Saturday, November 9, 2013

Artist as Parent

I think it was Geno that talked about the Babylonian Exile (and maybe Ezekial, Hezekiah, Ezra, maybe?).

This notion of Exile was one coming out of the most recent Laity Lodge Artist Retreat, which I attended. It resonated, in its own sense in that context, as well.

I think if I am honest with how I feel I would say that in my role as a father I feel a sense of Exile.

This sense of exile has the sense to it that, no matter what I do as a father, it is not all of who I am, it does not summarize my identity. Yes, in some very core-constituent part, being a husband, or being a father, it is undeniably part of me. Yet, still, it is not all of me.

But that is the rub, isn't it, though: I know I am a "me", but I also "know" that I don't know myself as as other things which I should know myself as. I do not know myself, for instance, as a "son of the most high God" (despite knowing I know God and knowing that I know He is loving -- it is that old chestnut of self-loathing born of an earthly father's abandonment, and of an adoptive step-father whom was untrustworthy with my emotional state. 

Those questions seem to matter little, those questions of who "I" am. It seems like the more important lessons I am learning are all about who God is, and who He will be through His body. Those familiar with my family's recent patch of "hard times" know that the Lord has been propping us up through our precious community members.  I postulated it was teaching us about intra-dependence (where it was weighted towards the far less "confortable" position of depending on others, rather than the slightly more "comfortable" position of being the ones depended upon). 

Now I am wondering if these times are not lessons more just about Him, and who He will be through His Body. The skeptic philosopher might ask if the reverse holds true, and that when His body hurts us is God not also teaching us something then? 

That is okay, that doesn't bother me -- skeptic philosophers (of whom I have a degree in studying, and a great deal of experience in being) attempt to apply logic in the place / absence of relationship. (Said differently, if such were the position I was In, where the Body acted hurtfully, I am sure the Lord would be revealing to me what He was intending in the moment to be understood through the experience; I say I love my wife one moment and act hurtful the next, because I am fallen, but God is not fallen, and it does not follow logically dear skeptic that just because God reveals one thing through the Body that everything revealed through the Body is of Him.It is a matter of what God is doing, not what can be reduced to a universally applicable universal axiom or solipsistic syllogism.) 

Like with the Jewish people among the Babylonians I feel I am to "make my home among this people, and to bless the city to which I am called." Like a territorial dog behind the fence I feel the immediate flurry of thought which says when I do get to return to Jerusalem it will be overrun with scary and difficult people, the city walls and dwellings in crumbles. (This metaphor which drips with fears of my aged irrelevance and fears of the future.) But this is getting ahead of myself. Being a father and a husband now is that to which I am called, and this morning (like so many mornings) I struggle with not getting to write. Yes, please, guffaw away, you irony-savvy reader of the written word. I must make my home, here, among the heathen, and remember even Jerusalem is not my home.

This struggle -- of needing some form of wordly expressed self-expression and not being able to accept ever having it (even when the time to write and do other things is my own, no longer sacrificed to playtimes and sack-lunch-making times) -- is perennial not just to the artist, but to everyone walking with Christ. Perhaps it is just the artist's job to remind all our co-walkers of that fact, or of the certain, indelible hope that, in another day, we will be given a stone with a new name written upon it, and we will share in the revelation. Admittedly, for myself, in the trenches, I forget the fact that I am being made into the image of "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control, faithfulness, always hoping, always persevering, always trusting, always forgiving, always true, always beautiful". 

And, yes, you irony-and-art-savvy reader, guffaw away: that image is what so often constitutes subject of the artist's work, and constitutes the parent-artist's work when not "arting".

Monday, April 22, 2013

To Sell or Not to Sell

So, a friend of mine sent a link to an article about writing, penned by a writer at Pixar. These were the "22 Rules of Writing". 

What struck me about these rules is that it sounded to me (and I am oft guilty of reading into something) as if it were a writer writing about writing to sell to an audience - there certainly are good points for writers, because let's face it, writing is writing no matter why it is done. On the reverse though it seems that writing a sellable piece for a specific industry (like the film industry) involves both formulae and the freedom formulae brings.

Don't hear critique here: i would find it fun to write a science fictiony tv show and get paid to do it, but at one point I think the intent to sell overshadowing my intent at writing would become draining.

Which leads me to a thought, and something else discussed in the arts group i attend : it seems a antiquated and cultural lie which gets us confused as authors, the idea that to be successful we have to have a national platform. The old model of the author platform was that the publisher promoted the book, arranged signings, ect. even gave advances. Now, the writer is tasked with doing that, and only if they have a significant platform can they even get noticed by a publisher, so most writers are tending towards alternative forms of publication. 

There is an article in Forbe's about this very thing.

The question of getting published is so far off for me it is irrelevant, but, the idea that my writing can be successful if effective only on the scale of my community is a freeing notion to me. We have tons of local artists (no really, if you loaded them all up on a freight scale they would all weigh tons) all of whom are well known in this city, and that is enough of a significant impact and success. 

I could make grandiose observations about the nature and relevance of local impact, and local politics being the only effective form of voice we have, and wax poetic about the ancient Greek city-states and the post-modern semblance in attitudes towards the local civic involvement; and you could return with a rejoinder about a prophet not being respected in his home town, and look what they made Socrates drink, blah blah blah.

I could. But, really what do you think?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Some Participation Required

     I missed my one chance to participate in the Wall Project at SXSW music festival this past week. What makes this regrettable to me is that this project is the example of the action (of taking art outside the walls of the church and into the community) which I so frequently assert is consistent with the heart of God.

     Sure, I had my excuses, most notably that hesitancy born of an angst over the atmosphere of commercialization of art inherent to SXSW. Why would I suspect to find the genuine artistic experience of a group of like minded artists in a context so commercially driven and rife with those hoping to finally make it on the radar of some label scout?

      Sure I read the tweets of younger (much younger) friends whom were out and about partying it up - and yes, there was plenty of "slurred drunk, texting" in those tweets, enough to make me thankful I was home and not having to punch some jackass in his throat. (I assure you the heart of God in not found in that sentiment.)

     But all these are excuses, or are excuse-driven thoughts. At the end of the day, there was an art project out in the community which I rejoiced in for that very reason (it being out in the community), but which I did not rejoice in as a participant. I lost out.

     They say in parenting and marriage that showing up is 90% of what constitutes success. In leading as an artist, for me this week, this has surely been shown to be true - if, sadly, not experienced. Being able to say they showed up may well be all to which an artist gets to lay claim, especially if the venue of exhibition is temporary or transient, as with the Wall Project. Likely the artist will never hear from the guy, say from Ireland or Australia, whom was touched and enlivened by the Wall. Likewise, who knows how this collaborative project may motivate others to collaboration in the future.

     Not knowing what it will be means it can be anything, and so showing up is just showing up without any expectations needing to be born or carried out; by "it" I  only mean the showing up to an artistic endeavor being carried out in public.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"No Exit Stage Left"

     Anne Lamott recently posted to her Facebook page a status update which, for all intents and purposes, was a sort of coming out of the Christian closet. In typical fashion she wrote beautifully and engagingly, but this time with such profound humility and transparency that it set a new whole new bar for me for writing.

     I of course read about 50 comments or so, before feeling compelled to respond to one individual. I felt compelled to defend Christ's message, to point out the man's very likely overlooked legalistic and religious-like moral criteria for people - the very thing in his comments he was redressing. He had written his comment with a somewhat admirable acceptance in his heart; an acceptance at odds with and conflicted in his moral criteria. I just wanted the beauty of the truth seen, that was all.

     I read on through more comments. I think I also made a call for a civility in comments of kind and manner like Anne Lamott's humble tone, and also a statement to Anne Lamott about the calibre of her writing.

     I do not know why I expected responses of others all to be positive, and to have come from clear understanding of what Lamott had written. Call me "Ishmael-optimistic," I guess.

    The experience was good, I suppose, to see a certain reality to literary prose or creative expositional writing: no matter how well written, readers are going to "read" / "hear" what they will in any piece, and it may well be the case the artist will be misunderstood. One slight caveat which just now dawns on me as I write: it is very likely the ones which enjoyed the piece likely were enjoying it for whatever  they were going to hear in it as well, and maybe not what I heard or was intended by the writer.

    Really, this subjectivity - and, I am stealing and tweaking just a bit from Sartre - and the "Hell of the Audience" is always at work.  This is not a new revelation, but I think it is one I am coming to accept. It is a hard lesson, but one which is critically necessary.

    It is a necessary component to Leading as an Artist that of being loving towards one's audience and the Lord. Most artists I know have a blessed precociousness leading them to want to challenge or shock people with the truth. Many artists I know have a compassionate fascination with the darker side to life, preferring to be emotionally honest to the point of "suffering with" the subject in his or her dark place - albeit thrusting the beautiful within the dark into everyone else's face in the process.

    Lamott didn't do that - she was humble, transparent, and carefully articulated. Still didn't help her. But for me it was beautiful, and man oh man I want to write like that. Leaving aside the philosophical question of how do I know if I was "gnostically privy" to the truth I seem to think everyone else was missing, it is one of those undeniable facets of Christian epistemology that the spirit knows the Spirit, and agape will be seen as agape, always accomplishing the purposes for which it was sent, and never failing. Those that didn't "get it" or hear it, well, they may still "hear it" as the Spirit prompts - it is not for us as artists (and I speak generally now, of any our work) to know beyond the question of if we have loved in the moment, selflessly and submitted to the God Who is  Love.


Vegan Barbecue and Manhood Compasses

     To hear my wife tell the story, as she was growing up my father-in-law didn't know the business end of a screwdriver, the difference between a chisel or a screwdriver, or how to spell awl (and how do you spell that word anyways, especially since their version of spellcheck in my wife's day normally collected dust on the bookshelf). Short of changing a lightbulb my father-in-law (in my wife's remembrance) was about as functional around the house, car, or "other manly spheres" as a side of brisket is useful to a vegan barbecue. Though he is a fan of brisket... but my wife and I are vegan. Anyways.

     It really matters not what I believe of the man, or even if my wife is right in her childhood-tinged perspective. What does matter is that she thinks this was the case.

    I say this because, right about now, I am looking like Superman in her eyes, and while that wasn't my main goal or main take away it doesn't hurt any at all. See, over the past month I have: fixed the garbage disposal, fixed the plumbing beneath the sink (jimmy-rigging no less because the one hardware box store did not have the items I needed and the other was entirely sold out across every store in town), and (for the second time since buying the home 2 years ago) completely removed and re-installed a toilet. As to this last task I even solved the clog issue.

    Not without too much fanfaronade, on the day I performed the latter "manly miracle" I had also fed the children twice, done a load of laundry, a load of dishes, and been to the store, planted a flower bed, and insect-treated the garden.

     It all felt like a series of "wins," and I had been needing such a bolstering to my flagging sense of self.

     I would like to draw some profound meaning from this, but I am not sure it is there. Once, a long time ago, as a single man, I had stripped and re-finished an antique, drop-leaf table. It was a long process, and the pay-off had been that I felt issued into a "club of manhood," a universal equality in terms of essential manly nature. What maintained my status in this "club" was continued manly activity, say, like fixing the plumbing (extra points for successful jimmy-rigging), or changing out a toilet. Really, though, well, I enjoy a good vegan smoothie - and zen koan obscureness aside, that is about all I can think to say on the matter of profound meaning found in the sense of elation over performing a "manly" task.

    What does make me feel like a man, these days at least, is when my children act out some self-confidence and independence in simple responsible tasks (like getting dressed, or brushing their teeth, or electing (un-harangued even) to sit down and do their kindergarten homework). Also, I feel like a man when I write, when I actually get something nailed down which has merit and style wed, and I can sit back and say I have said what I wanted to say while yet aware of it being said artfully. Now, "artfully" is a purely subjective standard, and, well, I tend to like grilled portabellas but my wife is allergic to mushrooms.

     Now, at this point I could so step up on a soapbox and launch into a diatribe about the emasculation of men and misandry existent long before even the feminist movement, or go off on how there is some categorical confusion of the domestic role and masculine identity, but I figure if I am not going to get listened to it ought to be because I said something someone wanted to hear.

     I will say that for me, in a season when I feel a great gulf between who I am and how I am moving through life, the sources of a sense of manhood are a compass to which I ought to be paying attention.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Pinterest, man cards, Tips for an Artist's Success, and Soul Iconography

     Despite putting my man-card in jeopardy by doing this I went ahead and started a Pinterest Page - it was, sadly, my wife threatening the confiscation of the tenuously held status-laminate when she found out. It is but one of a few, intentional moves of late to move within electronic environs, embracing the phenomena of internet entity status. 

     It started innocently enough (and this a commonly told tale) with me wanting to be able to keep abreast of extended family-in-laws, and a few church community members (and, admittedly, an interest in an ease in keeping them all abreast with me), by starting a Facebook page. This page grew (Friends-wise), and was whittled down, and re-grew again over the years since its inception. I added the Spotify application and found myself rather content for a while with that being that. 

     Recently my pastor "encouraged the flock" - via a brief presentation co-hosted by the "czarina" of communication in our church and a young, Millennial-aged public-speaking adept of some congregational notariety - to expand our social media visibility.  

