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Seeding Art in Holy Ground
Finding path and Purpose in your Giftedness
by Milt Wear
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
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
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.
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
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.
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".
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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,
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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 "ethnically" 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
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
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 goodbye 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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".
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
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
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
With that said, we
can return to what we have discovered as we sought to engage
churches in the display of our arts.
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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?
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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".
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
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
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
"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?
Ah rain, where art
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.
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
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.
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"
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"
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
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!