Piety vs. gifting

I struggle knowing when to sacrifice my own interests in art for the greater good of Christendom. The struggle comes from acknowledging that my interests and talents in the arts are part of my created being, something that God gave to me for His glory.

It’s easy for me to be caught up in the arts, whether thinking about them or creating, in a way that isn’t overtly pious. My non-representational sculptures won’t immediately remind viewers of my faith. Probably fewer than half of my posts on this blog mention my faith, though I haven’t counted.

Of course, I may be making a comparison to the Fundamentalist lifestyle presented to me as a child, where little if any value seemed to be placed on anything outside of “the Lord’s work.” This point of view arises from the segregation of sacred and secular activities, a worldview that doesn’t believe in being a part of culture. In Biblical terms, this mindset not only avoids being “of” the world, it’s also not “in” the world. Hence the Christian “ghetto.”

It doesn’t bother me that my writing here doesn’t mention God in every post. I don’t feel guilty for not creating kitschy artwork that looks like its supposed to hang in church lobbies. The issues I tackle on The Aesthetic Elevator reflect my life “in” the world. Further, much of culture is amoral, not good or evil but just there, in essence. Even though we live in a fallen world, the rocks still sing praise to God. Creation is still “good;” Jesus affirmed this by His incarnation.

My faith is an integral part of who I am. It will always — consciously or subconsciously — inform how I think (and what I write here) and what I create, even if it isn’t obvious to other people. The struggle arises because I don’t know what it looks like to live as an artist of faith outside of my own experiences. I had no examples growing up in Western Nebraska. I had no one to look up to as a mentor while at the university in a city of 250,000 either, attending a church with a bonafide visual arts ministry. Yes, there were other artists of faith in school and at the church, but we were all stumbling around blindly to a large degree with respect to how our faith and visual gifts actually intermingled.

Should my life choices be more informed by my faith than the arts? Or should my life choices be more informed by the gifts God gave me than my faith? The obligatory answer is that faith is more important. And while I agree that a person’s faith is of utmost importance, I don’t believe said faith should be divorced from one’s natural talents and abilities — particularly when said person attributes all of their giftings to God.

These thoughts rattled around in my brain all weekend after conversing with missionary friends last Friday. Over dinner they asked if we ever considered serving overseas. This short answer to this inquiry is “yes.” Our friends then suggested we consider an artist residency program in their city, at their church. The opportunity, which I have very few details on at this point, is very appealing to me. From what I do know, this sounds like one of the few good examples of mixing missions and the tactile arts; of course, there are very few examples to draw from overall.

When I have more details I’ll give them if it looks like a good option that my wife and I might pursue.


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.

5 Responses to Piety vs. gifting

  1. Mo-Coffee says:

    I love this post. Wonderfully honest. Thanks! I think you are asking the same basic question we all ask about the connection between our vocations and our faith. Its seems potentially dangerous to lean too hard in either direction. Luther is great on this issue, but he does present a kind of separation of spheres arguement. Although a bit touchy, I also like Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, and how it might be applied to ideas of the role of the artist in serving both society and the kingdom of God. My colleague, Dr. John Walford, (art history, and a former student of Rookmaker), writes extensively on this. You should check out his web site:


    and his photo collages on flickr:

  2. TAE says:

    I didn’t mention — though I thought of the concept in relationship to my topic — what you elude to in your comment: Balance. This is one area of my life where I’ve found it more difficult than others to find a sense of balance, although I imagine the reason for is this is the lack of examples (people to look up to) and opportunities as I mention above.

    OK, now I’m finally going to look at the links you gave above . . .

  3. Pingback: Off Topic: Mission trips « The Aesthetic Elevator

  4. Pingback: Short term mission trips « m.Fund

  5. I see Mo-Coffee pointing you my way. My core conviction on this set of issues is that we are to sharpen and refine our God-given gifts, following our instincts and our passions in terms of the projects and arenas that we engage, and engage our culture with all the imagination and resourcefuness that fits with whom each of us is, in the way that we are made, and the various contexts in which we find ourselves. We are also given a rich vision of what it is, and is not, to nurture or destroy our full humanity, and should find ways to share such a vision. Here is another forum I use: http://nowonlyconnect.blogspot.com/

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