Art, faith, missions and a retreat
27 February 2007 27 Comments
I’m sitting down after a couple hours in my studio and Oprah’s TV special, detailing her South African leadership academy, is on ABC. I don’t know all that much about Oprah — don’t watch her regular show — or this academy. You can read an articulate criticism of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for girls on Kitoba.com.
I’m jealous of Oprah’s opportunity in South Africa. For some years I’ve dreamt of creating a retreat for artists of the Christian faith. One or two of these exist in some form now, including CIVA’s Glen Workshop and something called the Grünewald Guild. Image Journal is also pursuing a project called Still Point. Of these three, Still Point — which is not yet realized — is probably the most similar to what I have in mind. However, even more exciting to me are some of the ideas at OM’s Arts Link.
Unlike the aforementioned retreats, OM (and my own dream) focuses on artists in missions. Granted, any project looking like a retreat or school for artists of the Christian faith as a part of Arts Link is probably years off, barring a $40 million donation from Oprah or one of her very well endowed friends.
My ideas, though pondered often, are fledgling: I imagine this retreat as a place of learning and meditation. I envision a beautiful and well-kept campus with ample studio space, living quarters, gathering spaces and classrooms using responsible and sustainable design and building techniques. Length of terms ranging from a couple months to a couple of years would allow a variety of programs for artists of different proficiency to more deeply explore the relationship between art, faith and missions — propelling the students into a missional, communal and service-oriented lifestyle.
As mission organizations slowly open up to the idea of the fine arts as a credible witness on their fields, it’s fair to say most don’t know where to put artistically missional people yet. Seven or eight years ago the only opportunity I could find for artists pursuing missions was marketing wares crafted by engaged people groups (This excludes graphic design, in which there were ample opportunities, herein not part of the “fine arts.”). The same opportunity exists today in multiple agencies. However, while a knowledge of the visual is important for these jobs, they do not wholly utilize the gifts and interest of artists who actually like to get their hands dirty. Marketing is a desk job. Artists aren’t used to sitting at a desk.
I can’t help but believe there is a need for the retreat I propose in this writing. A few years ago I ran into a girl at the One Day conference very eager to use her painting in missions. I met one person with a similar sentiment at Urbana, where many more likely congregated in the Arts Lounge.
Another problem, however, is that many traditional sending agencies live in a box. In this box, they define art as utilitarian. In the mind of the 20th century church, art is for illustrating children’s books, designing posters and other overtly pious activities. The church has operated, and largely still operates, under this inhibitiing visual status-quo.
Art should be about so much more than a pragmatic piousness! Imagination, creation, engaging culture, speaking to culture politically and socially — and, perhaps the most forgotten aspect of the arts among evangelicals, even beauty. Just, beauty. Is not God beautiful? Is not His creation beautiful? Did He not sanction beauty? The answer, by the way, to these questions is “yes.”
Oprah hired 500 artisans and artists to create and craft her leadership campus. The reason she gave for this: “Beauty.” The modern American church so often reduces art to practical craft, devoid of imagination and creativity. The church should instead be setting standards for artistic endeavors.
I’ve spoken to many of these things on this blog already. If you couldn’t tell, it is something I am extremely passionate about. This is, however, the first time I’ve mentioned my dream of creating a campus for art and missions.
For more resources on art and the Christian faith see these links: