Mutual Passion: The Artist in Community

Painted handprints made from vivid acrylic paint on white paperI’ve blogged a lot about the importance of artists of faith being in community with one another. It is a powerful and encouraging thing to see people with mutual passions gathering together as local expressions of the Bride of Christ, especially so when they are artists. And over the last few years, we’ve seen the advent of many artist groups springing up, both locally and nationally, from writer’s groups to open art studios to musical jam sessions to local conferences to Facebook groups devoted to encouraging one another in the arts.  It definitely is an exciting time to be an artist of faith.

For those of you who are in a group like that, or want to start a group, I encourage you to read my previous article on “Rules of Engagement for Creative Arts Groups.” I think you’ll find it helpful in avoiding misunderstandings or hurt feelings (something that happens quite often when artists gather!), and in providing a basis for commonality in interaction.

But what does a creative community look like when Christians come out of our holy huddles and enter into the real world?  What can the professional, for-profit, dog-eat-dog world look like when artists truly live out their faith in the context of mutual passion?

I came across an interview with Andy Crouch, author of the definitive book, Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling, which I think informs us in this area. He responds to the question of the arts and community by citing Pixar as a model of shared vision and mutual passion.  Here’s his thought-provoking response from Faith and Leadership.  Please see the link for the entire interview. I also highly recommend his book for anyone who wants to thoughtfully engage in the world through their art.

“In the arts or arts and entertainment, the best example of Christian cultural creativity at a high level is not a company that is in any way Christian. It is the movie studio Pixar. Pixar has consistently created critically acclaimed, commercially successful works of popular art. It is the only film studio today that has a significant number of professing, serious Christians in senior leadership, though not all Pixar’s senior leadership are believers by any means. One of their executives told me that in her ten years at Pixar, the topic of faith had never come up, though she is a person of faith. Andrew Stanton, the writer-director of “WALL-E,” is a person of faith. Pete Docter, writer and director of “Up,” is a person of faith.

“It is not that they are engaging in Christian agitprop under the guise of Pixar. It is that they are working in an environment that fosters the kind of human flourishing that Christians should aspire to be part of and to lead. What differentiates Pixar’s creative process from its competitors’ is the amount of time and trust they invest in their creative teams. Directors are given half a year to a year just to work on their idea with a close group of associates. Writers are given years to write the scripts. They allow so much time, which, of course, requires tremendous amounts of resources. They build enough trust into the process that they are completely ready at any point to fail — to say, “This is not working,” to cut off, as they famously did with “Toy Story,” halfway into production and start all over; to say, “We don’t have the right story yet; we need to do it again.”

“It is not a Christian company, and yet it is a company where Christians have had the right kind of influence, which is to say, “Let’s create great culture, and let’s do it the best way we know how, with the best quality of relationships we know how.” They’ve ended up being runaway commercial successes time after time. It is an extraordinary, encouraging story.”

Interestingly, some of the characteristics that make Pixar successful are simply extensions of Christian living. Trust, encouragement, and human flourishing are just other words that mean faith, hope, and love.

Once again, we see that it is a powerful thing to truly live out the way of Jesus. Even in our art.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV

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