Art, faith, missions and a retreat

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

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:

Christians in the Visual Arts

Visual Arts and Missions

Art and the Bible

Digg this!


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

27 Responses to Art, faith, missions and a retreat

  1. ann says:

    I, too, envision a place where artist of faith, young and old alike can go…for a week of intense “art camp” or a one on one with God to reflect and regroup, and community gatherings during the year for artist of all areas to gather wiht people of the same spirit and dig deeper into personal and group expressions of our beliefs thru art in churches, on the mission field or in galleries. Christians interested in fine arts should have a support system at least as widespread as those in music do!

  2. Pingback: MFA vs. artist « The Aesthetic Elevator

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  4. Ann Adair says:

    I’ve just started research on this topic of a Christian artists retreat. I, too, have a vision for creative artists of all types to be able to spend a week or more in community, or on a group retreat, or extended time of solitude and communing with God, for creative purposes away from modern life. It is so exciting to see others with such a vision! My area of expertise is music, but I am a huge fine arts fan and one day hope to have such an enterprise!

  5. I’ve had in mind the same thing for around 10 years.

    A place with three divisions/missions

    1. A place where creative believers can gather together in community to encourage, critique, assist and lift up each other. Where faith is integral .
    2. When the core group is established and well grounded, the centre would be opened up to people who wish to come on short term stays. I see these short term visitors in terms of individuals who need to experience the healing God brings through the creative arts.
    3. The eventual sending out of artists to small communities which for lack of creative injection are stagnating and dying. To send mobile art studios to these communities and set up shop for a period of time. Offering art classes, and some sort of creative outreach.

    Surfing onto your site today, and being reminded that there are others with similar dreams is encouraging.

    I’ve pretty much given up on seeing this dream come to reality where I’m living now, which is disheartening as I put up for sale the 1928 schoolhouse in which I live and have my pottery studio.

    The location is remote in the middle of the Canadian prairies and an hour’s drive from the nearest city.

    Really enjoy your musings on the Creative gift.

  6. In 1997 God gave me a vision of having a Christian Art Center on every continent. It would be a place for people to come and live for a day or a year or a lifetime. They would first explore healing through art and community and then see what God leads them to do.
    Gretchen Smith

  7. robin moodley says:

    hi…………..i have been purposed to make art as a calling………….i am trusting God to be gracious as i take this step of faith in obedience to what i know i have to do………….i covet your prayers……….love robin moodley

  8. Tim says:

    I too have been thinking about this. I had a vision for such a center about 15 years ago. I may be in a position to begin puting realization to this dream.

    In the meantime though here’s a link for Art and missions.:

  9. TAE says:


    In what way are you able to begin putting this dream into reality? You can’t tease like that and leave me hanging 😉

    And IIRC ArtsLink has a similar (though not exactly the same) idea in their long-term goals . . .

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  11. Pingback: Christian art center, downtown? « The Aesthetic Elevator

  12. I believe the time is right and God is giving many Christians in the visual arts visions and dreams of community with each other and reaching out the the world in joint efforts. I agree Christian themed visual art has been neglected and disrespected in modern times. Perhaps in reaction to poorly done iconic church art in past century. But most likely because art for art sake was not embraced by the church.

    I too am an artist devoted to using my art for ministry and would love to be a part of a Christian artist retreat. I have started a Christian artist group for fellowship and joint projects to benefit our community in Charleston, SC. The website is I wrote an article called Using Art for Ministry.

    We need to unite as fellow Christian artist especially those who chose to do overtly Biblical art like I do. Simple because there aren’t that many of us and there should be. There are also not too many galleries that show art with an overtly Christian message – I not talking about icons. Churches, Christian convention centers, ministry headquarters and Christian retreats should be graced with inspiration art pieces all over their facilities.

    • Kathy Bailey says:

      I couldn’t agree more!! As THE artist, God has given art to mankind as an avenue through which we express our unique and elevated possition over the rest of creation. We alone are made in His image and the arts are clearly part of what identifies us as “set apart”. When we as Christians (Christ ones) use our gifts in any way we are doing what pleases our Father and reflects His “likeness” to a world that may or may not yet know Him. I for one pray that the Lord of this incredible universe allows me to more clearly represent Him through the gift of art!!

    • pcNielsen says:

      FWIW my idea is not based on the creation of a certain kind of art, but a certain kind of artist. Whether the people who participate in this kind of venture are creators of liturgical arts or contemporary abstractions based on nothing particularly pious makes no difference to me. One thing I do know, however, the creation of specifically religiously themed art would not be encouraged, or necessarily discouraged.

