Artists: These “strange creatures”

An Austin, Texas church is hosting a conference for pastors and artists in April 2008. The gathering is called Transforming Culture. Each of the six plenary sessions will address a particular question; one of these questions is: “What is an artist and how do we shepherd these strange creatures?” The website elaborates on its own question:

    What is the anatomy of an artist? What is their peculiar nature? What do artists need to be healthy, mature persons? What do artists need but don’t immediately realize they need? How can we provide spiritual formation as well as community and opportunities for expression for the artists in our care?

    Our desire here is to help pastors understand the way God has created artists. Artists don’t need to be idolized or marginalized — often the two primary ways our culture treats them — they need to be loved with understanding, appreciated for the often non-useful, non-marketable but glory-bearing work they create, and invited into the gracious lordship of Christ and the protective, generous care of His Body, the Church.

    Our desire, more fully then, is to help pastors understand artists so they can shepherd them well, with skill and wisdom, with love and joy, whether the artists are serving the liturgy or the community or the culture at large or perhaps just needing to sit in the pew and be loved for who they are, not for what they can do.

Upon reading that I am a “strange creature,” my gut reaction was something akin to saying “But we’re just like the rest of people!” But, actually, we aren’t always. We often live on different schedules. We have different budgets and often quite different interests. And we do have different spiritual needs as members of the Church — although a number of these, I believe, can be traced back to our reception by the Body, or lack thereof.

I’m very glad to hear them say that “Artists don’t need to be idolized or marginalized — often the two primary ways our culture [and the church therein] treats them . . . ” The marginalization is what I refer to above when I suggest a lack of reception by our brothers and sisters. We may be accepted as people with no reservations. We can be in the choir, help out in the youth group and attend a cell group. However, when it comes to addressing our passion, our job, leadership and congregants, well, don’t seem to know how to react. At all.

I don’t mind if I’m considered strange. What I want is the same thing Makoto Fujimura wanted and, after years of being an artist in the church, finally received: Affirmation of his calling (which happened via a commission from a fellow Believer). I desire to know my brothers and sisters adamantly believe in the arts, and in my pursuing them wholeheartedly (i.e., not just as a hobby). I desire words of affirmation and the affirmation of their actions — that is, their purchasing of my artwork. Words without actions are void, per the book of James and my own personal sentiment.

The Bible affirms the creators of beautiful things. The first two people recorded in Scripture to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit were artists, men known for their works in metal and fabric. God affirms beauty by detailing the plans for the tabernacle and temple, designs which could have been much more minimal than God commanded. Creation itself is beautiful, and we are given a sense of beauty in order to understand this.

Why don’t the other people in the pews realize this?

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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 pcNielsen.com.

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