J Scott McElroy

Staying Relevant as a Christ-Following Artist

In Art, Christian Art, Church Art, Creativity, Uncategorized on December 11, 2009 at 5:44 pm

I recently got an email from a young art instructor friend who asked some interesting questions about being “in the world but not of it” as artist. Thought I’d share it and my reply.

Scott,

Recently I have really been trying to dig deeper into pursuing my career as an artist while still seeking the Lord.  I got all psyched up after finishing Steve Turner’ Imagine book and even more so now that I am on the tail end of Finding Divine Inspiration.  But it sure is hard work.  I’ve been finding myself constantly feeling behind and playing catch up.  This past year, with getting married and several other phases going on in my life, I was virtually making no art and not really doing any of the things my grad school teachers preached to me: Going to shows, reading the magazines, discovering new artists, trying new things, being engaged in current culture.  Just today one of my students was telling me about a movie he saw and he asked if I had heard of it.  I said no, and felt quite dumb because it seemed to be a relevant part of what could have been a good discussion between teacher and student about art.  I guess that brings me to my question, or more like my vent:  It’s hard to be a Christian Artist and still be “in the world but not of it.”  I feel like I am furiously trying to catch up on my knowledge and stay relevant with what is going on in the art world.  As Steve Turner says- Most Christians walk up to the art scene and just enter the conversation without first listening to what is already being said, and looking for the opportune moment to enter (my paraphrase).  I don’t want to do that.  I want to make art that is worshipful to God and yet can still knock the socks off of unbelievers. Art that isn’t completely out of left field, but acknowledges the current conversation of what is going on today.

I don’t know…what do you think?

David

My reply:

David,

Really good questions!  Here are some thoughts.  I’ve found that as I listen to the Spirit and  keep an open ear through my day that He has often brought things (trends, books, music, stories, etc) in the culture to my attention or across my path that I need to know about. In fact, I am often amazed at how consistent He has been about that. If you pray for this, He will be faithful to make it happen in your life.

You might create a channel for this by asking God to show you a couple of website you could check each day. For me its CNN.com daily and Relevantmagazine.com every few days. Crosswalk.com and Opentheword.com are two good ones that have news from a Christian perspective. Just go to ’em and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you so you can  maximize your time. Put a limit on how much time you spend on them and God will meet you in it.

Another thought about relevance: I know you deal every day with college students who surf the waves of culture, and you want to speak–or at least understand–their language. But know that your spiritual development and the authenticity that comes out of it will give you an essence of relevance that transcends current trends. Really. I’m sure you know this, but it’s always good to be reminded. Of course, this connection with God is the source of the creative “power flow” flow in your work, as well. Seeking the Holy Spirit as you work (and teach) will give a deeper relevance to your work than responding to current trends will, because God will touch people at the core of who they are. You may feel like you are out of step with the culture sometimes, but you will have more impact over time because of your centeredness and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.

God sees your desire to be relevant and serve Him. Keep your eyes and ears open and He’ll fulfill it in ways you can’t imagine.

Also, as for your busy year of neglecting “artistic progress”…life is part of your progress as an artist. You’ll have seasons where you are making and seasons where you are collecting and growing. You may have unfulfilled longings and feel unbalanced sometimes, and that’s ok. God will make clear to you what you need to do as you ask Him.

Blessings!

Scott

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  1. This speaks to me — I’m an artist, a Christian, a college professor, and a spouse, and I have definitely experienced what your friend is talking about! In fact, I’m going to respond to his letter directly.

    My brother David,

    First of all I beg you to lay aside this crushing guilt. If you don’t have time or energy to be looking at art or pursuing your own creativity, you definitely don’t have time or energy to pour into feeling guilty!

    There’s nothing wrong with having students who see movies (or listen to music, or look at artwork) that you’re not familiar with. It doesn’t make you dumb. Let them describe to you what they find meaningful about it; talking about it will give them valuable experience vocalizing what they’re excited about and why. Likewise, if you flip through a magazine or wander through a gallery and don’t see something that speaks to you, move on. There are too many wonderful things being created every day for you to waste your time trying to connect with those that aren’t meant for you.

    But even more important than looking at other artwork is to pray and listen, very intently, for the Spirit’s leading. Everything that you have been given to bring into the world is already there — your job is to search for it and discover it and tenderly nurture it into existence. You cannot forcibly twist your work into “relevance,” but you can pursue it with complete and unashamed honesty.

    That kind of authenticity will, I think, allow you to bring artwork out of your current time-starved situation. Let the development of your work be informed by your circumstances — perhaps you’ll wind up making a very spontaneous 15-minute painting each morning, or a freeform sculpture that you can work on in the evenings as you spend time with your bride.

    You will find your way, I promise.

    Be blessed.
    SJ

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