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Created to Create

previously published in May 2005

What is art? And who is the artist? As an individual who left the pastoral ‘arts’ to pursue the arts in new media, I’ll tell you what art is to me, and what it’s like to be a Christian artist.

If you took an art class, particularly one relating to history, you would study painting, sculpture, architecture, photography, and other mediums of representation. Today, through the media and process of ever-growing commercialization, art has combined all forms of imagery and spread new wings to reach farther than ever imagined and perhaps ever desired. Whether we realize it or not, we live in a modern society infused with art like never before.

Earlier, I came across a definition for art found in the American Heritage Dictionary, and it reflects this diffused state:
art1 (ärt) n. – 1. Human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature.

Webster couldn’t have said it any better (and he doesn’t). It’s a broad, loose definition, but I feel it speaks to what art is really all about.

When God created humanity, He gave a myriad of awesome gifts—the ability to reason, the freedom of choice, an incessant need to love and be loved, the power to rule, the Sabbath (a gift of time)—to name a few. But the greatest gift He gave us, one that innately encompasses all of these, and one that stirs up the envy of the devil, is the capacity to create. At the heart of it is the ability to procreate, to create children of our own through a beautiful, pleasurable, collaborative work of man and woman, and then to raise and further create them in our own image, just as we were created in the image of God.

Then there are those few that are able to take this gift much further and infuse it into every fiber of their lives, even in places that seem so mundane—the gesture of the hand, the tapping of a foot to become a sensuous, rhythmical dance; the flick of a wrist, the motion of a pen across paper, fashioning within a dozen words the emotions of life; the patterned movement of fingers on a string to produce the sublime. These individuals, who are able to harness their God-given creative power in phenomenal ways, are your artists.

For me, being a Christian artist is about seeing God outside of Himself, incarnated in truth. And truth is so often synonymous with beauty. We artists—we search for beauty, we discover it, and we find it in images, in the language of sound, in our experiences, and in each other. Then we interpret it. This is where the Christian artist separates herself from the others. Through our connection with God and His Word, we have a closer understanding of truth in its perfect sense, and know beauty as only God sees it.

We also see beauty where others don’t. And for this, we are often misunderstood. I recently had a conversation with a fellow Christian artist, and she was telling me how one of her favorite paintings happened to be “The Scream” by Edvard Munch. Up on the wall of her own bedroom, her mother and sister couldn’t comprehend how their own flesh and blood could enjoy what they saw as such a twisted, nightmarish painting. Yet she was able to find her own personal comfort in understanding and empathizing with the acute expression of loneliness and awful despair felt by Munch. In other words, she connected.

As artists (and I am speaking beyond merely representational art), this is both our greatest challenge as well as what we wish to accomplish most—to have others see what we see, from our perspective, and ultimately, feel what we feel. As Bono said, “If I am close to the music, and you are close to the music, we are close to each other.”

In that sense, art is about connecting. Yes, I want you to be excited about what excites me; I want you to be angry at what angers me, and I want you to be moved by what moves me. And perhaps, through that experience, we can understand each other. That is why art transcends all boundaries of culture, gender, and even language. I remember when I was a freshman in college, an old friend and I used to mournfully listen to a great Japanese love song called “Ichiban.” We didn’t understand a single word, but we didn’t have to; its meaning came across loud and clear. 

Therein also lies the dangerously creative power of art. It is experiential, and it exercises the ability to change. In the past century, Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim transformed a run-down city into a booming metropolitan art center; the Beatles had the whole western world crying with Lennon’s son Julian in “Hey Jude”; Apple’s use of functional design simultaneously saved and revolutionized the music industry; and Spielberg scared an entire nation out of the water with “Jaws”.

These examples may seem immaterial, but why can’t art be used for more altruistic purposes? Dorothea Lange’s photograph “Migrant Mother” changed the way America viewed poverty in the west. And unlike anything ever accomplished in the last century, Mel Gibson made it safe to talk about Jesus on the streets. More than any teacher, preacher, or politician, the masses are listening to the musicians, designers, and filmmakers. After all, they have the greater audience, and are more in tune with the times than any other group of people. And if Christianity cries for anything, it’s relevance.

I wish more of us had the courage to mirror the Creator. "The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands" (Psalm 19:1). Even after thousands of years of degradation and corruption, God clearly communicates truths about His existence and His nature through the beauty of His creation. When I stand out in the wonder of it all, I can see and feel Him. It’s no surprise to me that Christ chose to be an artist when He incarnated in this world.

I wish more people would remove their blinders and see the splendor that’s dancing all around us. In our busy, fast-paced existence, there is so much beauty that we miss in life. It’s even there in the hardships, in tragedy, and in death. You don’t think so? Can you see the beauty in the cross? I can, and it’s changed my life forever.

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