Is There a Place for Creative Christians?
January 25, 2012
When people describe the Church, "creative" probably isn't the first word that comes to mind. This sad truth isn't the result of a lack of creative Christians, but rather, Christians who don't know what to do with their creativity.
Many believers struggle to balance their art and their faith. Some think that to be a truly successful poet, painter, musician or producer, their work must be held separate from their faith. Others may believe unless their song, design, book or film is not littered with overt spirituality, it cannot glorify God. Either way, their art suffers. Is there a third way—a place for Christian artists to embrace all of their callings without sacrificing their creative integrity or their heart for the Kingdom?
RELEVANT recently caught up with a few individuals who are asking this important question. Their artistic endeavors are varied—abstract paintings, documentaries, worship experiences, musical communities—but together they are seeing the rebirth of a creativity that is neither held back nor excluded by the four walls of the Church. Below are some of their thoughts on faith, success and why Christians artists don't have to be bound by labels.
Why creating is like faith:Linnea Gabriella Spransy
“The way life behaves and the way plants grow are incredibly interesting to me. The ways human beings behave and the possibility of healing is also inspiring to me. I am continually staggered by the ingenuity of God in the world around us. We have so much to draw on. ... The true artist displays to the world a manifestation of the inner meditations of their heart and mind. Being an artist is, in and of itself, an incredible parable for having faith. You’re in this position where you have to step into the unknown without hesitancy, with all of your resources and with every intention of seeing it through, and you know it may be disastrous. ... Community puts us in a place where we can’t hide our worst and our best, and so there’s incredible opportunity for discipleship. In community that is caring and healthy, an artist brings not only beauty and inspiration but also powerful observational skills and spiritual awareness. We can become a source of joy, blessing and the voice of God in other peoples’ lives.”
Linnea Gabriella Spransy is an award-winning painter and leader of the artist community at the Boiler Room. She has her M.F.A. from Yale and has had exhibitions from Brooklyn to China. You can see some of her work at her site: linneagabrilla.com
How the Church can benefit from creativity:
“A friend of mine, Marty Taylor, says it best. He says, 'Before Godcreated man, He created a beautiful environment for man to worship in.'The way he approaches it, and the way I approach it would be the sameway: Large-scale production can create a beautiful environment forpeople to worship in. Do I think it's absolutely necessary? No, I don'tthink we have to have it in every case. Production and art can haveprofound impact in a lot of things. ... I think art can connect on a lotof different levels. The difference between a lot of Dreamworks animated films and Pixar animated films. The Dreamworks films are smaller, lessbudget—honestly, just less art; I think most of them are terrible, Ireally don't like watching them. But Pixar puts all this extra moneyinto making each film, all the extra effort, and when there's heart andsoul behind it? It works. My opinion is that when there's real heart and soul and it really is good art, it can connect whether it's big orsmall. I completely recognize that there are cities that wouldn't handle what we're doing, but where we're at it's working. It's similar toPixar: They say that they make movies that they love, I make servicesthat I would want to go to.”
Whitney George is the creative director of Church on the Move in Tulsa, Okla.
Why success as an artist doesn’t always look like you think it does:
“The focus is asking how we can connect the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people in the world who have been burned by the Church or burned by their Christian experience or burned in some way. What's the smallest way of us going: 'We want to treat you with so much honor. We want to treat you with so much respect and so much love'? It's an opportunity to remind somebody they are loved by God, and that's a whole lot harder to communicate via a website or anything else. Really, the thought behind it is there are people in the world who need to know God paid such a dear price for them, and how do we communicate that? How do you really raise up a follower of Jesus in an artist? There's so much distraction, and the world speaks so loudly to artists. Our challenge is just, don't worry about the business component—worry first about the Kingdom. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Chad Johnson is the founder of Come&Live!, a nonprofit mission organization that joins hands with artists and “musicianaries” to provide guidance, direction and accountability.
Why a Christian artist doesn’t have to make “Christian art”:
“I did five years of campus ministry, and when I was leaving I had the opportunity to take a [video editing] job. I really liked it because I could engage with ideas, engage with stories, but in a way that allowed me to work really closely to a story, or a topic, or a person, or a profile and then leave it and move onto the next thing. ... I have no fear of judgment by my Christian peers. I actually feel more fear about judgment from the secular that this is just another piece of Christian propaganda. Ultimately, I wanted to create a piece of art that would be taken at face value, that would be judged because it's a piece of art, not because a Christian created it or didn't create it. I believe God has made us to create things—that's what I want to do. I just want to create something that causes people to stop, to think and maybe to consider their life a little more deeply. If I've done that, I'm pretty excited.”
Nathan Clarke is the founder of Fourth Line Films and the director of the award-winning documentary Wrestling for Jesus.
When art gets in the way of the story:
“There's some really phenomenal mediums that may appear to be very entertainment-based. But the question I have to ask is, 'Did the medium serve the content?' I think what starts to happen is that once we get into these realms of needing 3D in our churches or holograms in our churches, people aren't asking why except for the sake of relevancy. It happens when we don't think of the story before we figure out how we're going to tell it. My goal is to tell the most incredible story ever. We don't start with a turntable and projection and say, 'OK, now we have these things, what are we going to tell?' I think that is the biggest thing that gets in the way. You can use whatever you want to use, as long as you have a really great story that you want to tell first. I think what ends up happening is that the medium trumps the message because we want to be relevant, we want to be cool, we want to fit in. I just don't care about that stuff. We've got the greatest story ever told; we just don't tell it that well usually.”
Blaine Hogan is a former actor and the current creative director at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago