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WHAT ARE MY SPIRITUAL GIFTS
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Seeding Art in Holy Ground
(Finding path and Purpose in your Giftedness)

By Milt Wear
 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

PREFACE
CHAPTER ONE
CHAPTER TWO
CHAPTER THREE
CHAPTER FOUR
CHAPTER FIVE
CHAPTER SIX
CHAPTER SEVEN
CHAPTER EIGHT
CHAPTER NINE
CHAPTER TEN
CHAPTER ELEVEN

 

PREFACE

            There can be little written about Christian calling that would not be founded in the Word of God. As Christian artists, we can say that this would be particularly true.  As God is the creator, we are privileged to create as well - but certainly not as originators, but as witnesses of all things that were, are or may be hoped for by Him. In that sense we are messengers with distinct and defined responsibilities and guideline. 

            In Deu. 14:22, one of these is specified. "Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth every year. 

            There are those of us who believe that, in a large measure, we are shaped with certain given capabilities; that we have in us "seeds" that predispose us; even before conception. To be harvested as a product inherent in our giftedness. It is also true that in our development we are impacted by the many investments (seeds) that others have planted in us that connect to our basic nature and design. 

            We have, at the same time, a chosen path - chosen by God and a choice as to whether we follow it in faith. We are promised in Psa. 16: 11, "Thou wilt show me the path of life; in the presence is fullness of joy - at the right hand (there are) pleasures everywhere". The rewards are clear. 

            Purpose is what we search for most in our lifetimes. We may find it and lose it several times. Some seeds seem to be annuals - fruitful for only a season. Some are perennial because they have been recognized and watered - a lasting beauty in His garden. Eph. 1:11 shares, "In whom also we have obtained in inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the council of his own will". 

            This book suggests that not only our own will is often a barrier to finding reason and purpose, but also a lack of belief that purpose has already been established in us. We, in the arts, may choose life with a gift already fashioned for completion and delivery to those around us, or one where we let it remain undeveloped and undelivered. We may further believe that our gift may not even be our lives work, but it may well be the thing that makes our LIFE work. 

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

            On a very early Wednesday morning during a period of "artistic wakefulness", as I now call it instead of old-age sleeplessness, I found myself pulling a worn green metal box from the closet shelf to lay its' contents out on the table.

            It was probably eight years since I had done that. Only then because someone had passed away, or when there were papers that were needed. In the past I had many times shuffled through them in some kind of temporary reflective mood. In this bundle were papers that my mother had kept. Among the collection were my report cards from day one - many of them spoke to my early struggles with math and some proficiency in the arts. Perhaps this was an early revelation of my right brain/left brain dichotomy resolved only when I was saved by entering law school, finally, where you did not need to add and subtract - just read and argue meanings.

            On that morning when I awoke, I set upon a strangely uncommon mission - to find an early tiger drawing of mine drawn in second grade and barely remembered. After sifting through all of this stuff, taking detours recognizing long-forgotten achievements; I recall a supportive letter from my dad that he wrote directed "to whom it may concern" about my mothers' history of working hard together with him in real estate. The letter touched me because it was dated just before his surrender to cancer. He knew she would find it. Why didn't he just tell her?  Who else would see it except me?  Maybe that's the point.  Anyway, there was no tiger to be found.

            I would not be disturbed except it was, in a profound way, a retrospective landmark - perhaps even prophetic. It was a simple crayon drawing of an eight year old. which may have lived on the refrigerator for a time before it was not to carefully folded and stuck into the box. As far as I know, I had no particular fixation on wild animals except maybe a scary dream or two, The strange thing, however, was that it was the only drawing of mine that my mother ever kept in the box,  and I had done a great many over the years as art was taught in all of the grades.

            This may not be too interesting in and of itself, but I am gripped by the coincidence that on that very Wednesday morning a half finished drawing of a tiger (my second ever) , was emerging from inked scratchboard, waiting for completion in its' soon-to-be jungle setting. The image had just been given to me by a professional nature photographer/friend who was visiting from Australia.

            To resolve the situation, my speculation as to where the piece would find its' way was resolved later in the easy choice that it would be sent to the photographer, Cynthia, in Bendigo, Australia with the note, "Beware a tiger is on its' way!".  Before I had sealed the envelope, out of my memory tank (now running about half full), came a couple stanzas of the poem "The Tiger" by William Blake;

 

"TIGER, tiger burning bright,

In the forests of the night.

What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

 

When the stars threw down their spears,

And water'd heaven with their tears,

Did He smile His work to see?"

Did He who made the lamb make thee?"

 

            My depiction of a lonely tiger making way through moon-lit forests was so aptly covered by those verses. How vivid was the revelation of Blake's faith in those last two sentences.

            I had just completed a large portfolio of exotic bird images that Cynthia and Rob had given me. I titled them, "They Neither Reap, Nor Sow" as in the biblical message of Jesus when He spoke of how much more the Father cares for us.

            What do we do with "coincidences" like this? Because my lifetime experience in dealing with the many events that I could not explain, it settled part of it - in life some experiences do come full circle - the beginning and the end are one. We can see a level of finality or we can see it fostering something new - a new circle.

            Gods' intentions for us are often delivered so subtly that we may look away and we miss them. The little boy artist in me has searched for over sixty years for some kind of mature expression. It was not the drawing then nor is it today. It is in the realization that God plants a seed within us. He visualizes maturity and completion and announces it in simple circumstances, and he stores it in His green metal box for us to open when we grow up-----in Him.

            No discussion of art can begin without some foundational understanding of why art exists. Most everyone can agree that it is not born of itself. It is real, and a product and voice of His creation, destined for expression. It can be, at best, a revelation of His truth - at worst, its' enemy.

            Thomas Merton says in," No man is an Island", that "art is not an end in itself. Art introduces the soul into a much higher spiritual order, which expresses and sometimes explains. Music and art and poetry attune the soul to God, because they induce a kind of contact with the Creator and Ruler of the universe. An art that does not produce something of this is not worth of its name".

            This consistent reference to "soul" by past and contemporary thinkers may seem to elevate our work to a plain well beyond our early imaginations. While I may never have pictured that my childhood vision of a tiger would be tied to some universal force, I can imagine that there is some logical imperative that we return to who we are; children of God - open and receptive to the whole idea that seeds have been planted - that all things have a plan and purpose; a concept that pure intellect has very little to do with, but in which our soul is very comfortable.

            Thomas Moore, author of "Care of the Soul" expresses it another way; "In a world where soul is neglected, beauty is placed last on its list of priorities. In the intellect-oriented curricula of our schools, for instance, science and math are considered more important than the making of pretty things. It should be about the preservation and containment of the soul. It is about arresting life and making it available for contemplation. Art captures the eternal and the every day, and it is the eternal that feeds the soul.". The clear implication is that the arts are dispensable - we cannot live without technology.

            Further, "For the soul, beauty is not defined as pleasantness of form but rather as the quality in things that invites absorption and contemplation - and lures the heart into profound imagination".

            In defining the role and purpose of art, Moore continues, "When fine arts are elevated and set apart from life, a dangerous gulf develops between fine arts and everyday arts. The fine arts are elevated and set apart from life, becoming to precious and therefore irrelevant. Having banished art to the museum, we fail to give it a place in ordinary life. The most effective form of repression is to give a thing excessive honor".

            Whether or not our art is ever to be classified as "fine" by any criteria, it can be "soul-full", representing the best that we have in us. We can leave it to the viewer to make whatever distinctions that can be made and credit it as a true representation of feelings within us; perhaps within them as well. If it clearly connects - it is "fine" in a very practical and meaningful sense. 

   

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

            By now you must be curious as to whether I will continue talking in circles, extolling the virtues of refrigerator art, the value of looking into our  whatever  colored  little keepsake box, or wrapping things together in one soulful package. Well, fortunately, no.

            So many books have been written about "finding ones' destiny" as if it were missing. I submit that it cannot be lost - perhaps just misplaced. There is within us purpose that will be revealed only by and through our life as a Christian. And, this was revealed to me, as a Christian who happened to fully discover that truth late in life ,  and in my life in the arts as well.

            My progression was not singular or separated, but a pre-ordained marriage of the two, religion and art, with a very long courtship.

            During my formative years my progression went from crayons to watercolors: from home-made valentines to full scale poetry - from journals to stories and books. As a gifted person, your experience must be similar. All of us develop pretty much dependant upon the support we are given by friends and family, and the aspirations of our parents.

            Mrs. Woody, my very supportive and proficient piano teacher was influential in my taking up the piano (or perhaps it took me up). I learned early that man cannot live on support alone - he must have clever fingers. Since few of them co-operated, I found that my piano days were pretty much over the day of my first piano recital. The applause was quite subdued and a few listeners remembered pressing appointments.

            It later became apparent that three of those fingers were clever enough to become a trumpet player, and the other hand supportive enough to hold it still. Mr. Bowser, the band teacher challenged me to play in the "third chair". Perhaps you also might remember that "chair" was very important and that it was possible to also challenge someone "for chair" and move him down.  It is a little like blocking some ones' shot in basketball and you score - but who keeps score besides your parents?  Mr. Bowser was a score- keeper particularly when he was also your private teacher. He was mine.

            Since it was an all- boy school with both a concert and marching band; what options did one have with no girls to chase? I managed, playing for social events outside school during the latter part of world war two, where there were ladies -a -plenty, ready to dance and "inter-relate" .

            Senior year I moved to Denver from Kentucky where I faced the co-ed world with some trepidation and disappointment. The really cool ones were taken early on - not  that I was really ready for "seasoned entanglements".

            Now, the next year we are talking entanglement in college. I was a seventeen year old in a sea of twenty - something returning veterans and I was" forced" to skip a couple of chapters in my experience. On campus the response to "Where's your beanie, frosh? " was, "You know what you can do with your beanie!" The attitude was - let's get on with it we have a new life to live in the market place. Let's make some bucks, get married and get on with it.

            The only art that I was introduced to was that of beer drinking and becoming a gymnast with my much older buddies - not in that sequence of course. Later, as scheduled, I went to law school. 

            I have the absolutely enviable distinction of having gone some five years in pre-law and law school without a math class. While I had found God early in my Kentucky days ( He was not hiding), I  learned of His infinite grace and mercy. Although He is the consummate mathematician in the creating of all things, He also has abundant pity for those who can not add and subtract, much less tell you what "pie" is. My GPA, now sans- math, soared to new levels in a world totally devoid of science. This was my ultimate confirmation of the indisputable theory of gracefully- intelligent design.

            I'm sure that I can speak for many of us who were not art school trained, and  who chose a totally unrelated occupation. I mentioned previously that most of us are influenced greatly by others who help us make choices - as in paying for a career. Historically, theirs is a strictly utilitarian perspective focused upon making money; hopefully enjoying work along the way with a hobby or two for distraction, but not to get in the way!

            Beyond this lies a long life where there may often be radical changes in our work experience that may disregard our formalized training entirely.

            During all of this time our "gifts" remain the same. They are what they are, although it may take years to recognize and develop them fully. As long as we neglect them, they do not surface? But they do. God will not allow that disregard.

            Mine surfaced often during my lifetime. Choices were made for me with respect to law school. This was my fathers' dream and I respected it.  Frequently we secure a career focused education and end up responding to circumstances that re-direct us. Certainly, a law background can be utilized in many ways. I was blessed to have it and I never looked back.

            All though the years as father of four, as I traveled extensively by car and airplane in my various jobs in marketing and management - art showed up in the form of writing, I had the down-time and the inclination. Before the day of the computer and the blackberry, paper and pencil were the sole and laborious choice.

            The first significant surfacing of my desire to paint came after our move from Cincinnati  to Excelsior, Minnesota. We settled there for three amazing years as co-tenants (seven families) on a 300 acre farm in Lake Minnewashita. I found it impossible to resist doing paintings in that beautiful setting - a mile long lake, huge oak and fir trees and picturesque sunsets.  The only irritant being "the state bird", the sparrow-sized mosquito, that was surely to arrive to sample us at dusk each summer evening as we picnicked and painted at lake side. It was a small bloody price to pay.

            Our spirits were nurtured by the frequent and eloquent recitations of Shakespeare by the long retired and respected trial lawyer/ owner of this veritable spa, Mr. Johnson. He bought the acreage as a tax write-off and refurbished the buildings and built new ones to house the seven families - then he supplied a bevy of farm and decorative animals (peacocks)- Each having the assigned responsibility of delighting the many children -residents.

            We have two girls and two boys and they were engrossed in the "arts" of horse and pony-manship, waterskiing, manure spreader riding with Mike the handyman, skinny-dipping in the dark, and fishing for croppies with their fannies. All of this added to the growing of their souls if not their endurance.

            We all look upon pictures and movies of these formative years "on the farm" as an irreplaceable experience - and for our children, the wholesome memory of the beauty and substance of God's creations; from ponies to peacocks to pussy-willows, finds its' way into their reflections to this very day. Their lives now speak of their love for all creatures; horses, goats, barn animals, dogs and cats still to be found in some of their hobby farms today. A sign posted in the curtained window of daughter Christa's chicken house warns "No Foul Language" and is strictly enforced - not only because they happen to be "designer chickens" that have no purpose but than to lay multicolored eggs and prance around like poodles - but that they are all named and very, very sensitive as well.

            This same "seed" has proved to be generational in some of our five grandchildren. We always have to be careful where we step when we visit and be always ready to animal-sit when the travel.

            For us as parents, while we would mirror some of this as well, we primarily give thanks for God's providence in placing us at the right place at the right time to establish so many values that we may have otherwise struggled to teach them,  but in that place came so easily and naturally in those three short years.

            After that time of fun and formation in the land of ski-do's and skiing, veggies and vermouth, we looked toward Denver, our first home and family ties. Audrey loaded the Porsche with the kids, determined to sell there to someone who realized it was not a Japanese car (as was asked by one of the Minnesota natives when I offered it for sale). Denver was my cars native land and it sold instantly. I arrived  later and was to look for a job but I found none in that mecca for new arrivals in that growing community.

            Out of this visit, however, came an offer in marketing from the Ethan Allen Corporation to go to Portland, Oregon. We had always secretly looked to returning to the west during our years of absence . We sold most everything, loaded up the small trailer and Buick wagon - Audrey in the V.W. with some of the kids. We took to the Oregon Trail feeling that this would be the end of our moving. We arrived, not without events such as loosing Audrey and two kids outside of Portland with no plan or destination where we would reconnect. I was way relieved when the officer pulled me over; "Looking for Audrey?" he  smiled, looking down at me in my foolish dismay. Well, duh !

            Oregon has been our home, through many moves (again), for nearly fifty years: Audrey always doing full time teen - through adult management of our four and myself.  I managed another career or three in the meantime since then.

            You might well ask at this point, What happened to this whole art thing that we were supposed to be talking about? I began to wonder as well, clear into retirement at age of 62 when art - in - me arose, it blossomed into an immediate, full time preoccupation. My decision was to become a professional watercolor painter. Not just "good", but "professional ", whatever that means. I think perhaps it is when you quit making so much stuff for your family and you by hook or crook try to sell it and do......... yes, for money!

            The process is simple; First you make a lot of bad art and store it away under your bed so that it cannot be seen. Then, bit by bit, after you create new work that is not so bad, you pull out the old and critique it, throw most of it away and fix some of it - all to your total amazement as to having learned something by simply making a ton of bad art in such a short time period.

            The break through was at the point I could show my work in open shows to the public. Some were sponsored by art groups and cooperatives.  Up to this point my progress was enhanced by some four years of workshops and classes, some at community college, others by private and senior education facilities.

            One landmark evening was at a critique session at an artists' society critique, where a new downtown gallery owner was present, and she asked me to bring some of my work by the gallery. I became a regular there for three years until the gallery closed shop.... not because of financial reasons but simply because they could not find the secret to generating the traffic and sustainable sales in the competitive and often fickle market of Portland. - even though they had hosted  great painters who proved to be successful in other venues at other times. Go figure. I have no answer other than the fact that they were "outsiders" in the local art community, and did not have critical endorsement; Certainly not because I was there? 

            It is at this point where the real message of the book really starts, and you might say, "Well, its' about time!"

            Most all of us owe our growth in a particular discipline to any number of people. And, as I did, they commit themselves to workshops and other forms of instruction and mentoring in an effort to "find themselves" in the craft. Perhaps we can even single out a time when someone described the path, the way, for us.

            My experience was during studies with Linda, and amazing artist and teacher, with whom I had studied for three successive workshops. At the end of the last one, prior to her moving to Arizona, she gave me this advice; "If you really feel that you have put your time in reading the books, have studied with various people, and have made a great deal of art long enough that you have identified your strengths - then devote all of your energy working solely within them . Do not try to be looser, more structured - more anything that you are not. Concentrate on the daily devotion of what you are trying to say. You probably already have the how."

            What a liberating thought!  Especially, the turning away from the "means" and the idea that another course of instruction, (and another) would deliver the "magic bullet", when the magic is always in the message. Was I to be motivated by what sells, or do it just for me and let the cards fall?

            The natural choice for those of us as Christians is to pray about it. I had to wipe the slate clean and choose a new course after the gallery closed. Why am I doing this at all? Somehow in the course of this inquiry my reading of scripture had increased  -  I'm sure  based upon the basis of "What God has to say about it?" In a large sense I have already found the deep purpose that I was looking for in painting. The search then became one of finding meaning for my life.

            I had previously been caught up in the idea of bringing my experiences in travel with an extensive "European Series" of  landscape and landmark paintings. Certainly, my opportunity to view art at museums and galleries in my several visits to foreign countries provided me with exposure to explicitly spiritual work.

            That was to be my focus and by far my greatest challenge, and the path that Linda mentioned became abundantly clear. I was to become a witness for His power and grace through my work.

            If the net result of my deliberation and conversations with God was that I was to begin communicating the word and establish a foundation for witness - perhaps even a ministry, my choice was clear. I was to start to do art with that perspective; That it should  be directed toward telling His story through the life of  Jesus, His parables and miracles. I found this to be called " biblical narrative" and typical of that art found in such abundance in the treasured early Christian works in all of the classical galleries that I had visited during my trips here and abroad.

            So much of my previous works were fairly tight architectural subjects and landscapes. My whole idea of gesture and figurative representations, so vital to the story telling, were a couple of multicolored dots in the distance in a beach scene, or an occasional poorly done close-up of few shoppers or musicians in a town square.

            My question was "Who me? ( and, I still say that). The Spirit says; "Yes, You and me."

            I began studies, doing random sketches in life drawing classes learning form, posture and gesture, and in direct representations of standard biblical works. There was a gallery or two where the convictions of the gallery owner superseded the almost required criteria for "saleable modernism". We all knew that there would be little opportunity for sales, but space was made available and a message of sorts was delivered, but the exposure mostly spoke to the conviction of the owners and their desire to honor God , with or without my work.

            As I made art and framed piece after piece, I faced the dilemma of what to do with them. If felt that it was clearly God's intention for me, so I just continued making biblical art as if there were something to be done with it.

            Perhaps it is as clear to you as it has become to me. God does not involve us with busy work, just waiting for the bus to come and take us somewhere. If it is His idea, and I am sure that it was in my case, we can rely upon that probable three-in- the-morning visitation, when He presents the schedule, the stops, and the destination. We also may be sure there is a price to pay (surrender) and a reward; that our lives will be blessed commensurate with our effort, and that the Spirit would unquestionably mentor and encourage us through the whole process.

            This leaves us to determine where the bus is headed, who is on- board , what should we pack , and what is the ultimate destination?  Some say, "Let's head for the "church" - Some say "What if it is closed?' Some say, "Did I bring the right stuff?  Perhaps that is where we should begin.

            Dr. Westly Hurd, of the Guttenberg/McKinsey study center in Salem, Oregon recently addressed a large group of artists in Portland, where I attended. His message recognized, as an artist himself, the struggle facing Christian artists in the post-modernism world. His concern has been that the same utilitarian mindset, that has been a barrier to the growth of spiritual art in the marketplace that has reflected deeply into the choices of subjects undertaken; that our struggle to walk that tight rope of not being "overly religious" may remove the option of the viewer to make his own choices.             Reasonable?

            Hurds' printed articles reflect the idea that basically the Christian may have little choice in what he presents. He must deal with the fact that, in his words," the soul of every human creature has a "telos", an end or purpose. The meaning of  telos is illustrated by the relationship between an acorn and an oak tree - all the oak tree will ever be is contained in the tiny acorn. Similarly, the soil God gives each person at birth has the telos to become what God has intended him to become"

            We can balance this with the same God-given freedom of choice, but always with the potential of frustrating our ability to grow in Him in ways not always available to the unbeliever.

            Among his suggestions -"Parables are powerful, artfully crafted stories that break down normal expected direct perception. Signs and miracles speak plainly and directly. Each of these reflects the creativity of Jesus to approach our understanding in so many ways. So should our efforts be directed with broad challenge and interpretation."

            As to what the artist should pack and bring with him; Hurd says, "The Christian artists calling, while different from his secular counterpart, differs not at all from his fellow believers. The Christian artist must confront his spiritual condition; is his heart open to the truth that God brings, and does his art making reflect this?" Everything depends upon our understanding of where truth comes from and the belief that others will recognize it when they see it. One needs only to talk with them or look upon their faces to know. It is in that treasured communication that we truly know of our success in allowing symbolism to make the point.

            It is not as if our message needs to be upliftingly affirmative, it is enough that it makes us identify and take the next step to conclusion within our own lives experience. We, Christian or not, will make our own judgments within our values and perceptions of what truth is.

            Finally, he adds, " We must use twentieth century styles, but not in a way to b dominated by certain world views out of which they have risen, We can recognize this perspective in treatment of moral issues of our time. And, it cannot be assumed that a Christian painter becomes more Christian as he becomes more and more like Rembrandt."  

            To this I would suggest, "Well it couldn't hurt!" 

            He ends the subject by saying, "Some artists are compelled to use religious themes " (as I am). "Some will never use them." And importantly," We cannot judge an artist by one work, but it is the whole body of work that is to be considered." And, we all say thanks be to God.

            Thankfully, we are all merging into and out of one perception or idea or another during our lifetimes as we seek and obtain inspiration from the Spirit. Above all if we are to be judged, and we will be, we answer to a God who understands our directions and miss-directions. We know ultimately that He is interested in how we live, our body of works, not just how we communicate through our creative experimentations at any one point in time.

            Before I go into what I believe to be God's plan for my future in art or ministry, I would like to summarize some of the thinking as to what constitutes "good "art by Christians. The consensus, again, is that it has a discernable message. How discernable is up to us - from explicit to suggestive. We tend to categorize works as speaking color, beauty, relevance or spirituality - and beyond, craftsmanship or level of professionalism. This would include our choices in matting and framing.

            If we subscribe to the idea that "art is just art", or "art for arts sake", the simplistic view of some, we come away short of His intention by reducing it to a simple physical activity to be assessed only upon technical excellence.

            Francis Schaeffer, author/theologian says, "It (art) must be honest to the artists world view" rather than playing to the audience or critics for pay or favor."  Further, " It must be judged on its' content though we may not agree, and it must come under the word of God." This is where many of us separate within the interpretation of what is really means. Does it mean that it must be religious? I think not. It is hard to imagine anything that is not "of God" or not reflect His view of mankind. He does not say that this approach will insure sales or acceptance by everyone. The fact is,  it may be a barrier. That certainly does not say that this will always be the case. And, if we choose to be "enigmatic" as often used descriptively by the critics, that's one way do be it.

            In a different regard, Shaeffer cites that many artists have portrayed the fractured, even perverse nature of the world. Perhaps because they have lived there for a time as it was of T. S. Elliott in his poem, " The Wasteland", Almost every poet has explored the darkness-to- light experience that speaks of despair, hope and recovery. Picasso, in his brilliant moves on a single painting goes from realism to abstraction on the same painting.

 

  
 

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

            If we were to make a choice as to where we might begin in our "path" toward responding to God's admonition "Neglect not the Gift" and his mandate that we offer it back in service, where should we begin?

            It is logical to start with what you are doing right now. If your response is " I don't consider my work to be particularly spiritual", then ask Christian friends as to what they see in it; what message does it deliver? It is entirely possible that it is far more communicative than you ever realized. What was the inspiration, Was it communicated?

            Simply stated, in my view; do others hear God's voice in what you have done? If the answer is yes, to any degree, you may be half way there - halfway only because there must now be a vehicle, an agency that I will talk about later, for that communication.

            If the answer is no, "not clearly", as it was in my case, we need to examine the options for that expression. As I mentioned, my choice was at that time, biblical narrative; an explicit approach.

            We find that many in those efforts to register that "voice", one would paint the painting - the find the appropriate verse with a word search on, for instance, "The Blue Letter Bible." It is virtually impossible not to find a marriage for your painting. We find examples of that where generic work on the internet is listed and an attempt is made to cross over to the religious genre - in a way to play both sides of the street. I certainly would not condemn this since a message is a message, but we can look at the inspiration and where it may have come from and value it visually.

            There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that something more wonderful may happen if the word, the verse, however paraphrased, comes first. "You will receive the power when the Holy Spirit comes (to) you." When He does, you will know the impact of that visitation, as will the viewer.

            What are the resources for consideration in our subject selection? Art history tells us that many of the" Masters" began projects that other painters participated in, or perhaps completed. There was frequent copying of style that suggests the reason for the great similarity in content and look from period to period. Examine the strong comparison between the various Italian, Spanish, German, and Dutch artists over a very long period. Our own "Hudson River " painters started the "creational" genre for many to follow right down to Kincaid in this day.

            What has interested me as "story" painter is a large group who painted for their contemporary tastes and patron dictates; who enjoyed great commercial success while their obviously "Spiritual" work languished in obscurity: Tieoplo, Dore, and Tissot  are prime examples whom I chose to study. These men died with hundreds of Christian drawings and sketches that never saw the light of day; some to be found in the Museum of Christian Art, in New York.- others, in prominent university museums. Most of the works were for paintings never undertaken. Some were simply practice studies.

            Was this simply a reflection of religious intent or maturity at the end of their lives? Were these works just considered to be not marketable?  What would keep us from bringing these images to life by adapting them to contemporary expression? To serve God, in witness, as it may well have been their original intent.

            May these not be notes to be played, however qualified by public and critical perception?  It is important that the "music" go on - particularly in counterpoint to today's often confused and discordant compositions. Consider this in your choice of "instrument".

            It may well be that, for most of us, we do not totally rely upon our own ability to choose, but that we consult the Holy Spirit that lives within us, and for just that purpose .

            There is ample support for the idea that we begin with the Bible as a primary source for inspiration. William Purcell, in the forward to his book "Behold my Glory", quotes John 17:24 where it is prayed," Father, I will that they may also, who hast given me, to be where I am, and they may behold my Glory" - and he follows: "Jesus asks His disciples may truly see, that is to look upon with adoration the glory that is His. All truly religious art in any age is a help to that end.  Indeed there is a value in describing the truth of it all." He ends, "Bible pictures are not just illustrations, they explain to us the texts of the bible, the great mysteries of life and passion of our Lord." 

            Whether or not you chose to follow this route or one less explicit is a choice, but frequent visits to the word is an important road to inspiration, however stated. 

            If you recognize that there is a ministry, a calling, in your life that is fully as important as your development as a productive artist, then you have taken an important step in deciding how and where you will begin. Then, finding that unity of purpose, you can then engage the community in or out of the church.

            If your own church or another of choice is your initial approach, there are many ways to determine their level of interest in the arts. If we scan the internet for church web sites we find an amazing number of ministries listed - from expressly spiritual growth, to recovery of all types, to hobby and common interest and social groups. It would not surprise me to find one dedicated to the understanding and development of left handed people (and to be politically correct, right handed)- most all of them to their great credit in their attempt to "play the notes" - some fortissimo - some a little on the pianissimo side, such as a "dirt bike riding" ministry.  Few, however, show efforts to recognize and utilize the whole array of the gifted in their congregation; particularly the "anointed" ones that I believe all artists to be, and who are truly capable of carrying God's messages in this absolutely visual world.

            This brings me to my choice, having tested the potentials for Christian art in the marketplace. As I have mentioned, my experience with galleries led me to believe that I needed to check out "the church" as a more likely prospect for these works.

            I was not interested in "going it alone" since it appeared to be a bit self serving on the face of it, and it seemed that the impact would be so much greater of we had a broad pallet to offer - different styles, media, and subject matter; not to mention better art than mine.

            I called us the "Witness Group". Our focus was "Testimony through Art". There was no plan for how many, who they might be, and just where we would start. After brief conversations with artist friends, I began to get calls and referrals. One begets another, and another. There was amazing receptivity from Christians who had that unfulfilled desire to serve God through their art. They just needed to have a vehicle, and I was it at that moment.

            Ultimately, we leveled out at about twelve people with occasional "guest" artists who provided pieces as they made them. The regulars already had a body of work with highly spiritual references. They are a picture of diversity - culturally, religiously and in terms of the type and means of expression - each with uniquely personal reasons for joining. That was largely the informal and perfunctory criteria for selection, aside from the fact that they had already been chosen by God, and I had little to do with it - and, I mean that.

            Some of them had busy careers as teachers and professionals-in-art. Some had time to assist in the transport and hanging - however, I did most of it. We did not have many scheduled meetings, but there was active dialog via E-mails and phone to take care of the logistics. Much of the conversation centered upon solicitation of church opportunities and the issue of managing the turnover of art. The fact that we toured allowed us to use some art again and again; much differently than being in just one place.

            Much of the focus by participating churches was related to the church calendar, holidays, and topics being delivered from the pulpit. We found ourselves showing in more than one venue at a time, and for short periods.

            Since it was frequently the churches' choice not to hang on their walls, it became necessary to secure free standing grid-type racks. I purchased some myself from a closing  gallery, some from Craig's list , and  we received a quantity donated to us by Northwest Medical Teams that they had inherited in a move.. We had done a silent auction benefit for them in support of their Katrina missions that brought us together.

            I purchased an old, beat up Astro - Van and customized it with bins and devices for safety in transporting high value paintings. I should mention that it was impossible to insure this rotating traveling portfolio and churches were reluctant to commit to expensive insurance riders on their policies. God said, "Don't worry" so we didn't, without incident.

            My bright taxi cab yellow van, was singular in every parking lot, ($1000 vans only come in yellow) . At times it may have contained 50 paintings at an overall value of more than $35,000.

            Before I get caught up further in the means and the method, I will tell you about a few of the group, but first our prayer that governed everyone's participation;

 

A Christian Painters Prayer

 

Lord, we know that each of us has been given a gift

Sometimes a latent spark

Perhaps even a consuming fire.

We are challenged by you to recognize and develop it

With or without the support around us

 

We praise you for giving us the understanding

Of what you would have us do;

Offer it back in loving testimony

To your grace and power.

 

We know that it is your presence we must feel

In every brush stroke

It is your hand that guides and ours that follows

 

Finally Lord, we accept the responsibility

Of witnessing to those who would praise us

For your works

 

Let me introduce my brothers and sisters in faith and ministry;

 

            Lee Baughman is a former college art teacher who began his journey as a graphic, custom car "striper". He now lends that steady hand to beautiful acrylic landscapes.  He established "Art Adventures" with many international traveling workshops for more advanced artists with the traveling bug. And, he is a singing, guitar playing, Baptist minister in a small church in Portland.

            Susan Cowan is Lees' partner in "Art Adventures" and teaches in and outside of a Vancouver College. Her Catholic background reflects in her earlier Iconic style and she has since explored in her teaching an amazing mix of vividly colored and technically excellent styles, from representational to abstractions.

            Berle Bledsoe, the only elder besides me in the group, is a member of a large Evangelical church that is dedicated to featuring dance and drama in huge productions. His acrylic and colored pencil work is inspired by creation in the form of animals and sensitive portraits. He has by far the larger inventory of available framed works of anyone. I never lacked work for shows when he was around.

            Mary Braund, is a self taught artist-now teacher of young and older students in her own studio having taught drama in her native California. She lends her painters eye now to photography with clever abstractions that she creates on her computer. She is my partner when we hit "the streets" with a booth at Saturday markets.