     The reasoning for said expansion likely was seated in some evangelical-oriented end goal, but truth be told, I had pretty much blocked their voices out as soon as they had begun. Why? Good question. In part it might have been due to some calcifying in my person towards this idea so far removed from me by an ever-expanding generational gulf, maybe, sure, though more likely it has to do with a very particular personal annoyance I have with a particular representative youth of that Millennial-ilk (upon which I decline to elaborate).

    As an aside, albeit an important (if not a self-defining) aside, I have of late seen my "Facebook ministry" ("he said, with a sardonic cheekiness and wry mischievousness") actually to be a "ministry of safe harbor," wherein those whom follow my updates and feed can find mirthful delight and human connection with the "real" of life, as narratively as the living of it may be presented. But, then again, I guess that is what a blog is for.

      "Hey," you might interject, "haven't we strayed from a conversation regarding some ephemeral correspondence between a man-card and the Pinterest page you started? A conversation that devolved into a narrative of your interaction with Facebook, and now devolving further into, well, an unnavigable  morass of your social media history? "

      "Well, yes, but stick with me, baby," I say in my best zen master Tom Jones-schtick voice.

        As can be told by a savvy deconstructive view of my post history, my blog had been somewhat of an anemic offshoot of my already apparitional-esque electronic specter. The blog phenomena, however, was one which I had eschewed on a basis, ironically, that I was a writer intending to seriously write. See, concurrent with the coalescing sense of my ministry-of-safe-harbor-and-cutesie-toddler-stories (complete with pictures) I was trying to nail down some orientation of myself as a writer. I had had article published in a local newspaper (an article about my favorite stay-at-home daddy stratagem "Pet Crawl" for those interested), but was not interested in going down a path of mommy-blogger / stay-at-home-daddy niche type writing. Likely for the same reasons I get around many stay-at-home-dads - they make me uncomfortable and I don't like those whole high school-esque competitive male pissing contest type interactions. 

     Blogging, at that time, seemed somewhat like a very pernicious scam, preying upon the human desire to be heard with the promise of granting a voice - forget it is a voice amid the din of multitudes of other voices, none of which were being heard unless they had some savvy internet marketing jedi powers and really developed blogger voice (not to mention a following which passed their blog name around a niche-based circle). Blogging daddies were just blogosphere nerds getting revenge on real, non-geek writers like myself.

      When I started being mentored in my writing by my Arts Pastor I found I had something about which to write. I was "expositorily" exploring the idea of "Leading as an Artist" (see post history and current series of post to the right), and because I wanted to draw in the artistic community in which I was growing in relationship I turned to the long-dormant blog as a means to do just that - draw them into the dialectic.  

     "Stick with me, baby."

     Well, the desire to grow as a writer, and the desire to be a serious and professional artist, as well as the sense developed by my pastor's urging (to which, remember, I tuned out), a sense of the place and importance and pragmatic purpose of a social media online presence grew in me, and man oh man but then things really got serious. What I am really trying to say is, well, i heard two stories (from a professional artist and art historian) about two other professional artists' approaches to the "business side" of being an artist, and this whole networking and self-promotional thing was at the core of their efforts. And I really am serious about this "writing thing". I want to be professional about what I am doing, it is not a have to sort of motivation. So, having an online "witness at the gates," so to speak, is just part and parcel to growing as a writer. 

     The efforts I had undertaken at the Facebook group for Writer's at my church re-doubled, I downloaded the Goodreads app to my iPhone, I joined a myriad of LinkedIn writer's groups, and I even started Tweeting on Twitter - mainly just that I had a new blog post up. See, again, Twitter had initially been a baneful scourge in my mind when, on a cheap cell text plan I would get the random pointless updates by inlaws regarding having found the odd random green roll of toilet paper in a bathroom. That little tidbit just cost me 20 cents, thank you very much. Well, so, the tip for an artist success is somewhere in all that, but I have to get back to the Pinterest thing. All of these efforts occurred, like I said, with sights set on being as professional a writer as I could be... whilst firstly being chief poopy changer and snack fixer and butler-extraordinaire in my household. I am thankful my wife is too young to have ever watched the tv shows "Soap" and "Benson".

     As an artist and a writer I perhaps am utterly unable to do anything without there being layers of layers of metaphorical relevance, and this Pinterest thing is no exception. I went to the PinterestPinterest thing to chelate even more this internet entity which is electronic-me, only to find a whole other reason for doing it - a reason tied to the artist and writer in me.

