Last month, I left the snowy north of Wyoming for the snowy north of Minnesota and Wisconsin for a long weekend. It makes perfect sense to travel in the middle of winter to an even colder climate, right? Okay, maybe not, but I went back home to the midwest to attend the L'Abri conference entitled For Glory and For Beauty; Creativity and the Christian with my mom and sister.
If you've never heard of L'Abri, you're most likely in the majority. It's kind of even difficult to explain. Basically it started in Switzerland (L'Abri means 'shelter' in French) in the home of Francis and Edith Schaeffer as a place for students to come and discuss difficult questions about life and Christianity. The basic premise is the belief that we see God in all of life and that we should engage with the culture from a biblical worldview.
In addition to having wonderful conversations, visiting with family, and shopping at the library book sale (because I always *need* more books), I came back with some new perspectives on the artist life. Sometimes I question the validity of the being and artist and the bigger picture behind what I do, so this was an opportunity to wrestle with some of the deeper issues of why I create. Maybe you're not an artist, but I always say that everyone has something they do to practice creativity. I learned things that could apply to anyone who creates and especially to those who might be struggling through the Christian life.
I tried to condense the highlights into topical paragraphs and I hope there is some ray of truth that resonates with you. Be warned, it's all a little cerebral, which is totally my jam, but it might not be your thing.
First of all, what is art and why is it important? Art engages, allows us to enter the artist's world, leaves room for the imagination, is true and good, strains toward the transcendent, can have multiple meanings, stimulates primary enjoyment, is not alienating, is more than self expression but makes a connection between the artist and audience. A lot could be said about each of these aspects, but I'll leave them here for your own reflection.
Christian art should speak truth and give hope; its intent shouldn't be to be unrealistic or sentimental, but to point people to the truth.
Artists put images/notes/words together to make something that transcends each individual image/note/word in the sense that the whole is greater than than the sum of its parts. If you are an artist of any kind, your art should tell your story, and the story behind the art enhances it. Allow God to use your story in ways you might not have even forseen or intended in order to bless others.
There was a lot of discussion about beauty and what it means for the Christian. Beauty is immanent and transcendent - a picture of the 'now' and the 'not yet'. God has given us beauty in the world now, but it is not revealed in its perfection until Heaven. But in the now, it lights our way home and helps us navigate through an ugly world. Beauty is a glimpse of redemption in a broken world as it reflects goodness. It is not an accident but leaves no doubt to the existence of God in His creation. It is proof of God's love.
In a nuanced world that is scarred by brokenness, God and Satan are fighting over beauty and the battlefield is man. This was such an insightful way of pointing to the way the world wants us to think of beauty and manufacture it artificially and the way God has already created it in nature.
People always ask 'why is there suffering in the world?' but maybe the question is 'why is there beauty?' Beauty is an act of the grace God gives us. Beauty is part of the process of redeeming creation.
I had never thought the connection between art and metaphor. Metaphor is an idea incarnated in an image; the bible is full of metaphor causing a vague concept to become more real and tangible. Metaphor is two things likened yielding fresh insight into each.
Creativity is part of our humanity, the humanity that we are created in the image of God who is the first and greatest creator. Every artist paints his nature into his pictures and the way we create defines us as change makers in our culture. What is the message we send or the change we create through our art? Culture has a thousand surfaces that invite the stamp of meaning. How are you imprinting culture with the nature of God through your art?
There's a slow and painful process to creating, but there's growth in the tension. Truthfully, sometimes I just want to make something that has a no-fail process and doesn't require any thought. Doing what you love doesn't mean you don't have to work at it. But creating is an act of praise to our creator. As we create, we are demonstrating our gratefulness to the one who created us.
There is continuity between what we do now and Heaven. When we create in a redemptive way on earth, we are pointing toward Heaven. We live between Eden and earth's redemption and the universe is imprinted with design. Creation is not only good but also beautiful. God created the universe from love and his thumbprint is on everything. And in creation, beauty and ugliness allow us to see good and evil for what they are. Ultimately, we are persuaded not that evil doesn't exist, but that there is a God far greater than evil.
So there's a little brain dump for you! These ideas have been rattling around in my head for a while now, and I hope they benefit anyone else out there who might be wrestling with the creative life and what it means to be a Christian artist. Of course, these are just the highlights, but you can go to Sound Word to download the lectures if you want to hear more.