5.15.2007

Where are the artists?


"After the Storm 1," Copyright 2007 Robert Fisher.

Over at the Emerging Leaders Network, Brian Spahr is asking about the role that arts and artists play in church. He riffs on a catalog he received featuring "All the art you will ever need" -- a collection of lame "Christian" clip-art. He laments:
I mean, I have read about it in art history class and have seen some of the great art that was produced back in the day, but I have never been a part of a church community where “art” was really valued. Everywhere I have ever been it feels like the accepted norm was that “All the Art You Will Ever Need” has already been created.
I've been thinking a lot about this lately, and here's what I wrote as a comment to his post:

I hear you, Brian. As I've visited churches I've noticed that what pass for screens are almost uniformly awful -- too much bargain clip-art (especially the ones that spin and flash), no sense of design, WAAAAAAAAAAAAY too much text, images just plunked down. I've run across a few that seem to get the power of clean, simple design, mostly in emerging circles. (I asked a seminary colleague what course drummed the aesthetic sense out of future pastors, and he assured me it was an artifact of their undergrad work. :) )

Isn't this "already invented" mindset broader than art and technology? Wouldn't you say that the way we bank on "a new hymnal" (little of which is really new, and with which one can happily go on doing exactly what one has been doing) to comprise liturgical creativity sends the message that all you'll ever need for worship is already created and packaged? Don't we sometimes transmit the feeling that all the revelation and all the theology you need are already done?

Now that you've got me thinking about this, I have to say that I have met far fewer artists than, say, accountants in the church. Writers of the intellecutal processing variety (like me), plenty. Poets and novelists, not really. Musicians, sure. But we encourage the ones who play piano or organ and like choral singing... what about the teen learning to drum or the midlife guy picking up the guitar again? Songwriters? See poets. Some painters, though most seem to have a troubled relationship to the church. I've known some fiber artists, but there wasn't a place for them out of the quilting circle...

At our late congregation, we tried mightily to inspire people's God-given creative gifts. We made space for people to write prayers, mash up images for screens, make videos or slideshows to work with a theme we were covering. Artists and crafters made stations from time to time. We opened up the space up front for a team to design "environments" for the church seasons, from an evergreen and a stump lost amid a forest of white, electric-lit tress for Advent/Christmas, to planting seeds that grew into tomato plants during the "green" summer. Anybody who could pay or sing could be part of the band. And many people responded.

We have to start taking art seriously. As technology allows people to easily take and share photos, mash up images in Photoshop, make iMovies and slideshows, create and arrange in Garageband, etc., the "already invented" idea won't cut it... it already doesn't for many people. As these tools allow young people to feel affirmed in their natural desire to literally write and paint and film and snap their hearts out through virtual self-publishing, they will demand that from the church... or just go their own way. But what an opportunity we will lose if we don't allow them to express their faith through their art.

Now, it's your turn. What do you think? How can we re-energize the ancient and historic connection between the church and Christians and the arts? How can we better involve artists in worship and church work and play?



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