    I have started following those pages and persons only which I feel will post those things which ultimately (I feel) are the sublimating aestheticism of my soul into this internet entity of me, that will metaphor iconographically my soul. Thusly Pinterest, and what I pin, my boards, it all manifesting in metaphorical identity - I even have a board devoted specifically to this end, entitled "Soul Iconography". 

    Sure, in some way my pastor's urgings are being met, my evangelical impetus towards lifestyle witness is expanded in a new dimension. Sure, it is a visually metaphorical component in the grand meta-dialectic between me and my artistic community. No doubt, like this blog itself my Pinterest page gets my name out to random internet surfer, and may invariably provide some social media scroller or investigative minion of some future professional interest with insight into me - or into what I tailor of my online entity's identity. Thus, I (online-speaking) am my biggest and most developed character, into which I put not so much truth as I put personage truthfully. But the whole online personae (for a writer) is a matter of an entirely different discussion. Ultimately, though, at the end of the day and end of the blog post, my Pinterest thing is a matter of my moving and my being in this world, and that "is what it is"- follow me to engage in the dialectic.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"Mr. Philosophically-Pants", or, "I Want Off This Ride"

     I was talking with someone recently, and the subject of art and creation came up. That's going to happen, I guess, given the crowds I run with, so to speak. The person with whom I was talking sought to expand the definitions of creativity and artistry, and like the good little philosophically-trained punk-chump I am, I pressed my fellow conversationalist's conceptions.

     See, that is what I think good conversation / argument is: pushing the other person so they have to come back and push harder, thus causing you to have to come back even harder and sharper, philosophically speaking, until you've ferreted through your thoughts and presuppositions as thoroughly  as two persons alone can. I like a good intellectual ass-whoopin' that way - giving or receiving. What I think makes for good conversation (and my penchant for cerebral masochism) is neither here nor there, but it is the context for the change in some of my thoughts on the nature of art and creation.

     Lest I get ahead of myself, I have to divulge that in my closest circles of artist friends and community members the perennial questions of the nature of art and creation and faith and God-as-Creator are frequent fare around the intellectual table at which we sup.

     Now, my "associate" (whom I mentioned earlier, and with whom I was discussing art and creation) was want to say that art was anything that caused an emotive and intellectual response, i.e. struck peoples hearts and made them think. One of the pursued threads of thought along this topic was the implication that good art was that which effected the most people. My associate, being an ever-loving, self-avowed narcissist was only comfortable saying the matter stopped at what effected him the most. But there was also a turn in the discussion, an opening of the notion of artist to include everyone whom created, thus, everyone was an artist since, on some level we all create. "Many of us will "create" children," was my associates grounding. I guess we, arguably, could argue that we all create abstract thought and psychological propping-ups and so on.

     That's when all the discussions amongst all those in my artist communities and all those pontifical car rides taken while trying to ignore the prattle of the little combatants in the back seat (and the annoyingly saccharine  Christian music dj's on the radio) finally hit me.

     If we are going, if I am going to discuss what it means to Lead as an Artist, or God as Creator, or the relationship of Christian art to non-Christian art, or what it means to bear the creative stamp of a creator God, then we are going to have to look at the nature of creation, and look at creating as God models creating. And if we are going to understand ourselves and our roles as artists, then we are going to have to see how we, yes we, metaphor God's creating as the created beings we are - not just as the artist which some of us are. And we are not going to be able to understand what it means to lead as an artist, or understand what defines success in art, or even understand what is good art until we expand our notion of creating / creation.

     "Whoa Whoa Whoa, Mr. Philosophically-pants, how can you make such bold statements about what we can or can not understand, and the nature of blah, blah, blah," you demand of me. "Don't you need to shore up those positions and flesh out those presuppositions and blah blah blah? And isn't this whole ramble long enough, a veritable, Millennial-Generation's internet equivalent to 'Moby Dick' ..."

     Ok, well, fair point. Maybe my leaving you, intrepid reader, without satisfaction of either a a defense or a conclusion will be my hook to get you to read the next article, or maybe not, but don't you want to confirm you are right and I am wrong, and so aren't you going to have to wait for the next installment to do so?


Monday, February 11, 2013

Leading as Artist, "What's Love got to do with it?"

Remember that song from the 80's or 90's, "What's Love Got To Do With It?"

        Yeah, well, it makes about as great an introduction as any to this reflection. I could ask other questions, I suppose. Certainly this is a continuing exploration of the notion (and series) of what it means to lead as an artist.

        What does it look like for an artist to serve others, to serve the community? I suppose I first have to answer what I very naturally would ask of anyone else asking that question, and that is, "why even ask the question in the first place?"

        There is a growing sense in me that God is desiring to take art outside the walls of the church, and I am trying to understand what that looks like. I think there is a growing trend of seeing God taking the Church outside the walls of the church. Examples of this are seen in the City of Austin manager, in the wake of Katrina and other recent storms,  approaching the Christian community and asking them to develop some disaster preparedness contingencies to better serve the community. We see also several churches reaching out to the community in the form of being a water stop on the course of a large marathon, hosting a pet rescue event in a local park, opening the doors of a church building to the usage by a neighboring school for a pageant too large for the small assembly hall to hold.

          So what does this look like for the artists within a church body?

         One on very grand and simple, and grandly simple level, this is to ask what the interaction of Christian Art is with the world, both Christendom and Pagan. For what it is worth I think that question, by virtue of its formulating and categorizing bears certain implicit presuppositions which provide an ultimately unsatisfying framework (upon which answers are un-satisfyingly forced to fit).

      The increasingly more pertinent question, "How shall we then live," (for the Christian artist) is really asking, "how do we love with our art?" Of course we also may ask, "whom do we love with our art?"

      So, to set up a buoy or two by which to triangulate our position in this morass of conceptual ambiguity (or, the befuddled outward processing of an blind intellectual tour guide) : this then is how that city will know we are God's disciples, by the love we have for one another. Another buoy may be the encouragement to live godly and quiet lives that others may see our good works and praise the Father in heaven. Still another buoy may be the simple exhortation to live separate, "called-out" and holy lives.  Throw in a few other ideas from the Beatitudes, and the exhortation concerning bearing one another's burdens, then throw in the greatest two commandments (to love the Lord our God with all our hearts/strength/sould/mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves), and then maybe throw in the exhortation to love mercy, act justly, and walk humbly, and we could triangulate ourselves even in deep, 3- dimensional space.

      Not meaning to jump the gun but this sounds a lot like formulating an ethic for how the Christian artist is to conduct themselves, and maybe it is, but that reductionist-bent in me I am trying not to give into. 

      So whom do we love? God and Man. How do we love? With faith, hope, fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control). How do we do it with art? Hmmmm. How do we do it outside the church? Double hmmmmm.

      A potter who buys his own studio and opens it up to non-Christian and Christian alike, an artist who buys her own gallery / printmaking shop and opens it up the same way, these are models of artists being in the community. In the respective studios each artist is able to love upon other artist, to invite them into dialogue if not directly about God then about the things of God (like love, kindness, mercy, justice, humility). A church which invites other churches and artists to collaborate upon a publicly viewable art installation during a city-wide festival, that is being out there. 

      By way of analogy I bring up the Christian police officer, as she is called to model God in the arena of the city police department, and to partner with officers whom are Christian but of different denominational congregations. This is the heart of the "Authentic Faith Community" Movement, as (I understand it) expressed by Justin Christopher, of Campus Renewal Ministries. The core concept being that we are to form communities within our "spheres of influence", made up of sincere, spiritually- seeking individuals with whom we model the life and love of Christ. I would personally add the essential component of living out Christian life together with other Christians within that community, for that community to be able to witness the love for one another and the good deeds (which lead to praising the Father in Heaven). 

     Sure, it is great to have an arts program at the local congregational body and building where we come together for corporate worship. I am not advocating a dispersal of congregations, nor a dispersal of the artist crowd from a particular congregation. Likewise, I am not advocating against a congregational body made up of only artists - or of officers, or health-care professionals, or of (you fill in the demographic). 

      At the end of the day, I don't have a hard and fast definition of what "artists outside the church" looks like. I am even open to wagering the answer lies in the deeper question of the relationship of Christian art to non-Christian art (damnable question it is), and in the question of the nature of Art itself. I said I would wager, but that is because I am not a betting man, and I don't know a good bet when I see one - or when I don't, for that matter.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Leading as an Artist, the Walk and Art

"How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?"

      That is perhaps one of the two most repeated and well known lyrics of Pink Floyd's album, "The Wall." Who knew when they penned those lyrics or sang those verses they were offering the greatest statement on living as a Christian artist even made. Really. Who knew, indeed? Cheekiness aside, it is more than just a metaphor, say, for the marriage of craft and talent. Theis necessary relationship, as metaphor - despite it being one Pink Floyd was (quite arguably) mocking - actually speaks to the relationship between being an artist and the life of following Christ.

