The Professional Artist and the Church

Lyn Lasneski TriennialWhen I began this blog seven years ago, much of the discussion around faith and the arts had to do with the justifications and theology of the arts in the church. In a sense, artists were looking for validation and acceptance into the church, both for what they did and for who they were made to be. Indeed, the last few decades have been a period of reclaiming the arts within the church, and I count it fortunate to have been one of the voices in that dialogue.

Today however, I have noticed that the dialogue of faith and the arts has shifted from justification and theology to practices and methods. This includes those who practice within their churches, and also those who face the occupational challenges of artists of faith. And there are many.

Recently, a colleague of mine, Lyn Lasneski, who is an amazing artist, speaker, and teacher, sent me an email asking for my opinions on some of these issues, particularly towards visual artists. I felt that her questions and comments were not only insightful but also timely, so I thought I would blog them for you. I hope this might help you all, as you wrestle with the challenges of being a professional artist of faith.

Lyn: Should professional artists be paid for their continual commitment to paint during worship sessions at the church (as it helps to bring non-Christians through the doors)? Where do you believe the church should stand on this?

First off, professional artists should be paid in general. I am an advocate to the idea that one should be compensated for one’s work, and intellectual property (including artistic property) is just as valid as any other material product or service. That being said, there are the realities that come with just trying to eek a living, as well as how it works in the church. 

Randy Blasquez Oct Arts MonthHere’s how it works at my church, Oak Hills. For those who a regular part of the church family, we do not typically give honorariums, as we consider their service to be part of their sharing of their gifts. Carpenters and accountants work gratis for the church as much as musicians and dancers do, and we all tithe our talents as well as our money. Now for those people I bring in from the outside, it is quite typical that I provide them with an honorarium. And I will typically try to give a larger honorarium if they are a professional in their field (e.g., professional dancer or guitarist or painter) not only because of the quality of their work, but because I know this is how they feed their families.

There’s an underlying value here that I might share, which is this: We believe that the arts should be a normative expression of the body of Christ. We don’t try to sensationalize the arts at Oak Hills. We just have the arts be a regular part of everything we do.

Lyn: If not paid, then should their supply costs be covered? Or should that all be donated by the artist? 

As part of policy, we reimburse all artists (in church and outside of church) for supply costs, unless they want to donate those as well. This is especially true for the worship artists who paint during services. We also have a storage of canvases that we offer, and we feed them between services. This is because I don’t believe it should cost people to be a part of the ministry. So I have budgeted in my ministries a certain amount of money for visual arts supplies, honorariums, stagecraft, etc. In addition, if someone in the congregation offers to buy the piece, we allow the artist to keep the proceeds or donate them, whatever they decide. We believe the artist should have some say-so as to how the work is birthed into the world. 

When an artist is featured in our Art & Soul Gallery, which is a year-round art gallery in the church lobby, we don’t allow them to display prices. We consider their gallery to be a visual testimony of sorts, so we encourage them to display short descriptions of what their art pieces meant to them. However, we do allow them to display contact information, because often a person in our congregation might be moved to inquire about purchasing a piece, which we think is totally fine. We just don’t want our lobby to turn into a marketplace.

Lyn: This stems from discussions in which I tell my students that during the Renaissance the artists were well-paid by the church, and that I personally believe when the church again elevates and backs the arts to the degree it did during the Renaissance, that we would experience an authentic second Renaissance. Geniuses would be birthed more often, and artists would be more freed up to train toward excellence and take risks, rather than simply trying to “just make ends meet” by doing what is expected of them and donating all their time/finances. What are your thoughts around this?

I might not align exactly with how you see this. I believe that the church as primary patron of the arts was particularized during the Renaissance because the Church was one of only a few institutions that had power during that time. There was no middle class which had discretionary funds to purchase art. There was no free market that allowed artists to sell and buy and prosper. There was only the aristocracy and the church. Those were the only two real ways artists could make a living, the only two ways the arts could develop and prosper. 

So I don’t believe that the church should be a patron of the arts in the same way they did during the Renaissance. But I do strongly believe that the church should be a champion of the arts and an advocate for artists of faith. I’m really big on promoting and encouraging artists of faith to succeed and thrive in the world. I have one oil painter artist friend who started out locally in one gallery, eventually moved to mid-town, and is now displayed in galleries in LA and Carmel, as well as owning her own gallery. I have another friend who started out as a hobbyist and has quietly become a world-class artist, traveling around and giving workshops. And I have other friends who are coming into some local renown in different bands in the area as well. I think this is quite healthy, as long as these artists don’t abandon the local church as they begin to experience some of the fame and fortune. 

At Oak Hills, we created a non-paid staff position with the title, “Artist in Residence.” A few of my peeps work in the community as artists and I wanted them to represent the church in a more formalized way. As Artists in Residence, they speak for our church and represent us missionally into our communities, and we also support and resource them as they do so. We’re still exploring this in deeper ways, but so far, it has helped legitimize the professional artist of faith here.

Lyn: Should (visual) artists who offer to teach art classes be charged for use of the rooms (at the churches) in which they offer the classes? How can the church support the artists in releasing other artists around them? What are your thoughts?

You have to be careful with some of these things. For example, at Oak Hills Church, we do not allow any activities on our church campus that is for-profit, because that threatens our non-profit status. We simply can’t allow artists or musicians to give for-profit classes using church facilities (whether the room is free or rented). It’s just the law.

Mary Fong ArtHowever, there are ways to accommodate this. We are just about to open up a 400 square foot Art Studio (with a larger 800 square foot multi-purpose classroom) on campus, which is considered a part of our ministry. One of our Artists in Residence, Angela Houk, will be running this Art Studio, which we intend to use for spiritual formation/art classes, summer arts camp, private and group lessons, arts outreach, worship and arts nights, and art Bible studies. One of the first things we will do is have a series of art and worship nights there, with a small band and art going on. 

A specific note about the art classes. Angela also has her own non-profit organization, New Joy Arts (which is administrated through Artists in Christian Testimony, International), and we are partnering with her in doing this. So she and others can provide art lessons and the money can be administrated through New Joy, which simplifies Oak Hills’ administrative and monetary involvement. Theoretically, we could also rent to any other non-profit arts organization as well. The other option would be, we could have also legally started a school as a subset of Oak Hills Church and administrated it through that. One last thing. The intent would be to offer these classes at competitive rates for our area. And I think people will pay them. The reason we can justify that is because she offers free classes to the disadvantaged/disenfranchised in our area and charging others full price is the way she can afford to minister to those who cannot pay at all.

If this blog was informative to you, here’s a few others that might be useful:

Seven Habits of the Artist-Friendly Church

Art and Church: The Missing Link

[Upper photo: Artist Lyn Lasneski leads worship with her worship painting. Middle photo: Impressionist artist Randy Blasquez paints during a worship service. Lower photo: A finished worship art piece by Mary Fong.]

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One thought on “The Professional Artist and the Church

  1. Reblogged this on Plasso and commented:
    This is an excellent model for incorporating art and artists into the church body in a real way. I pray more congregations will become open to this.

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