In the first part of this series on “God for Artists and Artists for God” I suggested that the nature and purpose of art and the vocation of the artist is one that is given by God and is justified in a particular understanding of God’s presence in creation and command to us as co-creators. In this second part, I want to explore the characteristics of an artist in the Christian community and suggest that the artist is not a peripheral contributor to the gospel or God’s Kingdom. Part three will explore the characteristics of a work of art in which I will suggest that art is not a tool, an artifact of a hobby, or a decoration put on the gospel or incorporated into God’s Kingdom.
I believe there are artists who are gifted and called by God. Just as pastors, technicians, educators, engineers, and athletes are called to contribute in their unique way to God’s kingdom, so are artists. There are those who can taste, smell, see, hear, and feel things others of us can’t. They have the insight and skill to clarify when things are confused, as well as the ambidexterity and courage to confuse things that seem clear. They can point out the reality before us, and inspire and excite us for the reality that is possible. Concealment, allusivity, and revealment are their spiritual gifts.
Being an artist in the Christian community doesn’t mean being a Christian artist. You weren’t meant to be a Christian artist, you were meant to be an artist.
I would hope, however, that in this time between times you would understand the meaning and implications being a follower of Christ has for your artistry. It does not mean that you hold your paintbrush, guitar, or fountain pen differently. Nor does it mean that you paint icons, record in the Christian music industry, or write novels about the Trinity. Rather, it means you make decisions about the kind of art you wish to make. And that you are aware of the kind of meanings you wish to express or communicate. It means you are deliberate and intentional—even if it is that you are being deliberate and intentional about play. Moreover, it means that perhaps your art is a manifestation of faith, hope, and love whether your audience be God, others, or yourself.
You were called to be an artist, and part of being an artist is knowing that call and following it.
Nietzsche once said that the artist resists the sober, and fights for the higher dignity and significance of life. He didn’t find this very noble. In fact, he thought it was rather nihilistic.
I don’t see artistic activity in the Christian community as a resistance of the sober. In fact, I see it as a possibility for the affirmation of the sober. The sober is part of our origin and condition. We know where the “sober” comes from. At the heart of it, Nietzsche wanted more Christians to embrace their finitude—to not want to be an angel. I agree with him. And I think artists actually help us appreciate the sober and embrace our finitude. An artist can stare the sober in the eyes and appreciate its integrity in God’s order and sovereignty from creation to eschaton. That’s something even some pastors cannot do.
By helping us appreciate the sober and embrace our finitude, the artist can help us see the integrity of creation. She can enable us to see our life in lived experience as God surrounds us with his power and glory amid judgment, evil, and error. He can make us present to the present. A vision for interpreting what we already live, she can help us become more intentional about our situation and the reality of it. It’s fitting that Plato and other ancient thinkers mysteriously spoke of artists as inspired by the gods; in the power of the Holy Spirit, they put before our face the appearance of something we often take for granted or entirely ignore. They cast over our perceptions an appearance visible, but invisible. With their beauty and expression they convict us. And out of their situation, they are able to draw attention to aspects of ours that should cause us to be cautious, fearful, delighted, or angry. In short, they illumine the kingdom.
The artist’s creative impulse and dutiful task is hitched to God’s overall task. She is a member of the body of Christ—called to make her contribution to his kingdom—and no one can say to her: “I don’t need you.”