Book Review: The Creative Call
24 September 2006 4 Comments
There are actually quite a few books written about and addressed to Christians in the visual arts. Janice Elsheimer’s The Creative Call is one such book.
I’ve just finished reading The Creative Call. To my own dismay, I’m not all that much of a reader. I just can’t make myself sit down for long enough periods of time to get through many pages — especially in good weather. I have, however, read a couple of other books on Christianity and the arts, most notably Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible and Rookmaaker’s Art Needs No Justification.
I am glad for the plethora of books on Christians in the visual arts, although I have one complaint. Most of these books are not written by visual artists. Elsheimer is a writer. Author Jeremy Begbie is a theology professor with a background in music. Rory Noland, author of two popular books on the Christianity and the arts, is also coming from a musical perspective — and there are three or four more of these examples on the cusp of my keyboard. Schaeffer and Rookmaaker were philosophers and cultural thinkers, and their writing is important. However, they were not visual artists either.
Chances are that a few books concerning Christianity and the arts have been written by visual artists, and I just haven’t come across them yet. Or at least one? Perhaps visual artists are less prone to book-writing; I have read a few essays and articles by visual artists. And I do realize that books written by musicians and writers addressing Christians in the visual arts can be relevant.
Nonetheless, my reasonably intensive research has not yielded a book written by a visual artist for visual artists of the Christian faith.
The Creative Call
I purchased Elsheimer’s The Creative Call to take with me on vacation. I chose it above the other books on my Amazon.com Wish List after noticing an acquaintance in Atlanta was going through this book with some other artists she knew.
I jumped right into the reading. The book is a practical journey, of sorts, for creative Christians who — for whatever reason — are not passionately pursuing their creative gifting. The book contains very pragmatic steps towards overcoming myths, throwing off bitterness, coming into inspiration and finally getting into the studio. For a lot of people, this book could be a very good starting point.
If I would have picked this book up eight years ago, I probably would have eaten it up. However, the first 100 pages held little new information for me. I had already worked through things such as dissenting commentary from people I knew. I had already dove into the Bible, into the book of my own faith, to see what it said about the visual arts — something Elsheimer should have spent some more time on in this book, in my opinion.
It must be said that I am more particular than most people I know about writing style, and Elsheimer’s style in this book wasn’t my cup of tea. I won’t say any more on this though; I understand it may be my own personal preference and not poor writing. The first chapter or two kept my interest, but that interest waned in the middle of the book. I kept on, however, since this reading was as much an academic exercise for me as pleasure or learning.
I did find the last two chapters, “Making Time” and “Simplifying,” more to my liking. This is probably related to the constant struggle most Americans face in light of our fast-paced and material-driven culture. Further, I’ve been drawn to the idea of simplifying my lifestyle for a decade now, and The Creative Call put some perspective to how and why a person should do this. “Self-sufficiency and simplifying one’s life are not synonymous,” Elsheimer writes. “Having your own pressure cleaner or gas-powered generator might make you more self-reliant, but having to pay for, maintain and store another piece of machinery will not make your life less complicated.” She then goes on to quote Susan Pilgrim’s article “Simplifying Life:”
Not since the days of Thoreau has there been such an emphasis on simplifying life. As a generation, the Baby Boomers have had it all — cars, status, big homes, money and lots of stress. They’re discovering that ‘having it all’ isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. Something has been missing. That something is meaning. Fundamentally, ‘simplifying’ is determining what’s really important to you.
As much as I complained to my wife about the style of Elsheimer’s writing — about how reading this book was work — and as little new information as there was for me in the bulk of the book, I came way with a sense of accomplishment and learning. Perhaps the last two chapters redeemed the whole for me.
And regardless of my own misgivings about style and a lack of theological foundation in the writing, it’s the best book of it’s kind that I know of. And, therefore, I will probably recommend it to people I know when the subject of being an artist of faith comes up.