            Shonne  Farrell, is a transplant from New England where she was a leader of art groups, and is past president of our large local co-operative, "Village Gallery". Her work in mild abstraction focuses on the human form. She is a bridge to the Catholic community.

            Jason Cooper, who has taught art in Sunday schools, is our youngest evangelist. His several trips to Africa on missions have brought out the poet in him. His studies of African children and their culture have generated interest by so many viewers. His poetry often accompanies his work.

            Rick Dalby,  is the owner of an advertising agency and has helped me greatly during  our start- up with his production capabilities and the gift of a meeting place for us. His work, much of it plen-air, deals with scapes and figurative representations.

            Marty Jones, has been a member of the Christian art scene for many years. He is a working illustrator and does amazing portraits in pencil. Many focused on American- Indian and minority cultures.

            David Hooten, is a photographer and a brilliant producer of gicle' prints. He has a gallery  for display of his clients' work - much of it is shown on his website; "Pixelpoint Artistry".  He has assisted many Christians  in their marketing efforts, and teaches the process to others in workshops.

            Annelli Anderson, was the first witness in our group. She is someone that we all seek to model ourselves after as a follower. Her witness involves her whole being as a Christian book illustrator, web designer and arts ministry leader in her home and church. She is, uniquely, a visual "sermon interpreter". This is my term for it.

            What this means is that, having been given the title of the sermon and a brief summary of its' content, she brings the sermon visually to life and conclusion during that period "on stage". Obviously her work is bold, animated and to the point. Some of us would wonder if we could set up, clean our brushes, give a thought or two to the process before the sermon is over. Some of her work done in this fashion equals that which comes out of her studio. In some ways superior because she has to fully engage the Spirit to accomplish it. She visits other churches and coaches others in this effort.

            Kara Pilcher, is past president of our Watercolor Society. Her witness has taken her beyond painting into dance. As a long term interpretive dancer and member of

"The Praise Dance Group". She along with five others and a narrator,  travels to churches in the Northwest and they dance biblical narratives. As the senior member she admits although she might occasionally miss a step or two, it provides fulfillment equal to that of painting. However they cannot be separated from on another since much of her works involve the grace and beauty of dance.

            Valerie Sjohin, a close friend of Kara, has followed the technique of painting over beautiful calligraphic verse which arose out of her masters thesis. Her work in still life and huge atmospheric panels painted on the floor of her studio (due to a shoulder injury) is breathtaking.

             I had been visiting our "black" cultural neighborhoods - their shops and few galleries in order to meet the challenge of being "ethnicly" represented. We had no one of color. I felt sheepish because of the overt, concerted effort I was making to enlist; "Anyone know an African-American Christian artist?"

            One day I talked to a lady on the phone and she said she had read about us in the newspaper, "Christian News Northwest" and she said she would like to talk about joining. I often chatted with prospects at a large, centrally located church, New Hope,  who became our first full time gallery/home. The time came, and as I was looking for an arrival in a near empty parking lot, it happened; a beautiful black painter-poet emerged painting in hand. She was an emerging self taught painter who had already published her wonderful poetry - shades of Maya Angelou! 

            She is the Sunshine in the lives of all of her literally hundreds of friends-even those on the street corners or in elevators. God chooses his messengers and places them so often at the right place, and the right time. This was surely one of them. 

            While she was an executive at United Way we, jointly, had provided the opportunity for some seventy emerging to professional artists to show over 500 works. Many were of different cultures and disciplines. 

            I have mentioned New Hope above as our first church. They had, for some time, had an arts ministry to basically give all, beginners on up, an opportunity to learn and express themselves in a workshop environment. It was led by a "recovery pastor", Bev , who although she was retired , worked uncompensated nearly full time in helping others to face grief and separation - and to direct the visual arts ministry. Pastor Bev, and Beth, a professional and art teacher, shared the leadership. It was totally founded upon biblical foundations; In the beginning was the word, and it still is with many member artists to this day.

            I had heard about their focus on art and visited. I talked with them about our vision for our ministry as the Witness Group and they suggested that I contact Pastor David, the church administrator and music director. We met and went over my proposal; essentially that we open a full time gallery in their upper foyer - they would equip it with the necessary hanging hardware and endorsement. We would remain for six months and show on a continually rotating basis to keep things "fresh". At the end we would say goodby and hit the road -as was our original intent. They would then continue in-house with their own people. He said yes immediately and without reservations.     Without that opportunity our growth as a ministry would have been extremely difficult. I have since attended their retreats and visit their work sessions from time to time. What warriors !

            One would think that we Witnesses would have been able to accomplish some inroads among our own churches- that of establishing shows and in- house ministries. Sadly, not a one. Yet we found a number elsewhere. I am not sure what to make of this except that we may, none of us, could be a prophet in our own town, and there is some authority for that.

            A case on point: Ron Mehl was my pastor for some twenty years. Some of you may know him through his weekly broadcast ministry and his fourteen books. His church, Beaverton Foursquare, grew from fourteen people ( it is known that at least a hundred claim to be among the first 20 ). We have all heard that story. There is now over six thousand. My daughter, Christa, who introduced us (also claimed to be one of the first fifty) to the church back in 1980 when we also were one of the first whatever - yeah, right!

            His death in 2003 of long diagnosed leukemia has not stilled his voice; His "Heart of the Word " program may still be heard on radio today.

            That same year, on completion of a new addition that nearly doubled the size of the church sanctuary building, an invitation was sent out to artists in the church "come show your work". It was basically not juried and over one hundred pieces showed up and were hung from pillar to post. I supervised. It lasted two days and everyone went back to business as usual.

            In 2007 another  informal effort was made to identify and solicit the interest of visual and other artists in the congregation and some 75 artists showed up to say "Yes, already!" It was again dropped.

            I mention this with a tone of some bitterness since I felt instrumental in both efforts. But I mention this circumstance only since it is likely that you have or will experience the same thing. We concluded: "Our time is not His time, our way is not His". In this case God has used this church in mighty ways under the helm of Ron and now Randy Remington, Ron's choice as successor. Young people have poured into this church, Sunday school has exploded to some 2000 kids. They are certainly doing something right. 

            God will surely send us where He wants us on His mission. It is important that none of  us get hung up on the idea "if not in my church where else?"  There are many more out there like New Hope who do have a " heart for art" and act on it.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

            As artists we can think collectively - in the sense of what is good for one is good for all, or we can subscribe to the ides that there is some kind of dictated standards for a particular market. Quietly, there is often evidence where one form or subject is excluded or showcased in a particular venue for nebulous reasons.

            To a large extent this is the result of economic reasoning. Some stuff just sells better than others, or has greater appeal. We all have our own leanings as to what we like to do, and style and technique that fits us. It guides us and gives direction to our work.

            Chuck Colson says in his book, "How now shall we live" says, "The danger is that the Christian popular culture may mimic the mainstream culture and style, while changing only the content. The music market is overflowing with Christian rock and rap, Christian blues and jazz, Christian heavy metal. Bookshelves are filled with "Christian fiction". In many ways, this is a healthy development, but we must always ask; are we creating a genuine Christian culture, or are we creating a parallel culture with a Christian veneer?" Are we imposing Christian content onto an already existing form? For form and style always send a message of their own."

            In today's culture the best way to reach a non-believing audience, is not so much by works that preach Christianity explicitly, as by works that express Christian worldview indirectly. C. S. Lewis shares - that the moment that people turn away from the Christian viewpoint and lay it aside. "They are plunged back in a world where the opposite position is taken for granted" Therefore, "What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but by Christians on other subjects - with their Christianity latent."

            I would not presume to disagree with Lewis, but I would suggest that it differs greatly as to whom we are preaching; the choir, who may need their voice strengthened and affirmed, or those who feel that they must have the contemporary voice and surrender to it being delivered exclusively from the pulpit. This may well be a view that is entirely too narrow when they, the (pastors) themselves are often very interpretive.  

            God does lead us into new challenges to help us grow and be better communicators. 

            Not long ago, Rob, a friend of mine, and his wife Cynthia were here from Australia, as I mentioned previously.  They are noted nature photographer/ lecturers . We helped prepare them for a five -month photo trip into Alaska. They wanted to reciprocate by giving me a huge file of exotic birds; wonderful photos of birds from all over. He said, "If you ever decide to paint birds, they are yours". Realizing that God speaks Australian, I took it as a sign and began to copy them in scratchboard/ watercolors (etchings sounds better and more expensive). Soon, the title; "They neither reap not sow," came to me. I stopped, temporarily, some twenty pieces later (not including some large, complex renderings ),  I began to make prints that were for sale (something I did not do with my biblical work) - mostly in public venues  and our farmers market,  along with other work of stronger spiritual nature. The reaction was so very favorable and the conversations were uncommonly Spirit-related.

            In addition, a week later at the market, another professional photographer came by having just returned from Galapagos, He heard my story and asked, " Do you want some more, like turtles, lizards and more unusual birds?" By the time I got home there they were in a file on my computer. He added, "Just destroy the file when you are through".

            After giving him a framed print of one of his images I had made, he said; "Do you do people? I have some pictures of venerable old people from Asia that I have in a book that I recently published", and there they came.

            What can I say, my cup ran over.  I have yet to determine these donors faith except by what they did - the totally unselfish attitude of sharing their gift that it might be further shared. I have since been privileged to continue to share, by gift or donation, with others in this same spirit.

            I confess that I had never been motivated to become quite the naturalist that I now seem to be. My fist visit, a short time ago, to the "Annual Audubon Society Wildlife Show", allowed me to discover just how big this field is. There were over 60 juried artists who had donated and committed some of the proceeds from the sale of hundreds of works illustrating birds and animals. My sense was that there were thousands in attendance and exceptionally brisk sales.

            My early choice of biblical narrative was one of my personal interests in stories and metaphors. It was one of the many "notes" that we played as witnesses doing shows. My work was appreciated by pastors who often wanted work to reflect the season or their stories coming from the pulpit.        

            What makes this discussion so very timely is that we are going through a new period where more has been written about the relationships between artists, the church, and what the art should look like. This can only be testimony to the fact that there must be important qualifying processes going on. I'm not talking about the "jury" process that tends to grade on technical excellence, but more on what art is saying.

            The extremes might say, "Its' like jazz", no score, no overlying commitment to the original theme. It just happens - it comes from the soul. There is a beauty in that freedom. My personal experience is that we grow into the understanding of the motivation for and the direction of our art, and it is unnecessary to call it anything. In the last sixteen years my view of how I can best communicate has changed and evolved into being less explicit; not that it is better now or more accepted, but more challenging all the way around.

            The other extreme would say - it all starts with the drawing - there must be a plan, feeling that there is still room for creative expression from that platform. My temperament would say that if I have a difficulty or failure, it is due to poor planning - probably a hasty drawing.

