I am an artist. I think I’m a Christian most days. But I don’t define my work specifically as Christian art.
How my faith influences my art
I have to get this off of my chest first thing. I have STRUGGLED with this post. With the idea of talking about my faith and my art. With talking about these things in this permanent fashion. And I’ve gone back and forth on whether to write it at all. Read on knowing that this is an ongoing area of thought for me. So this post is marking my thinking in this moment in time for me in early 2023.
Over the last 15 years I have been through a pretty radical deconstruction of my faith. It has been a hard road with a lot of loss. I’ve lost ideas, beliefs, people, and a church home I loved dearly. It was devastating to realize I needed to move forward. And in that process, leave some people and ideas behind because they weren’t ready to move too. It’s been a painfully personal process that I haven’t shared with many. Even as it has so often been front and center in the work I’m making, I haven’t talked about it.
One of the ways that deconstruction has specifically manifested for me is that I am no longer in the evangelization business. If I have to tell you loudly that I am a Christian, I’m probably already doing it wrong. I live in the American South. The saying goes we are overchurched and undermedicated. There’s somekinda church in every third building on the main drag in my town. Everybody here has heard of Jesus. He doesn’t need me shouting His name from the rooftops.
So what does that leave me to do?
I’ve used my art to process my faith deconstruction A LOT. My art journal has been invaluable here as a thinking and processing tool. I am constantly thinking about things and putting them down in my books as a concrete way to wrestle with them. I think much of art making, since it’s solitary, lends itself to a monastic sort of contemplation. And I definitely engage my process that way. My Stay-at-Home journal is a huge exploration of our collective isolation during the pandemic and my working through how our public care for each other can falter in group practice.
I also do a lot of contemplation in art pieces. You can see this showing up most noticeably in my Modern Icons series. But it’s there in my other work too.
Beauty and Prophecy
I’ve read a lot (I’ve included my personal reading list at the end of this post). Both on faith and then more specifically on art making and faith. And with that reading I’ve struggled with the idea of beauty as the ONLY function of Christian art. Many, many people feel that artistic expression should be used almost exclusively for the beautification of the church and to illustrate God’s good kingdom.
While I think beautiful art is a way for us to engage in the idea of God’s kingdom in the here and now, I also think there is room beyond the beautiful for prophetic voices to highlight injustices and real human needs artistically. I think there is a place for makers and artists to cry out of the wilderness and underscore what is broken in the world as we look toward God for ways to right those wrongs. Since art can be from a deeper emotional well than even language, using it to tap into these ideas and express them interests me.
I’ll admit, this prophecy space is one that fascinates me. It is a place where I am challenged to live as I feel called to live but so often fall short.
What am I talking about when I say prophecy? I am thinking specifically of Everett Patterson’s “José y Maria” illustration and Br. Robert Lentz’s “Christ of Maryknoll” icon. These images help us use our God-given, holy imaginations to see the world, and the people who live in it, in a new way.
Is my work doing that? Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s the thing that I’m always looking for. A gap that I am often trying to lean into and help bridge. Creating a space for people to engage with hard topics then look inward for personal and systemic change is a lofty goal. A goal I’ll likely spend my lifetime exploring and grappling with.
A different sort of invitation
My favorite story when I was younger was a picture book about the creation story called The Dreamer by Cynthia Rylant. It’s still my one of my favorites actually but adults aren’t supposed to have favorite picture books. It is a whimsical retelling of the Genesis creation story. Towards the end God, called the young artist in the story, is laboring over the creation of man and Rylant phrases it “made a new artist in his own image.” That line makes me cry everytime. The idea that we are created to make things is just such a marvelous idea that I absolutely cherish. That our business as humans is to be about creating.
So I deeply hope that all my work conveys an invitation to you to create. In whatever way your making manifests I hope that what I do inspires you, challenges you, calls you to make something of your own. And in that making I hope you are able to explore in a meaningful way who you are, what you value, and who you value.
This was a meaty question from Tanya from the survey I posted in January. Thanks for asking it, Tanya! What about you? How does your faith intersect with your art? I always want to hear from you but on this one I’m doubly interested in hearing your perspective. If you aren’t religious, that’s not a problem for me. If you are angry at God, I don’t have a problem with that either. I get this topic is deeply personal so if you don’t want to engage here on the blog or on socials, my email inbox is open.
These are books I’ve read that have helped me on this journey.
Art and Faith: A theology of making by Makoto Fujimura
Walking on Water: Reflections on faith and art by Madeleine L’Engle
I talk about these two books in my Art Practice Reading List post from last year.
For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a vision for the arts edited by W. David O. Taylor
Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on community, calling, and the mystery of making by Andrew Peterson
The Creative Call: An artist’s response to the way of the spirit by Janice Elsheimer
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