I’ve been an active advocate for artists of faith for over a decade now, long before my book, Imagine That, was officially released in 2009. And as a part of that journey, I’ve been a part of the dialogue of faith and the arts both locally, nationally, and even globally. Throughout that time, I’ve seen the conversations shift markedly, as the Christian subculture has naturally evolved. And that’s a good thing.
Whereas the questions used to be “Should art be expressed in the church?” and “Why is art important?” and “Am I an artist?,” now the conversations revolve around “How can we express art in the church?” and “How do I tell my story?” and even “Can I make a living with my art?” These shifts indicate that the landscape is changing, and artists of faith are experiencing a greater freedom to express and relate and be. And be together.
This trend was highlighted in the Intersections: Faith and the Arts 2018 gathering that was recently put on in the northern California area. This was the eighth Intersections gathering (the first being in 2009), and the unofficial theme of this particular gathering was “From Connection to Relationship to Community.” In the remainder of this blog post, I’d like to share a few thoughts from my opening comments from this event.
“It had been a few years since our last Intersections, and people had been asking us, “when are we having the next Intersections gathering? When can we get together again?” We felt that there was this natural yearning to be together, to hang out as like-minded creatives, to share what we’ve been doing with one another. In short, I think we, as artists of faith, just missed each other.
“I think that this reveals something about us as human beings. We were made for community. We were made to be with one another.
“But artists are a quirky breed, are we not? I know too many guys playing guitar alone in their man caves, too many painters painting alone in their studios, too many artists out there doing this very lonely thing called art. Art can be isolating, art can be misconstrued, art can be lonely.
“But think about great art. Great art is hardly ever done alone, or in a vacuum. Great artists surround themselves with other great artists—and in the community, in the chemistry, in the iron sharpening iron, great things happen. Miles Davis surrounded himself with the best musicians he could find. Michelangelo surrounded himself with a small army of artists to do what he did. CS Lewis famously met at a pub called the Eagle and Child, along with other notables, like JRR Tolkien and Dorothy Sayers, in a group called the Inklings. A group of French painters, including Monet and Renoir, met together regularly and created an entirely different style of painting later called impressionism. And probably the most recent collaboration of great artists is Pixar, which is quietly filled with Christians at the highest levels, doing art that is changing our very culture.
“There’s one other aspect of this as well, and that is that we are artists of faith. And as such, we are called into Biblical community with one another. In our fiercely individualized American culture, I think that we’ve forgotten that the life of a Christ-follower can only truly be fully realized within the body of believers. Think about the Jewish faith, upon which Christianity has its roots. They didn’t think of faith as primarily between the individual and God, but each saw themselves as a part of the people of God. In other words, their identity was shaped through their corporate relationship with God. And as Christians, our identity is not only through Christ, but foundationally as a member of the Bride of Christ. So biblical community is not an optional thing. There is no aspect of being a disciple of Jesus where you are intended to go it alone. As the saying goes, they will know WE are Christians by our love. For one another and for the world.
“So here’s my point. If we are to make a difference in the world, as artists of faith, if we are to become the culture-makers and culture-changers that God intends us to be—then we have to do it together. We have to be the church. A church of artists and creatives and culture-makers. That’s why we are gathering today.
“We all know that there is power in the arts, to move people, to change people, to express the depths of what people feel. And we know that there is power in community, to live life in a communally-shared way. As artists of faith, lets strive toward moving from connection to relationship to community together today. So that together, we all will manifest the Biblical shalom and creative flourishing that can happen when a group of people loves one another and loves the world together.”
[Photos: (1) A mosaic created by attendees to the Intersections event; (2) One of the many breakout sessions at Intersections.]