            My example would be that both of us could drive to Chicago; I would have a map, you would rely in signs or intuition. Even if it were possible that we would arrive the same day, I will suffer fewer frustrations - you would have had more issues to deal with and probably frequently had to back-track over the same scenery. Hopefully, you find yourself in both camps at times to find your resolution.

            In the jury process, formal or informal, works may benefit from or be the victim of the jurors' personal choice or criteria. It is arbitrary and most often fair. However, when art is subject to the view of the critic who is held up as the spokesman for the "market" or contemporary appeal, it is often an unreliable assessment. The captions: raw, fresh, edgy or enigmatic are often used , along with a host of other adjectives to serve to instruct others as to what to look for, how to feel. We need only to look to the children's story, "The Emperors New Clothes" for the naked comparison. 

            Fortunately art does not need to sell to be "good". And to this we all say, Amen. 

            It is a blessing to be able to conclude that few of these adjectives are applied to a truly spiritual piece. It has the capacity, like Jazz, to touch the soul - Plan or no plan. Works like inspiring, refreshing, reassuring and touching come to mind; all attributes in the nature of truth.

            As to defining "Christian art", there is a almost universal opinion that there is no such thing, as Franky Shaeffer would compare, "Christian art is no more Christian than  a Christian bricklayer has Christian bricks ". I now focus upon finding more challenging ways to say things now after I have learned to "read the music". 

            My guess is that will be true of you as you find new methods , the audience for that dialog, and a picture of how others react to what you do. 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FIVE

 

            Much of what has been discussed in previous chapters deals with the product; the art itself.  We have talked about the distinct possibility that we may not be in this whole art thing alone.; perhaps even suggested that The Spirit who is always with us may bear a level of responsibility to keep us on target and to take us where we perhaps cannot go by ourselves. We can agree, I am sure, that in this effort we must be an active contributor and a ready vessel for input from any number of sources.

            During a number of years as a corporate trainer for a large national company, I promoted the idea that we could and should control our own destiny with our confidence influence and personal skills.

            It would be an easy choice in this age of overblown introspection to launch into a chapter on self-help, of self-realization, or self expression. This is an easy sell in the wake of best selling books written by some really self-respecting authors who have made millions out of the idea that we are the captains of our own ships.

            There may be no better recognized contemporary lecturer on the subject than Dr. Wayne Dyer of Public Broadcasting Fame. He builds upon the sub-title of his book, "The Power of Intention", which says, "learning to co-create your world, your way". While I would not disparage much of what he says and writes, is it not something of a paradox since we cannot "co-create" and build it "our way" at the same time.

            He is not talking about magic, mojo or muse. He is talking "co" with a power that is available at all times. He clearly identifies "a God" in much of his writing, but is clearly careful not to be too up front as to discourage those less committed to a  religion. 

            Frank Sinatra sings it in his all time hit, "I did it my way." 

            The fact is that we would like to think that we played a major role in many of our successes, and perhaps not so great of one in our failures. We shrug off beneficial opportunities and encounters with the ego-driven idea that we must always be a party to our successes, and ignore the fact of simple unearned grace, Worse than that, we do not anticipate grace. These do it yourself pronouncements in books infer providence rather than design.

            The concern here is that often we go through life, charging many life-altering moments to happenstance or simple good fortune. In my case I often did. None of this realization suggests that we just turn over our life and trust God to accomplish every single work in us. It simply allows us to understand that it is a shared responsibility - a shared reward.

            This idea of self confidence being foundational for achievement and success in reaching our goals in life is a fundamental axiom in our doing just that. One would wonder if this confidence attribute is genetic or environmental or simply a learned process within the reach of all of us who put our minds to it.

            We have, as artists, all experienced the many times when we have started a work, particularly in the early stages of our development, that we set a good deal of it aside as a failure; perhaps to be reassessed another day when we....... whatever. Many of these pieces were summarily dismissed to the trash can. Some you could, at a later time, immediately see their potential and what went wrong through your now more experienced eyes.

            Maybe something else came into play. I believe if the piece was truly inspired in the beginning, and it was simply stalled in its' execution, that prayer can re-engage that partnership that gave birth to it. Some of the works that I believe to be my best were dramatically  improved  in a matter of minutes.. It was not a matter of experience or timing, but of consultation with the ultimate creator/author who has the absolute handle on fixing stuff, even mine. 

            God's grace in providing answers and solutions in the form of people, circumstances and even struggles has caused me to rethink how small a part I often play in the shaping of my future.

 

 

 

CHAPTER SIX

 

            As discussed before, to reflect our Christian calling, it is necessary for us to make some choices. We can look for opportunities in the open marketplace with the hope and dedication to get our message across in the more resistive environment. Or, we can look to "the church" which can at times be equally resistive.

            Rory Noland, the respected author of "Heart of the Artist" and who is also music director of Willow Creek Church, in Barrington, Illinois, writes in the book; "There has been tension between the church and artists that has been going on for hundreds of years. I dream of the day when the church will stop alienating artists and start nurturing them and give them a place to grow and become the people that God wants them to be"

            This is a pretty tough indictment. I wonder if he is not really talking about "performance-based artists" and not about the whole community of artists. I question the terms "tension and alienation". Performance carries with it a more assertive nature, and a higher degree of marketing savvy. While it could be argued that visual art is a performance of sorts, I believe that church response is based more often on apathy and lack of understanding of the motivation that visual artists have in introducing their work as a supportive communication.

            The commitment to the status-quo and its' predictability coupled with the acknowledged power of the spoken word as a prime, sometimes the only, means of communication has much to do with the limited emphasis of other forms.

            Further, the preference not to subject their flock to experimentation, much less introduce a potentially less skilled or disciplined option, doesn't help the cause of artistic expression either.  After all, preachers who do not preach "well" are reassigned.

            Singers and musicians are often compensated and brought in from outside because of perceived inadequacies in their own house. In the process the congregation grows to expect more entertainment value. Replaced choirs are ticked and look for opportunities elsewhere. House musicians no longer solo, the competition is too tough. The sole use for the visual artist is graphics production for "the big screen".

            Pastor Noland maintains that "artistic temperament" is a factor in internal discord. Some of this can be "artistic disappointment". Again, a distinction can be made with "performance arts" if this is true. My experience confirms that there is little show of temperament in most visual artists; where disposition ranges from mildly introverted to hardly aggressive or "pushy".  They are pretty happy with any opportunity and there is little active competition.

            My choice, not really knowing (or much caring) what the odds were, was to begin knocking on doors simply asking for an opportunity for the showing of art anywhere in the church for a period of any length beyond ten minutes; a humble proposal.

            I found it to be a really tough sell. Unless the senior pastor had a "heart for art" or had given his staff reasonable autonomy in making program decisions, it was not going to happen. More often the "worship pastor" was the director of music and consideration may have fallen under his responsibilities.

            Often, the internal difficulties of using all of the available resources; singers, musicians, and choirs provided a barrier to other arts exploration. Additionally, that worship pastor had to have a "heart for visual arts" which actually happened fairly often. 

            All of this gives rise to the consideration as to whether or not the show really is the thing - and are there a number of different approaches. We have covered the "performance" approach of music, dance, and drama where headliners are brought into huge church venues. The church often sponsors the sale of c.d.'s, etc. They are often paid and expected to bring in needed revenue to support operations and not incidentally bring exciting forms to reinforce ministry.

            Visual artists are never paid, but are often invited to showings where their work may be shown and sold - part of the proceeds - say 30%, going to the church. In our case we do not charge or sell, although occasionally contact may be made directly with the artist for purchase or communication.

            We have also been invited to "share the stage" with in-house artists to provide a larger compliment of work for an expanded showing. I find this to be a better move on the part of the church, and more church members show up to see friends' work.

            A prime objective is, as well, to interest persons outside the church and encourage growth. There is a very calculated, and healthy, move toward focusing on a younger age group or toward specializing toward contemporary interest and expression.

            I would repeat, however, with the continued focus upon paid and professional performance the bar may be permanently raised along with expectations of the congregation. The prospect of having sometimes the display of "lesser" or different gifts and talents of people within the church becomes more remote. We need to refer to God's original intent in His gifting and His declaration of responsibility.

            With that said, we can return to what we have discovered as we sought to engage churches in the display of our arts.

            Often younger pastors to the ministry had been exposed to the idea that there should be exposure to other means of communication and that it should be the responsibility of the church to develop gifts from within and not rely solely on traditional means and focus. That would be a refection of their often contemporary seminary experience. I looked for them.

            My primary search was on the church web sites where any reference was made to interests outside of music. First I tried E-mail with a sales pitch.  I seldom received a response from any level, much less from a decision-maker. I am sure that these overtures went the way of "not my table" or junk mail.

            The idea came to me; What if I just pick some our best work and simply drop them off, unsolicited, at the church ?  - directed to the attention of the most likely suspect. Devious?   In this event they might be referred to someone who had to make a decision as to what to do with them - perhaps even look at them.

            This "show me your wares" approach did not always work, but it did get a yes or no response and a more informed decision.

            Early on we thought we could establish more credibility and provide a greater opportunity for witness by focus on the larger, mega church. Keep in mind that we were not selling this art.

            While we were successful in the bigger church in a few instances, smaller churches were more receptive and more gratifying for me personally. We had the opportunity to interact and become more a part of worship. There were instances were we set up and might even address congregations of under 100 people. We were wholly sponsored.

            The overall level of sponsorship had a direct relationship to the endorsement of the Senior Pastor. There were instances where we were never mentioned from the pulpit and had to be discovered. We were just accommodated.

            Because we had the flexibility of racks, we had the option of placing them strategically for best exposure - and of course we didn't mess up their walls. If we were near the traffic patterns we could have dialog with the congregation, which was the most important part of the whole process; some individuals were obviously gifted, some needed to know that they were. All needed to feel a commitment to share in the responsibility of helping others develop their giftedness..

            We found that in several instances where we were invited back again and that the church was giving more support to the idea of their own ministry - to " Neglect not the gift that is in (them)" That, of course ,was and is the whole idea. That is our agenda - our mission. In house ministries of any kind, given a reasonable amount of sponsorship from leadership, and in particular senior pastors, in their recruitment and planning efforts establishes the credibility  needed for their long term development. These ministries will survive changes so long as a broad and active base of lay leaders is in place. And, none of this need challenge the resources of the church. This is not rocket science to any of us who observe the same approach in our business lives.

            We see ministries go by the wayside that have been initiated by a creative, forward looking associate pastor who might be an artist himself, as he moves away. It is the serving and witnessing attitude of the ministry that makes it endure - not just the often self- serving conduct of shows. There seems to be greater enthusiasm for them in the beginning, but interest wanes unless new artists are introduced with creative topics and settings. The exposure does not have to be big to work. Sometimes a dedicated vignette will do fine.

