Why You Are Afraid of Art [justin]

Throughout the chronicles of TheoCult, there have been multiple posts related to the subject of art.

D. Jay thought out loud, pondering the current and future state of music

It’s time for something new in music.  I’m tired of albums.  I’m sick of bands. The world is ready for a new conduit of sound.

Jay waxed eloquently on God speaking graciously through different means…

To create redemptive expression — film, painting, music, writing, and yes, even a beer commercial — it requires an alignment on some level with the character and work of God.

Jenna observes a handful of values that should be in play within the Church in regards to art and Christianity…

The imagery in even the God-dictated portable tabernacle from Moses’ day is stunning in size and detail and overall splendor. It’s harder, nowadays, to imagine raising the funds for anything so fantastic—but the Israelites, apparently not sharing our absolutism regarding individual possessions, loaded the tabernacle artisans down with donations for the work. Value for communal art, when pervasive, can be very powerful.

Jake preaches that story is the ultimate objective of art, its aim, its purpose…

Story is the truest expression of art because it is the truest expression of life, which itself is a response to God—an action. True art must be story because it reflects (explores, engages, discusses, questions, analyzes, interprets, invents, reinvents) life, and life is a story. And art which resists (see the action there?) a simple or easy narrative is not necessarily devoid of story.

Today, I briefly touch on a small sliver of art in regards to fear.

During this season of blogging, I have disciplined myself to write more experientially rather than conceptually, whether it be about dealing with death or pushing back against my own cynicism. The topic of art is fitting here since over the past 5 years I have served as Worship Architect at our local church. In addition to teaching and developing worship services, this includes being in a position of path-finding in regards to art, the Scriptures, the Gospel, the Church, and in understanding a Theology of Beauty.

There are so many layers and caveats to the whole of this that I feel unresolved about even addressing it. But as Jake mentioned, story is “complex, often opaque, and certainly must be wrestled through.” So keep that notion tucked away as you continue to read, and may the following thoughts compel you to explore further, for your story (and my own) in regards to art and beauty continues to be written.

Why You Are Afraid of Art, Part 1: You Are Designed to Be

Two months ago, my wife and I went to NYC for the release concert of Lanterns by Son Lux. The small venue size and excellent sound engineering enabled those listening to truly feel the sonic expanse of Ryan Lott’s music, perfectly pairing the art of his analog/digital orchestration and lyrical motifs. The subway ran right underneath the venue and if you were paying attention you could feel and hear the underground movement as it bled into the soundscape.

I don’t believe it was transportation schedules or coincidental timing that allowed the subway to be heard.  I believe that the music of Son Lux was ministering to the land of New York that night, that it was speaking to the city, and the land was responding back with deep groanings. I know that might sound mystical or crazy or irrational, but I believe it’s true.

I experienced fear that night, and it was beautiful. To whoever has ears to hear, let them hear what the Spirit is speaking.

Beauty evokes fear. If you don’t believe me, stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon or consider Moses as God passed before him on the mountain and then tell me there is not fear in the grandeur.

This plays into a thesis I’m working through: Fear given to anything else besides God is idolatry; fear given to God for something He is not, is also idolatry. I’m not a Pantheist. God and His creation (which is everything) are separate. But in as much as His creation communicates and reveals His own beauty (which it’s designed to do), art can give us a glimpse and transport us into a life-giving fear of something other, which we are designed to experience as creatures and image-bearers.

There is good reverence and bad horror, but both are still fear. I don’t know the intricacies of the prior yet, but I may have a thing or two to say about the latter which leads me into the next part.

Why You Are Afraid of Art, Part 2: You Are Not An “Artist”

“When all words mean the same thing, no words mean anything.” – Scott McKnight

There was a brief stint in my thinking a few years back where I thought basically everything was art and hence forth everyone was an artist. My heart was trying to bring together people in unity in order to hear and receive from one another. But just as Paul preaches to the Corinithian church, a homogenous enmeshment saying that everyone is the same does no one any good. Labeling everything as the same thing cheapens everybody. It’s amidst the diversity and distinctive gifts and callings that actual oneness and brotherhood can be found (although it’s still a long process).

