Risky Business: How Artists of Faith Are Stepping Out

Julie PaintingIn my last post, I talked about the role of risk in art. Commercial risk, artistic risk, personal risk, physical risk, and even spiritual risk are all part of the journey that artists of faith must walk in order to develop and flourish and make meaning of ourselves and our art.

I received a lot of feedback from you—both on-line and personally—so in this post, I thought I would share some of the measured risks you are taking. One commonality I see among those who are venturing out into these areas is that they do so with a premeditated understanding and a certain courage. You understand the risks, but you’ve got to walk into them anyway. As one of you concluded, “I’m being who I was created to be.” And if you think about it, faith is built in this way.

So here are a baker’s dozen of artists taking risks. I encourage you to hit the links to see their websites and dig deeper into each of them.

My long-time bass player and friend, Matthew, recently left for three weeks to join a band touring the predominantly Muslim country of Kazakhstan. He is joining my former drummer, Steve, who had already answered a full-time missionary call to move his family to Germany with Proclaim! International. Supporting local Christian churches in the area, they will encounter significant challenges in the face of government and public animosity and hostility. This is Matt’s first missions trip.

Sherri‘s original risk was co-founding an art gallery in Idaho, which is now defunct. Faced with the real world of commercialism (“I realized early on that to sell art I had to create sellable art”), she stopped painting for awhile before realizing that the dialogue of her art to God was a path toward healing, not only for herself, but to others through her.  She shares that now, “Abuse victims, the handicapped, and shut-ins started showing up at my proverbial door to paint.”

Rick, a musician and videographer in Tacoma, decided to stretch himself musically by starting the “Song A Day Project.” Every day for months, he would compose, record, and post an original guitar instrumental, forcing himself to create under a deadline as well as push against his “fear of imperfections.” He shares introspectively, “I think artists have an inherent desire, even a call, to explore the limits, push the false or unnecessary boundaries. This edginess increases their need for humility and teachability, deep relationships with accountability, and a greater love of holiness than of innovation. Otherwise they can move past safe boundaries into harm and sin.”

Supashmo (his gravatar name) is currently penning “a Christian modern-day fantasy series with swords, magic, the whole shebang. It’s not an allegory, so I get not breaks there. It’s Christians who have the actual Bible in the fantasy world and living it out as it applies to their supernatural existence.” He admits that Christians generally shy away from fantasy and specifically magic, especially if it is not allegory, so he understands the risk of being misunderstood by writing in this genre.

sp_fallen24x24_sm Judith, a Sacramento-based, mixed-media artist who is self-admittedly hard to categorize, has recently begun expanding—not only in new techniques, but also by exploring “imagery that can be challenging and easily misunderstood: dead birds and small animal skulls paired with nests and butterflies and flowers.” She is trusting that the Spirit has given her a vision, and that God will provide for her financially and with an audience. To the right is one of her new works, entitled, “Sparrow Fallen.” She concluded her note with the following caveat: “I think I sound like a crazy artist…”

Michaela, a vocalist and aspiring songwriter, is taking a leap of faith. As both a starving artist and a starving college student, she is about to embark on a Kick-Starter campaign to help finance her first solo album, a fairly non-commercial endeavor of ukelele-driven acoustic alternative music. She has a folder full of original songs, a vision for this musical adventure, and a heart willing to take the risk to expose them.piccaso-knockoff

Joy is a visual artist from Philadelphia. She is admittedly still in process and is quite generally busy in ministry, but has lately felt the need to express herself with some risky art that actually “says something.” She shared with me a Picasso-influenced piece that is shown here on the left. Definitely not a “safe” piece.

Keith, an artist in Northern Ireland, is in the process of choosing between two career paths—a safe and secure teaching position which provides financial security, or a largely underemployed position developing an arts ministry—his real dream.  He is deciding that God is “calling me to paint. I am a Kingdom Risk Taker. As I believe in him, the risk will all be worth it.”

Lisa, primarily a visual artist in Idaho, sees risk in everything she does: “to be all present in my artmaking, to create in community and fight the instinct to isolate, to let my work speak meaning and passion and depth (even if it’s not what I think it “should” say, but rather allow it to say what it “needs” to say), and to let the art take me to new places, giving myself room to experiment, to learn, to go beyond.” She concludes, “to be an artist is to live a life of risk.”

Plasso (also known as Dave) is a performance artist in North Carolina who sees risk every time he steps in front of his canvas. Constantly experimenting with new materials and processes (from pencil to tempra to home-made dirt paste), he constrains himself to Spirit-led spontaneity during his church’s 30 minute sermons.

Perhaps John, an award-winning and critically acclaimed fiction writer based in Montana, said it best: “No risk, no art. And what am I doing? I am not quitting.”

And now something a bit personal. Last weekend, painter Julie and dancer Mary teamed up with me to create a totally improvised piece for a concert called Synthesis 2013. As I created an impromptu three-movement piece on piano and percussion, Julie and Mary interpreted what I played in their respective mediums. Though we had attempted a similar thing once before, Julie and I had no idea how this is going, especially with the added dynamic of this talented and energetic dancer. Stepping into the fear of this improvisation, we teased out—visually, bodily, and musically—the movements of self-discovery, selfishness, and self-awareness. As I attempted to fill the dance hall with sound, Mary pirouetted and jumped and filled the dance floor, and Julie dabbed and stabbed and twirled large circles filling the canvas. Both intense and sublime, it was a scary but wonderful experience.

Julie shared later, “I have struggled for years with the art I wanted to do versus the art the world was convincing me I needed to do. As I have stepped out of my comfort and risked in my art, I have found a loving, grace filled God, embracing me and whispering in my ear, ‘trust me in this.’”

Through the examples above, I hope you begin to realize one Truth: The journey of growing as an artist and the journey of growing in our faith both involve risk. And for us artists of faith, they are often one and the same.

[Note: The painting at the top of this blog post is Julie’s painting (seven minutes from blank canvas to finished piece) from our collaborative venture.]

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2 thoughts on “Risky Business: How Artists of Faith Are Stepping Out

  1. Manuel, I love the direction this is going. I do not believe the real risk is in conforming to the world. Most of us should have more Christian fiber than that. I believe the greater risk is not yielding to a world-influenced church system. Take on the world and it will simply ignore you. Take on the worldly church and it will try to rip you to pieces. But, I believe things are changing. The Body of Christ is beginning to see the value of art in its representation of beauty, truth and order. But most importantly the artist must never lose sight of his individual accountability to the Lord. We are missionaries. We are not The Mission.

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