      In my last installment of this series, Leading as an Artist, I made the claim that the relationship between being an artist and growing as a Christian is akin to the spousal relationship, and that through a marriage of purposes and aims in living for God, essentially, we carry out the basic strategy of leadership: modeling to others what you most want to build into them. Now, as a married man, my reaction is to bellow from the deepest places of my guts (in like fashion of every protagonist from ever war movie I have seen), "KEEP YOU HEAD DOWN!!! DUCK AND COVER, DUCK AND COVER!!!!" Immediately I want to tread lightly, and have an arsenal of chocolate stashed all over the house, you know, just in case I step in "it" - again. 

     Marriage humor not withstanding, the relationship between growing as an artist and growing as a follower of Christ is truly a one-flesh form of relationship. Growing in skill and craft alone will not source our work with emotional or spiritual depth. As artists we have to love God, love the subject of our work, love our audience, love our fellow artists and our congregational body (especially non-artists). To love any of these, even the least of these, through or as we create, means we must love as God loves. How can we love if we do not know and grow in knowledge of how he first loved us; how can we cultivate the fruit of the spirit (love especially, but also joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control) if we are not "remaining in the vine" and allowing the "word to remain in us"? We can not know, as writers, the pains and triumphs, the joys and the fears of our characters without knowing those experiences ourselves; we can not, as painters, paint with emotional resonance if we are unconnected to our emotional experience; we can not, as sculptors, sculpt beauty if we are so hardened to God that we do not know His heart.

     We can not, as artists, love our audience if we do not, as little Christ followers, have the same compassion for the masses as Christ - those masses like sheep without a shepherd as Christ saw them when He looked out upon Jerusalem. Our work can not convey the evidence of things hoped for, the substance of things not seen if we are not walking in submitted communion and hearing the Word of God daily. Many times, as Christian artists, we will need to shed our outer garments of the spotlight and performance, donning towels of servanthood, and washing the feet of other artists, and sometimes not even artists. How can we mourn with those that mourn (especially through or with our work as artists) if we do not mourn or rejoice as people? If we pray not for others, nor do we bless them as Christ followers, if we cultivate no disciplines against the "cravings of the flesh", how would we expect to pray through our work, or deny selfish impulses in our execution?

      Likewise, much growth as an artist and as a Christ follower must occur through the submitted yielding of our vision and effort as artist to the Holy Spirit, laying our piece on the alter like Abraham laid Isaac, being willing to sacrifice our beloved creation (to the point of laying it's precious toddler neck on the chopping block and swinging the ax like there is no tomorrow); or, like Christ giving himself over to the cross, being willing to be vulnerable to congregational body which may well flog us and crucify us, "not knowing what they do". Sometimes even the process of developing our craft can challenge growth in us not just as artists but as Christ followers.

      By embracing this "one flesh" dynamic the artist erases, for themselves, the distinction and compartmentalization between how we are created to function in the world and how we exist within the body. Thus it is me model such a one-flesh living for the Body. Interestingly enough, this is the one area where the artist reflects back to God in the presence of men by virtue of life not art - and this a model of only one (but a very specific one) aspect of creation as it was meant to be: making their very lives to function as art. The doctor, the police officer, the simple laborer, when walking out the way they were created to be, are doing just as the artist does. Yet it is the office of artist which allows us to stand in contrast to all that suggesting there is a place for the compartmentalization life and spiritual walk. (Note: the difference for, say, the officer is that in embracing the one flesh relationship between officer and Christ follower, the officer is modeling to their peers, i.e. other officers and community.... and possibly the perps.)

Leading as an Artist, Series Overview

     They say that each writer ever only writes one work, and everything else following is just an iteration of the one work - and my essay series on "Leading as an Artist" is no exception. "They" may very well be bats-n-the-belfry crazy, and I don't know why we would listen to them (not having any idea, after all, who "they" are), but it certainly seems the entirety of issues keep re-appearing each time singular facets of leading are explored. The perennial re-emergence of issues is not an insignificant phenomenon.

      What it means to lead as an artist - how we orient ourselves to the notions of leadership and of being an artist, what we understand of being created in the image of a creator God (and bearing the creative stamp), the relationship between Christian art and the non-Christian world, the artist and the prophetic - in essence, is a set of perennial dynamics around which this phenomenon coalesces.

    Simply expressed, the closer we as artist come to know our Lord and savior, the wider and deeper our field of understanding is both for what it is we do as artists and what it means to be an artist following Christ. As we grow our understanding grows, we mature. It is no different for any person with a unique calling who is following Christ: the particular calling qualifies the manifestation of Christ in our personal part of God's grand meta-narrative, that story of His bringing glory to Himself through the redemption of Man. The term "artist" qualifies our walk in a unique way, providing context and semantic to the discussion of our walk.