Not everyone is an artist, and that’ a good thing on multiple accounts. Artists proper have something unique, a gift or a mindset or something that I can’t quite define yet. It’s not a matter of technical excellence in their craft. I know a lot of technically gifted people that create beautiful things, but I don’t think they are an “artist”. There are also those whose aesthetic would not be received as anything special, and yet they have the wiring of an artist.

The thing is, we tend to be afraid of what we don’t know or of what we aren’t. In the art sphere we “non-artists” can feel as though we don’t have anything to give or we can’t understand it and so our self-propagating desire for fame takes a competitive hit. This renders us either harshly critical or shriveled up in the corner, both of which are postures of unhealthy fear. Conversely, thinking that because you are an artist you are better than everyone else is not a badge of honor, but a wound that you carry around showing everybody. But that’s another topic.

So while I don’t think everyone is an artist, I do think everyone is a creator. Being made in the image of God automatically makes us creative in some way even if it’s not in the typical way in which our culture defines art. Again, not everything is art, but you don’t need to be an “artist” to be creative and create art. Many times we use “not being an artist” as an excuse to not engage with creativity, beauty and art. Sorry, you are not off the hook.

Artists need both freedom to “say” what they see, as well as community to encourage them, as well as, keep them from their own narcissism. In the arena of art, and specifically within the church as She looks to use various forms of creativity to point to the glory of the Lord, I’d like to suggest four different, highly important ways non-artist can team up with artists. I’m sure there are more than four, but these are the four that I’ve personally been and have seen the need for. Also, God bless alliteration. Amen. And Amen.

  • Curators “take care” of things. Typically, this is in regards to an art collection or museum space. I don’t mean that. The kind of curation I speak of is towards the artist themselves. We need Curators who are compassionately concerned about the heart of the artist, those who appreciate the craft and the outcome, but more so care for the person simply because they are a person. Curators affirm the artist’s gifting, punch them in the gut, and also remind them that their identity and value is something much more then the work of their imagination and hands.
  • A few months ago, I put together a gallery show of some stuff. None of the art there was mine, but without me assembling the pieces and putting together the space, there wouldn’t have been a show. A Compiler is often needed to provide the structure, logistics, and framework for art to actually be seen. It’s probably the most thankless and overlooked job, yet without a canvas, there is nothing to paint on.
  • A close cousin to the compiler is the Commissioner. I was turned onto this after reading about Bruegel and how many of his paintings were commissioned. Who knows how many wonderful pieces of art the world would be missing if someone didn’t give an artist an idea and a mission and say go after this and we’ll see what you come up with. Commissioning could be as simple as providing a space (like a blog) and saying “Go.” Commissioning can also be very involved and interactive (which then matures into collaboration).
  • Last, but not least, you can be a Contributor, and by this I simply mean someone who provides either financially or materially for the artist to do what they do. Kickstarter is the popular way to do this. My favorite piece of art , thus far, that I have been a contributor on has been an old roommate’s band, Momcat. I didn’t play a single note or influence the lyrics or any of that creative stuff, but I did help make the record with my money and it’s freakin’ great.

There is an educational fallacy that has been around for many years that says “you can be anything you want.” I get how this can encourage certain demographics. However, it can also be debilitating and overwhelming. And the truth of the matter is, not only that you can’t be anything you want, but you shouldn’t. Restraint can actually lead to empowerment; knowing what you are not can be a most liberating discovery.

A great picture of this, and I’m serious here, is found in Monsters University. Wazowski wants to be something he’s not. He tries and tries and tries, but he’s just not. On the other hand, his best-buddy-in-the-works, Sullivan, is designed to be what he is, a Scarer. The thing is, however, that neither can reach their full capacity without the other. It’s only in putting aside their fear, that they can work together in relationship and fulfill their calling by playing off of each others strengths and weaknesses.

As it is with monsters, so it is with humans. We can interact with each other in some scary ways, especially when dealing with things so foundational, opinionated, and personal like art. But don’t be afraid… or rather, if you are going to walk in fear, walk in the right kind.

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