            While many artists disparage the idea of "theme shows" as being limited and too structured, people are attracted to them and churches often like their focus on teaching or reference to seasonal events

            Shows can definitely benefit from partnerships with other disciplines; paintings with sculpture or crafts; with music accompaniment; or with poetry or dance. A number of times the subject of combining visual arts with poetry has come up. I think there is a natural affinity between them and it often represents the multiple talents found in many of us

            In a large show in a church in Vancouver, Washington, we featured "verse and vision". We interspersed a large selection of verse with the paintings - Some written by the painters; some poet-members of the church. There was great comment from the public. It slowed people down as they studied the relationships. They talked more about the work. It added depth.

            I would like to tell you more of what happened;

            This was a Month long presentation that was enthusiastically promoted by the worship pastor, Jason Ritchie, and his senior pastor father, Bill Ritchie. You may know him from his many books and his daily" Brand New" radio ministries. .      

            The opening reception was attended by over 200 people, (pretty large for us). They came early and stayed late. It was not during church hours so they were not captive and had a qualified interest in being there. They wanted to talk with the artists, some of whom were members of the church.

            Soft classical guitar music was played by a church professional accompanied by the soothing bubbling of water cascading down a huge stylized burnished stainless steel cross into a large pool. This was in the center of a very large entry "family room" leading into the sanctuary.

            Lining the pool and on the perimeter walls were some eighty pieces of art -paintings and sculpture hung from some recently installed tracks with adjustable perlon wires. Other sculptures were displayed on free standing, waist-high tables.

            While the scene spoke wonderfully about art and creation, beauty and power, more than anything the sight of so many families and guests in and out of the church lingering and talking animatedly about what they saw and felt, touched us all. 

            Surely God was in this place and was equally warmed by this reverence. 

            If only we could have poured that "in a lifetime" experience into a bottle to drink of it during some of our struggles. I drink of it now as I tell of it.

            Pastor Bill writes in the handout program, "Take your time as you browse the displays and talk to the artists. May their work feed your souls even as it delights your eye.  If it turns your heart toward God, then you will experience the purpose for which art was created in the first place".

            There is no doubt that his suggestion was followed. The beauty of it was, as well, the effort placed into it by the non artists and the 20 artists within the church. I cannot over emphasize the importance that it must be their show. We were just guests and facilitators.

 

 

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

            You have already gathered that the involvement in art shows is not the only focus of the Christian movement.

            Retreats have become a new wave in the effort to restore and rejuvenate us in our search for growth within and outside of our faith. So much has been directed at providing the benefits of community, training and the offering of solutions to problems. There is no question that the opportunity to step away from distractions and daily responsibilities provides us with potential to re-focus to bring about change.

             A leader in this field is Hope Chapel and Pastor David Taylor of Austin, Texas. They turn their attention toward artists in all areas. Their platform embodies the following; 

            1. The need for a vision

            2. Need for community

            3. Need for a model

            4. Need for a team of Shepherds

Simply stated; Where do we want to go, with whom, how are we going to get there, and who will be responsible? 

            Web site "Find the Devine" lists retreat centers though out the U.S.

            Rodger Housden, in his book covers retreats cites with over 1000 centers.

            Articles as in Time Magazines' "Get thee to a monastery" have referenced state - of-the-art efforts like "The Grove Center for the Arts" in San Clemente, Ca.

            The "Creative Edge Artists Network", while not a retreat, provides curriculum

            and leadership training resources to be down loaded with conference calls.

            "Seeds Fine Art Exhibits" in Orange County shows art, writing, and dance exhibitions, and has over 250 profiles of artists on a blog. 

            These and so much more speaks to the fact that there are many structured opportunities to connect with other artists. The need to recognize and mentor Christian artists for growth and service is at an all time high. 

            Internationally, we find many missions centering on art working as a common language between cultures in many places like Africa, Europe and Asia. Organizations like "Mission ConnXion " who in Portland alone had some 150 workshops with over 4000 in attendance in 2009.

            I met with Byron Spradlin, President of ACT  (Artists in Christian Testimony International) after the event. For over thirty years they have enabled artistic Christians to carry out their creative ministry calling through a non-profit structure of training and accountability. They have over 100 ministry projects, staffed by 130 ministry personnel. They cover 24 states and 15 foreign countries. He said that "things are positively exploding" as he outlined their progress and sought leadership in his workshops.

            In the year 2008, the International Christian Arts Seminar was held in the Netherlands. They featured eighty workshops for arts study and discussion. The group is 28 years old and steadily growing.

            "Arts Reformation.com", an International organization, lists groups and articles centered upon the promotion of art. They had a huge conference in 2008 in South Africa.

Our own young witness, Jason, returned from his second trip to Kenya with plans for returning to Uganda. He came back with some of their art and his own poetry that told of his amazing experiences.  They were on display at a Portland Gallery along with his paintings.

            "Artists for Christ", provides perhaps the largest site specificly to address the needs and interests of artists. They are based in U.K.

            A visit to the web reveals long established websites centered in Australia and Canada.

            Our own CIVA (Christians in Visual Arts) now has over 1400 members (individual and corporate) dedicated to strengthening relationships and bringing art to National venues.

            The long-term leadership of the Episcopal Church is evident in the creation of EVA which now links their now 265 members. Their 2006 General Convention featured 300 works offered in daily presentations to their leadership in attendance. They have now begun to offer an on-line art education program.

            'The National Fellowship of United Methodists " has been organized to "provide opportunities and promote growth in singing, dance and drama.". Many member churches now have full-time galleries. 

            Unquestionably, one of the greatest proponents of the whole idea of the artistic renaissance, again, is David Taylor, author of the "Diary of an Arts Pastor Blog" In the wake of his speaking at the Trinity Arts Conference in Dallas, our local Imago Dei Community Church invited him to their artists retreat in 2008.

             I had read, as I do often, in his blog; "Our time has arrived. The workers are many. The farmers who have prepared the land are good and strong and faithful: Macdonald, Lewis, Sayers, Rookmaker, Scaeffer, Seervold, Wolteredorff, Bowden, L'Engle, Buechner, Sahaw, Dillard, Berry, Begbie, Wangern, Fujimura, Lawhead, Knippers, Hawkinson, Norris, Miller, Owens, and Irving. And, that's only the 20th Century writer types." Which goes to say he reads mightily, and he suggests that we catch up on the plantings of the many worthy sowers in less than holy ground.

            His address to the Conference in Dallas, and then the Austin Symposium, was to answer what he perceived to be the primary objections of most churches to visual artistry; The charge of "worshiping idols" to the proposed conflict over the efficacy of the spoken word over the visual. This certainly speaks to the fact that history and tradition still influence the thinking of some of the theologians today, or he would not be addressing the issue with hundreds of pastors regularly.

            When he came as the major speaker to the retreat here in Portland, he was addressing over 100 artists who already "get it", but most important was the charge that we do something about "it". If he, indeed, was preaching to the choir, we do need to learn to vocalize.

             To repeat David's challenge; "There is more to come, and that's why we should keep working our tails off. It's worth sweating over. This is only the beginning. The really good stuff lies with my children's' children. They're the ones I am working for."

             What he is talking about is not only fully utilizing our gifts for art, but also our talent  for influencing others by demonstrating our absolute belief in  God's love for what we do in His name as workers, as farmers.. And, the even more important job of sharpening our skills for expressing that fact intelligently so as to get those seeds in the ground and see to the watering of them.           

            By now I hope that we can agree that the picture of art, in the Christian view, is re-emerging in many levels; Within the church , in galleries, and within groups in and out of the church. That growth is the result of individual leadership and response- both under the leadership of the Trinity; the creator, the author, and the perfector. 

            I would like to spend some time on what may well be a prototype of what successful ministry might well look like - possible a beacon  on the national scene. This is not to ignore the many other efforts being successfully undertaken in other regions of the country, but to just reflect my first-hand experience.

            I am speaking of previously referred to Imago Dei (Image of God) in Portland, Oregon. The church just celebrated its' eighth anniversary. Its mission is to "Take the whole gospel, to the whole person, to the whole world, equipping people to be mature in Christ". I cannot say that their initial intent was to focus upon artists as a major component. But, as it often happens, build it and they will come - and they did come. The artist compliment may be as much as 25% of the congregation of around 2000. The average age looks to be in their twenties. They are drawing "artistics" from other churches, from the street corners and coffee- houses by word of mouth. The strong reference to art ministry and art activities on their web site leaves no doubt as to their commitment.

            During all of this time they have not had the luxury and convenience of owning their own church. They work three services; set up and take-down, each Sunday in an active Franklin High School. And, they still have the energy and resources to plant new churches.

            Their latest project is called "The Loft". It is leased space in the epicenter of the Portland art district. This area is about a ten block square collection of galleries, art schools, restaurants. The first meeting was held and attended by about eighty artists in the several disciplines. Its' function and focus was to be determined from their input. It was agreed that it should not be a "religious" undertaking, but rather be a space where all artists could come, Christian or not, and enjoy the community and the opportunity to reveal and develop their gifts - with absolutely no commercials.

 

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

            And to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one; to every man according to his several abilities, and straightway (he) took his journey, Mat 25:15 

            That is what life in this place is all about, isn't it, our journey? We are formed by those experiences and those that touch our lives deeply. Our journey requires a return to the Master who has given us each something different, unique, and is to be accounted for.

            His anticipation, even our own, is that the investment be returned many- fold. It will not grow of itself, but will be magnified in a large part by recognition of those experiences - those things that touch our lives so as to shape and reshape those gifts and talents.

            We all can recall vividly when most of these "touchings" occur and we know their significance. I mention only a few here. They are recent and so powerful as to assure me that they are of God and they are intended to shape me by shaking me deeply. 

            Only a few are blessed to communicate daily in public venues where our work may have been commissioned or donated. Sculptors are particularly recognized because of the size, durability and often architectural content of their work. This has been issue of late because of controversy over the presumed appropriateness of a work. One can only imagine the stir that would be caused today if Michelangelo's David were placed in a public square - probably from both sides;  for its' somewhat "religious" content and the other, it's nudity. One would only have to visit the whole of Europe (where some countries are far more liberal) where the freedom to do things in art reigns over the right to not be "subjected" to it. 

My story here is about Rip Caswell, a bronze sculptor and Christian who maintains a foundry and gallery in Troutdale, Oregon. His work centers upon nature; birds, fish, animals, and the human form. His father was a taxidermist and Rip worked with him as a young  boy.

            Many of his pieces are table top size, however, they grow to larger free standing residential and public venues throughout  the United States. You might Google his "Caswell Gallery" web site for a look at his amazing collection.

            My first view was of a majestic eagle positioned on a huge rock at the new entrance of New Hope Community, our host church as previously mentioned. It is as large as a small car. There was, apart from it, scripture in bronze referencing "Upon wings as Eagles."