  13. Pingback: Abandoned prairie schools as art center « The Aesthetic Elevator

  14. robin moodley says:

    hi…..we have a small holding in durban….south africa………..i am in the process of moving my studio to the farm…… desire is the have a place of creativity and sensitive ….soft …walking…engaging….and listening to what THE FATHER is saying……mobilising through the arts and going out and doing it………it could be a place of dynamic discourse ….engagement ……….REVIVAL……and going forth…….please share your thoughts………

  15. robin moodley says:

    i have an interior design website that needs to be updated………the art works are not in as yet……… ( east coast design consultancy ) i will share my thoughts on the farm,art and social discourse issues more clearly soon.

  16. Pingback: Faith, art and barns « Scissortail Art Center

  17. Pingback: Abandoned prairie schools as art center « Scissortail Art Center

  18. Stefan says:

    Hi, Paul and other friends,

    I somehow stumbled upon this blog and am really excited that I did! Just wanted to highlight some pursuits that share this thirst for art, community, and mission. One is the Limner Society ( which meets once a year for a week of creating art together on a particular theme. What started as a bunch of college friends getting together annually is now a 501(c)3 with a mission to use their annual gatherings to breath life into local church engagement with art and the local community.

    I live in India and for the last 7 years have been holding a similar annual week-long art camp to see fellow Indian artists paint prophetically about social issues here. We’ve covered things like religious violence, the destitute, female foeticide, etc. 3 years ago we turned this into a full-time endeavour with the Reflection Art Gallery & Studios (, which does things like hold monthly exhibitions, run artist residencies, and do art workshops with the destitute, street kids, at-risk adolescent girls, etc.

    What caught my eye was particularly the desire on this blog for a place for art and retreat. I’ve recognized a call in my own life to become more reflective and am currently working on raising funds to set up a small ‘Art Ashram’ at the foot of the Himalayas here in India. India has an interesting tradition of ashrams, ‘religious hermitages’, where people get away from the rush of life to pursue spiritual questions, or sometimes simply seek shelter in times of need. E Stanley Jones set up a ‘Christian Ashram Movement’ in the 1930s as places of spiritual retreat and dialogue. What I am working on would similarly be a Christ-centered ashram where 2-3 artists come together at a time, both Christ-followers and friends of other faiths, to quieten themselves, dialogue and create. It would be a place that still seeks to throw light on social issues, while considering Christ as the source of that light. It would be a place where the spiritual, the creative, and both the beauty and concerns of this world meet, not in an ‘activist’ kind of way but a reflective one. If anyone is interested I’d be happy to share more. If anyone knows of people interested in supporting such an endeavour I’d become even happier! (Paul, I hope I’m not being inappropriate with that).

    Blessings to you all,


    • pcNielsen says:

      Not being inappropriate as far as this blog is concerned. At times it would be considered spammy, but as you could so plainly see the thing you’re referencing is something we’re very interested in at The Aesthetic Elevator, something that doesn’t get talked about all that much.

    • pcNielsen says:

      Oh, and I’ve heard of the Limner Society, been to website with photos of the event a few times. Haven’t really been able to figure out what it is up to now though . . .

  19. In Ashland, Oregon there is a Christian Artists’ Retreat that will be meeting May 30 – June 2nd for it’s 6th retreat. Thomas Blackshear will be the keynote speaker. This amazing opportunity is set at a beautiful ranch on the Applegate Trail. Attendees stay for 3 nights and 4 days in log cabins and meet for community worship, great food and workshops. We’ve had incredible artists, including Chris Hopkins, Mick McGinty, Ron DiCianni, Michael Dudash, Frank Ordaz (who worked on the first three Star Wars) as well as Thomas Blackshear, who, as I mentioned, is returning this year. If anyone is interested, they can get more info at:
    It’s time to use the universal language of art to communicate God’s grace to our culture.

  20. Safi says:

    It’s happening! When God wants something to occur in the earth, it does. The burden (vision) He’s placed on your heart is a burden He’s placed in the heart of the body of Christ (other believers in the body of Chirst have received the same vision). I am one of them also. I first received this vision in about 2002 — Wrote a business plan for the concept as part of a class project and a research paper. There are now a few (and growing) gatherings of artists who are Christians in need of retreat, community, sharing and desire for a vision for themselves as creative servants in the Kingdom of God. It is very good to know and SEE that God is about His business. There are millions of artists of all genres who are Christians. God’s Kingdom needs many retreats and gatherings and well as sheperding for them. Let’s all obey what God has given us — for we walk by faith, not by sight.
    Check out Arts and Entertainment Ministry and The Worship Studio both on line.
    Our Lord is Awesome!!!!!

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