      Big words, big concepts. It also means that the question of leading will likely never be answered fully on this side of Heaven, as now see as though through a mirror darkly, and then we will see face to face. What we can say is that leading is walking in increasing submission to Christ, growing in our spiritual man. In reciprocal, feed-back fashion we should expect growing closer to Christ will cause us to grow as an artist leader. I am not so sure it is that easy.

      Being an artist is a matter of both talent and discipline/ training. It is intentional, and it is process. The relationship between being an artist and growing as a Christian is akin to the spousal relationship: it is give and take between the two ways of being; it is laying down of life and submission of one to another; it is one loving the other for the others good, and the looking towards the completed work of Christ in the other. It is a one-flesh type relationship. It also may need a few good counseling sessions, and it may have a whole lot of nice intimate moments. It is productive and reproductive. What it is not is a dichotomous, bifurcated set of two distinct elements, some spiritual split-personality.

      Thus it is we see the nature of leading as an artist - through a marriage of purposes and aims in living for God - is modeling God in His Holy, Trinitarian-complete, whole perfection self, as well as casting for men a vision for living less compartmentalizing (of the areas of daily life and worship). We show men how daily life and worship are not separate, distinct "sides" to life. In this way we lead as we lead. We can neither separate any element of leading as an artist and discuss it alone as we could discuss a husband separate and abstract from his relationship to his spouse.

      On one final, ancillary note: The reason why I don't think the artist is a prophet is very specific. Yes, the artist has a prophetic-like voice, but (s)he does not have a prophetic office. The artist has an office of encourager (in the faith) maybe, and / or the office of worshipper. The artist, by virtue of his/her work, reflects back to God in the presence of men the truth of God, and the truth about God as it exists within God's creation, that creation bearing out the stamp of God. Arguably it is the original intent of God (or the divergence from from the intent) which the artist shows, and not (as prophets show) the particular will of God for His chosen people to His people in the current historical context. The prophet expresses God to men, while the artist expresses God to God in the presence of men. It is not a simply dichotomy, and the reality is nuanced.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

a Post to Readers - future, past, or present

I hate the Blogosphere, and really this is something of an ironic statement - given that, obviously, I am blogging about my distaste. My issues with the Blogosphere actually have little with the Blogosphere. Come on, let's face it, without the Blogosphere we would not have had Rathergate, nor Climategate, nor any number of great and cool sites upon which we while away our time. Heaven knows it has provided me countless sources for indulging my nostalgia-driven fiending for classic 70's and 80's tv shows, cartoons, and pictures of toys I invariably wish I had still kept in the package. No, my issues with the Blogosphere have to do with the fact that, if I am to survive in its world, then I must learn its ways. First and foremost this means consistency in posting. Next, this survival means having a target audience, something like that of, say, blogging soccer moms reading my posts trying to understand those random stay at home dads they encounter. Thirdly I have to obey the rules and norms and strategies. Lastly, I have to be hip. In short, could I say blogging makes me feel my age and growing irrelevance? Nah. See, I want to write, to be a writer, much so in the classic sense of what being a writer means. I don't necessarily want to be a blogger, as say my wife is. My wife is a great mommy blogger, or was for a while. She had fans even. She irked me for that very reason. Blogging for a lot of folks is a job. (Granted, for some it is a job because they are unemployed and blogging helps them feel like they are producing.) And since blogging is a job it is something they (you know, that amorphous and loosely identified "they") normally have something to write about, even if it is only the woes of being unemployed. I don't have anything to write about, no theme or target subject, and I highly doubt many would continue reading after reading a few posts about how I have nothing to write. I don't feel some over-arching ache to bear my soul in the din of the electronic crowds all clamouring to bear their soul and have a voice. I just want to write. And I don't want to write and share good stuff some random high schooler is going to pilfer for their Junior year poetry project. But why would I not want to be among the cloud of writers (and that is not the Cloud from which your syncing occurs, but the mass of those writing)? That is why I really hate the Blogosphere: because I love it, I love being in the presence of writers writing while I write. So, if I have to tell some story just to keep the ole blog roll growing, or to maintain a consistent readership, why not? At the end of the day, it is all like what my blog description says about this effort: it is an effort to hone craft, to have an intellectual living room. Maybe, just maybe, I'll "have some guests over" to spur the writing, and some good riffing will go on here. I'll be satisfied just to keep this thing up and running.