            As I came to know Rip, and in the course of our discussions about the path and progress of Spirit- inspired art, he suggested that I visit his newly commissioned installation at East Lake Foursquare in Lake Oswego, Oregon. It is called "Christ's Family"

            It was positioned outside away from the entrance to the Main Sanctuary. All church goers pass by it on entrancing. It stands on it own pedestal and is some 12 ft. tall and about 5 ft. in circumference. It consists of eight normal sized, four generational figures locked in a seamless embrace. Christ, 1 1/2 times normal size, is seated wearing a breast plate, and others  are in period to contemporary attire, right down to tennis shoes on the young boy at his mothers' side. She is holding a newborn - sister is gazing upward lovingly at Jesus - grandmother and grandfather stand proudly in the back.

            Christ has his arm extended outward, palm up, and the Spirit-dove is perched upon His arm.

            My wife and I stood taking it all in after circling it a few times. It's soft green patina invited the touch, and even though it had been there a short time there was evidence of slightly worn, repeated, touchings on the surface.

            A lovely young girl of about 15 arrived by herself and stood looking a Christ whose face was slightly above hers. In a moment her hand reached for His pierced hand and she began caressing it, stroking it as if to mend or soothe the pain. Tears began streaming down her face. And,

            She held His hand, and held it, and held it. Her face finally shadowing a soft smile as she wiped her tears away.

            Tears came to me as well, and do even now in the telling of it. In there was a profound and intense story of love, healing and grace.

            We all, as artists, live for the day that our works might touch someone in some visible way. We all have seen something of this kind of display, but I have never experienced that level of tenderness and love.- So much for idolatry.  Christ was risen, alive and there for her and in us in witness. Few of us will have that kind of validation for what we do, but as His Spirit abides, there is always that chance - isn't there?

 

 

 

CHAPTER NINE

           

            We all have stories to tell that we recognize as pivotal in our development or affirmation as Christian artists; Perhaps some experiences that we cannot account for in our formation as a artist, Christian or not. It would seem that the more profound ones are based upon some revelation in or alteration of our work in process. Some would count it as a happy accident, a happenstance  or one might well accept it, with or without a quick look upward, and move on to finishing it with grace stored somewhere in our pocket. 

            While there are many more than three of these in my experience, I would like to mention some that are most pivotal for me; 

            In the process of rendering a piece - I say rendering because my making of a scratchboard piece (my current love) I remove black ink to reveal the white of the underlying fired white clay surface. This is a process that is more like negative drawing, removing black color with a stylus, than it is like painting "on".

            I was in the process of making my piece "New Jerusalem", which was to be a scene of the promised city - with John and an Angel looking on from a mountain top,  It was said in Revelation 21:1 God appeared and said to John, "See! I will make all things new."

            My work was nearly finished and I was scratching-in the clouds. Because of the delicacy and unforgiving nature of this work (once scratched away there is little recovery) it must be taken away slowly. I scratch and stand back evaluating again and again. Since the piece was all about light descending from above, washing over the subjects below, I had to deal with the origination of that light.

            On my final at -length view, only then did I recognize, not the cloud, but a portion of it a "presence" that startled, even shook me; I can only say that if I would ever have presumed to know the face of God that would be it. I have never considered suggesting His face in any of my work - or even doing work that may have called for it.  I do not view it as a sacrilege - I just had no desire, reference or imagination for it.

            Under a magnifying glass there appears just a bunch of random scratches that do not add up to the naked eye image. I have not fully processed what happened to this day, but I, in faith, believe that the Holy Spirit envisioned a completion that I could not undertake myself. This brings to me an understanding that there are few accidents, and  also that so very much is not due to my own innate cleverness;  a conclusion often reached even by those who would, at times , challenge the existence of any higher power. 

            The phone rang early Monday morning following the weekend that I hung the paintings in the large dining room of the Stuhr Senior Center, a county facility in Beaverton, Oregon. It had been my responsibility for about a year, as a volunteer for the Village Gallery , a local co-operative of about 100 artists.

            This particular week the available inventory had fallen to just a few paintings. I decided to hang mostly my work to fill in, and it was an easy solution. Deep down I knew that I wanted to test the reception to my biblical narrative paintings that comprised most of my current portfolio-The same that had been viewed by many churches.

            The voice on the phone said, "This is Linda at the center. I am going to have to ask you to remove your paintings" I asked, how come - thinking, that she had some personal issue or complaint. Her response was, " I  called the county to see if your work (showing Christ, his parables and miracles) was permissible." He called the State attorney and was advised, 'These are to be considered as religious paraphernalia and are unacceptable". I was somewhat surprised as my work had been characterized in other ways- sometimes favorably. I had to smile at the word paraphernalia. Was that good or bad, thinking - What would Jesus say? She apologized as we had known each other for the some years that I had been an active member of the Center.

            I removed them within the hour. Two days passed and I wrestled with the possibility of taking an activist stance or just letting it go. Some positive comment on the work by some staff and member seniors led me to consider the options. I prayed for guidance.

            We know what God might say - "Put on the armor!" or," Turn the other cheek"  . Finally, I looked for the silver polish for my swift sword and decided to contact ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice) the anointed adversary of ACLU. I had been following, as might a former law student, current issues of the use of the Pledge of Allegiance and other references to God. The immediate response from a senior council was affirmative "send me pictures of your works".

            The deciding factor was that days before, as I had a number of times, I offered the daily prayer at lunch before around 100 people - at the Centers request. I was there as a volunteer for Meals on Wheels who served the meal. It was this absolute paradox of it that needed to be addressed;  One could openly pray in the name of Jesus, but not paint in it?

            As an anti-climax, days later, it became apparent that since I was acting as an agent for the Gallery, I could not be the plaintiff. Only they could, and they chose not to pursue it for understandable reasons. End of story... or is it?

            Unfortunately, the Center is without paraphernalia, ( I love that word )and without any art at all.( I don't love that), and I hope that will be rectified.  Balancing that, however, there has been, immediately, a steady progression of Christian works that have found their way into private, even governmental, venues within blocks of that same Center.

            The most prestigious show of the area "The Beaverton Showcase", sponsored by the City Arts Commission, held at the public library, and attended by the whole community, featured a glorious wall sculpture of Jesus,  pierced hands extending most paraphernalia-like, to receive the souls of the viewers. Mind you this did not slip through the back door, but underwent a very selective jury process with hundreds of submissions.

Leslie, the artist, responded to my question at the reception; "How did this happen?" with the answer," I don't know and I am not sure how long it going to stay here" The answer? For the whole month of the show - to terrific response- not a murmur of complaint.

            My note to the mayor expressed my appreciation for the commissions' good taste and courage in the face of often expensive potential litigation initiated ACLU.

            This is only one instance in recent months where explicitly Christian art has found its' way into public venues. In my case, not only churches, but a respected commercial gallery "Golden Gallery" in Beaverton where some forty of my pieces found their way into a two month-long  show; "Art of Faith" where a number were purchased.

            Weeks ago in an Art Court next to our local farmers market, ten of my pieces of paraphernalia were sold -viewed by over five- hundred people. The important part is that I had an opportunity to witness their origin and inspiration with many shoppers.

            For the past three years as co-director of the "Art of Change Gallery" a full-time downtown venue, we showed and sold visual works of established and emerging artists of many cultures; many pieces were highly spiritual.

            I would like now to introduce you to what I believe to be the most serious contemporary effort to bring the finest "Christian fine arts" to view nationally and internationally, both in and out of the church setting: The Masterpiece, "Let There Be Light" traveling exhibit;

            In southern Oregon near Ashland, some 25 miles into the mountains lays the huge Box R Ranch, a working ranch grown into a Christian Camp and Conference Center. It is owned and operated by the Rowlett and Randall families. They, under the direction of daughter Jeanne Randall, were called to start a ministry to and for Christian artists.

            In 2006 the firsts small Conference called" Masterpiece" was held, primarily for local artists to launch the effort. I attended, being the only one out of the area. Several nationally known artists including  Ron Di Cianni, Chris Hopkins. Dennis Lewis and Kim Ragsdale were speaker/participants.

            Many of us brought our work to show and have them critiqued. Out of this rewarding experience for some 35 attendees came Jeanne's proposal for the "Let There Be Light" traveling exhibition going to Los Angeles, Seattle (Redmond) Dallas, Paris, and New York City.

             The show consists of 90 original works by 22 nationally acclaimed artists such as; Tomas Blackshear, Michael Dudash, Ron Di Cianni, Chris Hopkins, Tim Dubois, Frank Ordaz, Tim Solliday, and David Broussard, to name a few.

            The first show was Los Angeles, and while they had planned a smaller, less prominent venue, they were contacted by "The Crystal Cathedral" in Van Nuys, and were booked all through Easter month.

            Jeanne's note describes; "If a show of this artistic caliber, which visually tells the message of the gospel could be seen in public places and in the church, we would see a response of the heart that would matter for eternity. And, it was true - we observed people everyday weeping as the emerged from the show. The Holy Spirit was touching things deep in the hearts. People brought back guests and family and co-workers to see what many had never seen before. We were privileged to watch what the Lord had called us to do come to pass before our very eyes. There were visitors from nearly every state and more than 30 countries".

            My plan had long been to visit the show in Redmond at the Overlake Church.  I visited and was astounded by the quality and its' impact.  Upon our return, Jeanne writes me; "Many boxes of Kleenex disappeared - the guest book was full of expressions of powerful moments just like Crystal Cathedral. Ten thousand guests were hosted, and some 30 countries represented."

            She recounts, "A Buddist monk from Laos who recently moved to Seattle wandered through the exhibit. He told me that he had found himself unsatisfied and unable to connect with what he thought was the real and living God."

            Jeanne witnessed to him in ways that I personally know to be compelling as they walked through the life of Jesus as depicted in those glorious paintings. She follows, " He spent time alone and I prayed. He later emerged with a new expression in his eyes. He told me that he had asked God to come into his life. I wanted to dance!"

            The president of a regional painting association and an unbeliever visited the show and returned home to email 500 of his friends and associates urging them to visit; an obvious landmark in his perspective.

            Our assessment of the validity an economic practicality of what we undertake causes us to seek justification through some outward confirmation . These shows budget over $55,000.00 per show, not including the phenomenal amount of time and energy required. It is impossible to really follow the impact upon the lives of those who visit; artists, followers, people off the streets who are stimulated by the beauty of this visual witness, but it will show up in subtle ways.

            Ultimately, the answer to Jesus' question, "How many did you bring with you?" will be posed for all those involved in each of the venues. Their confident answer will be, "Many Lord, many".... and only He knows the number as He surely says, "Well done".

 

 

 

CHAPTER TEN

 

            As I come to the next to last chapter of the book- and the most sensitive part (for me), I might choose its' title; "Witnessing is about planting, not posturing".

            For about four years, from the start up period where we witnesses tried to get our

act together at our home church, - New Hope; that is assemble artists, work on our portfolio, and develop a program. I schlepped art, set up presentations, and talked with pastors and ministry leaders. Sometimes I was able to encourage artists along the way.

            It was extremely gratifying when we were able to bring something to the congregation and secure the needed playback to reassure the pastor and leaders that it was a worthwhile exercise. There was no question that the quality of the work by many of our group may have been intimidating for artists within; we were established professionals - some teachers of art. Many in-house artists were ready to "yield the stage" feeling their work to be less important or adequate,

            In the course of things, we began to lose the opportunity to establish the bridge that we needed to empower members in the church or convince the powers that be that there even needed to be a bridge. Essentially we showed and we went away - Thank you very much!

            It was about this time, due this frustration, that I became totally preoccupied with the idea of having a "Northwest Christian Artists Conference". It seemed that the whole idea of workshops and interaction between artists and ministries in the several disciplines would be ground for planting the seed for understanding everyone's role, responsibilities and opportunities.  Further, to build a level of credibility and recognition from the church. Other such conferences had been held in many other places - just not the Northwest.

            I had convinced myself, whether it was true or not - that I was the chosen one to initiate and direct the whole process; believing if God leads you to it, He will lead you through it - "Build it and they will come." I am convinced now that if I had spent more time with Him and less time with my own convictions, I would have known it was beyond my own capabilities.

            It is remarkable how easy it is to feed on the energy created by a grand idea, and lose perspective. Everyone was simply thrilled - "Call me when you get it put together!". Some six months into the effort, having lined up a host church, many speakers, and having generated a basic program, reality set in. I had become a latter-day Elmer Gantry and could have, as in the movie, led people into a failed mission.

            Eight months before the scheduled date of it, on a rainy Monday morning I sat there in the van. I had just loaded some 40 pieces from a show at a church in Newberg, Oregon. I thought; "What am I leaving behind?" -  A kind thank you from the pastor and some generous comment from some church members. But, "What survived our visit?" There had been no effort to establish an ongoing ministry to or through artists in the church, known and unknown. Where was the credibility for the whole idea of the conference?  Our case study?  Our grand example? These questions could have been asked after nearly every show. The answer was - not here in River City.

            We were, in simple terms, affectively in the entertainment business, with God's  real  message of making disciples lost in the commitment of getting our art out there - then business as usual.

            Although it may sound like it, I do not disparage the idea of shows because they are an important and fundamental start to the communication and community between artists themselves and their churches. For reasons explained shows are a means not an end. Our mission was to plant and harvest - Cultivate, not feast.

            As to the incessant drizzle going on in my heart and soul, I was first reminded of Longfellow's poem;

           

            "Be still sad heart and cease repining,

            Behind the clouds the sun is shining,

            Thy fate is the common fate of all.

            Into each life a little rain must fall.

            Some days must be dark and dreary."

 

            He says reconcile yourselves, Get over it!

 

The Word, however, ever positive in counterpoint, says;

 

            "For as the rain comes down and returns not,

            But waters the earth, and makes it bring forth the bud,

            that it may give seed to the sower."  Isa 55:10

 

            It says, obviously; No rain, no seed - a different realism. 

            At that point I stand, shovel in hand, asking "Where's the field?" 

            In the meantime, I do what I have always done - paint and then paint. Personal opportunities for shows have come up. I sell some pieces and witness when I can. For nearly a year, the Witness Group set aside, while I am waiting for some grand revelation - my shovel leaning against the table getting rusty- fog still settled over the distant fields.

            Until one sunny Sunday morning, while reading Leviticus 26, I find the verse; "Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit".

            I don't know why this should have inspired me to put down my brush and pick up a  pen- and the Spirit who never took the day off from blessing my brush did turn to my pen,  and began working with my same God-given limitations, I might add. This fact you may be eminently qualified to note as you read the book. My mornings now awake to the grinding sound of the pencil sharpener or the tick-tick of the computer keys. My Spirit - pal and I are busy in my "Sanctuary" creating images in a different way - even more gratifying for the moment.

            And, each morning, as always, the question is "Now where were we?"

            And the answer?  Cultivating. 

            Ah rain, where art thy sting? 

Well, enough about me - to which you say, Whew!

            While these may not be pearls or wisdom for all of you, here are some of my observations. Just take them as well intended.

            Once having attained reasonable skill in our craft, our real growth is the function of exposure and venue .Every area will have levels of opportunity. Hospitals have spots available for scheduled, rotating exhibitions. Co-op galleries seek opportunities outside their location such as book stores, public buildings and restaurants. Once on the list you will automatically receive "Call to Artists" invitations.

            My experience is that those artists who put professional effort into framing and other enhancements are considered more frequently because of their professionalism. Today one need not put a lot of money into framing with the options available at places like Michaels' and Aaron Bros. There are good choices on the internet direct. An investment in a simple mat cutter will pay for itself quickly.

            I personally would not have been able to afford assembling a portfolio of some 50 pieces, ready for even a one-man show, if I had not done the work myself. Something is always sacrificed in moving work from frame to frame, mat to mat.

            Having hung literally hundreds of pieces, I have seen work with no provision for hanging, in the case of canvasses - to saw-tooth- to all manner of odd wire configurations. Many shows simply will not hang work unless it is standardized; plexiglass, on large, heavy works - braided wire only, mounted 1/3 of the way down the side, and looped to within 2" of the top of the frame to facilitate standard measurements.

            More often your title cards can be used from show to show. Print them once professionally. Since selling prices may vary from one venue depending upon commissions - stickers for pricing work well and can be removed.

            Consider composing your "Statement" or "Bio" to fit each situation. The viewer/prospect is more interested in your inspiration than your perspiration. Your litany of schools and awards establishes your credibility for the collector, but is boring if he or she is not.

             The most important member of your "team" is the Holy Spirit.

Remember the promise "You will receive the power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witness" First the promise, then the commission - You will. This speaks of enablement not commandment.

 

 

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

 

            Most of us have been so blessed to have the facility to struggle through the learning process with every faculty available. There are examples of so many who pushed through their barriers and impediments in faith, and way exceeded "normal" expectations. 

            Akiane Kramarik, The child prodigy is said to be inspired by God, is self - taught, and considered by some to rank in the top forty painters in the world - at ten years of age. She recently visited Portland with her traveling show - perhaps your town as well. You might then testify to her advanced skills in bringing the Word to canvass. She showed work that she finished at age four that would challenge most of us regardless of age.

            Her regimen includes getting up at 4:30 in the morning. I wonder, having had four teenagers at one time, if it would be possible that it would happen at fourteen. Her poetry which is so very perceptive and mature really speaks to her anointing.

            Couple this with Julia Camerons', observation that, "Declaring oneself as an artist is usually viewed by parents as an act of rebellion" Her parents immediate response to her giftedness by total support and reinforcement made it blossom into a career.           

            Joni Eareckson Tada, Founder of "Joni and Friends" an international ministry for the disabled, became paraplegic at the age of 17. After many months of dedication she began painting highly detailed paintings with a brush held in her teeth. Since then as a lecturer/writer she has authored over 35 books. She became instrumental in the recovery of many artists including Tommy Hollenstein.

            Recently I was privileged to visit with Tommy at the "Let There Be Light" art show in Seattle, where his work was shown. In 1985 Tommy, now a recognized Los Angles painter, was mostly paralyzed in a mountain bike accident. He learned to paint abstract images that are compared with those of Jackson Pollack. These are "action paintings" produced by paint miraculously distributed on board by the wheels of his electric wheel chair. He shares, "If that (art) is what God has called you to do, don't let anyone discourage you. That includes family and friends". He was never alone in these efforts. His was a connection that empowered him to not only survive but to earn a living as a full-time artist in major galleries where he shares his testimony at every opportunity. 

            Darrow Miller, in his long treatise, "World view and art, a call for Balladeers" - in talking about the role of artists and their impact upon future generations says; "Bach did not set out to do evangelism with his music. What he did do was glorify God and bring biblical truth, goodness and beauty to the culture of his own day"

            Without comparing our own levels of prodigy with a child who began serious art at age three - or those who lost every power but One to continue art - or the giftedness of a musician who may have begun composing in the womb, our task is the same as theirs - our way ridiculously easier - to find a vehicle for expression and ride it to its' appointed destination. 

            Finally, we come to the commercial. Many writers of non-fiction books cannot resist the temptation to indulge in a "words to live by" recap. The older you get, the more irresistible the temptation becomes.  I am, therefore, no exception as I am very "older".

            There may be, at fist, little acceptance for your work - there is no agency for it but the Spirit, but that is more than enough.  Doors will begin to open the minute we cease to be individuals and become part of the gifted community that is emerging through-out the world. Once begun, do not hesitate. You must not back away." For God's gifts and His call are irrevocable. He never withdraws them once they are given, and He does not change His mind about those to whom He gives grace or to whom He sends His call." Rom. 11:29

            Many of us go though our artistic lives without fully understanding the true force working beyond our own energies and abilities. Surrendering to the conviction that we are not alone in EVERY effort to express ourselves in what we make and do, is a fundamental step in our growth. Even as we believe in God as Christians - in His place in our lives we often do not grasp His immediacy in even making a simple drawing or in meandering thoughts spilled out on a page. It is in that realization that our creativity takes on new energy as we begin to touch upon immutable truth.

            It is not a solitary pursuit as it may have been in our early search for excellence. Find a mentor. Develop credibility through your passion and dedication. Lead if you can, or follow diligently if that is to be your role. Poor starts, week presentations, or un-professionalism will stifle growth and opportunity.

            In the basic sense, the church represents the most "holy ground". It is the agency that should surely recognize art as nourishment for the soul. Our "seeds" are perhaps designed best to be watered in that dedicated environment - to grow and bear and re-seed through relationships among the gifted - and, that would be all of us.

            But holy ground does not exist only within the church, but wherever the Spirit chooses and anoints. While expected to prosper in the church, those same seeds may well be scattered in the trodden path of everyday thistles. Yet, they may grow even stronger in their struggle; even more beautiful by contrast in their challenging setting.

            If we choose only to delegate watering in the "hothouse" of structured entities, we frustrate the full discovery of the depth, beauty, and abundance of creation - that which was pronounced very good, and to be nurtured by his stewards. We plant, we water, we cultivate into the night and into the next and the next...... All of us.

            Whether we believe things can best be accomplished in a church or someplace else, our growth depends upon that creative part of us that finds a way to share our ideas and convictions with others; and, while the Spirit is always with us, as Julia Cameron in "The Artists Way" advises, "Pray for the bus and run as fast as you can." 

            Please be on time. Be on the bus, reaching out and pulling others aboard at every stop........ The next one may be eternity.

 

            May God prepare and bless you in these efforts! 

 

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