the realm of “Why,” I return to John 3:16 ~ For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. The “Why” is about a) relationship and b) about bringing Him glory; about pointing to the foot of the Cross, and about becoming fully human (About You/Dick Staub). My own journey toward becoming fully human happens in the worship, the praise, and the wrestling of making art in service to the King, the Lord, my God.
The late Madeleine L’Engle got it so very right when she wrote; “To try to talk about art and about Christianity is for me one and the same thing, and it means attempting to share the meaning of my life, what gives it, for me, its tragedy and its glory.” Walking on Water, pg 16 / L’Engle.
I hope you know your “Why.” Mine’s at the heart of the creative journey.
Maybe it’s because I’m a Philomath – I love learning, but I do love a good book. I tend to gravitate toward non-fiction dealing with faith, art, faith & art, and creativity. The latest I’m doing a deep-reading on is Gregory Wolfe’s Beauty Will Save The World.
This culturally engaging, faith-driven, affirmation of creativity has got me by the ear-lobes and I’m so excited that I want to share just a few brief thoughts.
“My own vocation, as I have come to understand it, is to explore the relationship between religion, art, and culture in order to discover how the imagination may ‘redeem the time’.” Gregory Wolfe /pg-2.
Last October as the guest of Dick Staub, Nigel Goodwin, and Jeff Johnson, I attended a special gathering of thoughtful creatives and, like everybody else, was asked to give a 10-minute talk about my art practice; who I am, what I’m doing, and where I’m going. As I prepared my talk it occurred to me that; “What essentially interests me is the power of art, in all media, to alter the course of culture to the glory of God. I am searching for how art can communicate God’s love to the world without the trappings of mere religion, either to the Body of Christ (His Church) and to the world.” Lew Curtiss / Oct-2012
I was not many pages into Gregory’s book and realized that, here in my hands, lay much good instruction to that very process. This is why I couldn’t wait to write about this book even before finishing it.
“Just as Christians believe that God became man so that He could reach into, and atone for, the pain and isolation of sin, so the artist descends into disorder so that he might discover a redemptive path toward order.” GW / pg-6.
Further; “If art cannot save our souls, it can do much to redeem the time, to give us a true image of ourselves, both in the horror and the boredom to which we can descend, and in the glory which we may, in rare moments, be privileged to glimpse.” GW / pg-8
More and more do I encounter affirmations regarding the very high calling of faith-driven creatives of all media. More and more do I read and am further convinced that faith-driven art is the second voice of the Church (the Body of Christ), right alongside ordained clergy; that faith-driven artists – serious artists – share the same heritage in the tribe of Levi, and that we are sanctified and consecrated as God’s scribes and messengers in this world. More and more urgently – and Gregory emphasizes this in his book – is the need for serious, deeply rooted, faith-driven creatives to get to the work God calls each of us to do within His giftings and missions to each of us.
When I am finished with this first reading, this book will be annotated, highlighted, underlined, tabbed and tagged as it takes its place alongside the other reference works on my Artist’s Bookshelf; Walking On Water / L’Engle; Culturally Savvy Christian / Staub; Purpose Driven Life / Warren; The Artist’s Way / Cameron; Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain / Edwards; The Creative Habit / Tharp.
A dear creative friend of mine, Sue Beckman, is often parading powerful spiritual insights past me. On FaceBook she shared a post from a blog called Apostles & Prophets. In a post written by Dr. Stephen Crosby, we are reminded that The Body of Christ of the 21st Century has a lot of work to do in order to work as a single, unified body. Before going further you might want to click on the title above and give it a read. Things will make a lot more sense.
The passionate question God has endowed me with in the conversation of Faith & Art is; How do we make art that will have a powerful and positive effect on our culture? I voraciously read in pursuit of answers, and I work to incorporate as much as possible into my own art practice. Some top favorites applied to this question are The Culturally Savvy Christian by Dick Staub, and Walking on Water by the late Madeleine L’Engle.
It was near the bottom of Dr. Crosby’s article that I read something which further confirms the need for God’s faith-driven creatives to take very seriously our call. We are called, in one form or another, to make meaning which brings God glory, and which is an invitation to the foot of the cross of Christ. I know these two phrases are messy and loaded, I apologize.
When I say “brings God glory”, I mean what scripture says (Col. 3:23), that we make and offer God only excellence. It does not mean that the art must be drawn from the Bible. When I say “is an invitation to the foot of the cross”, I mean that in some way, subtly or overtly, the work points us to the only ultimate answer to what ails us in this life, the loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Again, interpretations and applications ought to run rampant and be as varied as the artists producing work.
Alright, back to Dr. Crosby; he writes, “Daniel went into captivity with Israel. Jeremiah was not spared the rigors of Israel’s “divine chastisement” at the hands of a Babylonian invader. Incarnational living in Christ does not exempt any of us from the travails of the culture we may worship or live in. Rather, we will be the representative agents of God as we go into captivity together.”
With these words, “…we will be the representative agents of God as we go into captivity together.”, the Spirit revealed to me another layer in the significance of our work as faith-driven creatives. We are to walk into “captivity” (I love that word in this context) with both believers and un-believers and, in Christ (Phil. 4:13), meet adversities head on. We are to make meaning in this milieu of messy, gritty, uncomfortable life and, as God’s Second Voice [ref other posts], point to Christ’s redemptive love.
In fact it is my opinion that without these adversities, we artists would have absolutely nothing to say. It is in the midst of our crises that we come to know who and what we are. We come to know our short-comings, and realize how desperate is our need for a deep and abiding relationship with God through Christ.
For the faith-driven artist we can heed this admonition, “Let each of us, in our assigned spheres of life and ministry, be sober and more resolute than we have ever been. Let’s burn. Let’s be hot. Let’s be light. Let’s remember that the ultimate act of spiritual warfare is not prophetic intercession or a spiritual warfare conference. It is a converted/transformed, soul who lives a transformed vibrant life in right relationship with God, one another, and humanity.” Dr. Stephen Crosby
Rick Warren writes that an intimate knowledge of our life-purpose brings crystal clear focus. (Pg 32 / The Purpose Driven Life) I add that having work in progress helps. As faith-driven artists, when we’re in the midst of making, our purpose is being realized, literally. We have energy and our sense of self-worth goes up. We feel complete.
The opposite happens when we’re sitting and stewing about what we ought to be doing. I find it draining and even debilitating. Unless I learn to take to exploration and experimentation with the same enthusiasm as my art-making inspires, I’m lost. I need to remember to “play”. Actually I need to remember to give myself permission to play, to experiment; taking risks, and exploring possibilities without knowing what’s ahead.
I’ve been conditioned to pre-plan, to avoid making “mistakes”, and to produce work of a predictable outcome. It’s proven to be a really tough thing to shake. The arts, however, are anything but predictable, and I’m having a tough time making this stick with me.
I need to stop thinking that all of my work time must be “making” time, producing finished work. That’s what we do in the mindless factories that have populated this earth for over two-hundred years. That’s why our government schools have cranked out generations of production-minded droids.
Madeleine L’Engle writes that long ago she stopped feeling guilty about taking “being-time”, as she called it. (pg 12 / Walking on Water) It was time she would walk, or sit at a pond, or just ruminate. In this being-time, she’d become refreshed, recharged, and refocused. Obviously I still struggle with this. I feel guilty unless I am making “product” in the studio. Apparently, I need to to revise my view of what being productive really is.
Someone once said that ideas do not spring full blown from the mind. How very true! Art-making, like both science and spiritual faith, is a journey of curiosity, risk-taking, and experimentation. It requires the benefit of all three stages of creativity – and I keep forgetting this. They are, Gathering, Incubation, and Birthing (to use L’Engle’s term).
I need to see exploration and experimentation as the first essential step in the art-making process. It’s not frivolous, but necessary. I also need to upgrade my view of being-time. Maybe my art-practice would be far better served if I would remember how vital the gathering and incubation processes really are to creativity.
I think I will live far more peacefully and creatively if I would simply submit to, and serve the process of creation to which I claim to be so deeply committed. If I not only recognize but embrace this awesome three-step process, I will always have fresh, new work to make.
By constantly gathering, I will have ideas in incubation. By allowing my mind and spirit to ruminate (being-time), I will end up with engaging, meaningful art to make. By making or birthing, (L’Engle again) a work, I make room for the new work that God has maturing in my soul.
In short, God will entrust me with all the work I can handle. What I need is to live within the creative process, keeping it fed, and making the new works He entrusts to me to make. I need to embrace not only this time of making, but the process from which it springs as well.