What Every Christian Can Learn from Artists

Art is a unique activity available to humanity.  Indeed, it is one of the marks that makes us human.  After all, squirrels do not make art.

However, in our present day, many “ordinary people” (aka non-artists) have been turned off to art by a few encounters with bizarre, “modern” forms.

But in spite of these encounters (which I can readily relate to), most of us still appreciate the power of art.  We have songs we love to listen to.  Photographs that make us think.  Paintings that stir our hearts.  Movies that instill a sense of wonder and awe.

All of these experiences display the incredible potential of art.  They also explain why we like to look at it, listen to it, watch it, etc.  It’s for the experience.  The power.  The gut-level effect it has on us.

But I want to ask another question: why do people create art?  And more specifically, why would a follower of Jesus create art?

Most artists speak of being compelled to create.  They say things like, “I just need to do it”, or “I have to create”, or “If I don’t write songs, I just feel incomplete, like something is…missing.”

Is there any validity to these statements?  Or are these just the mad ravings of weird artist-types?  And if the statements are valid, where do these motivations come from?

Recently, I finished a novel called The Gift of Asher Lev.  It’s a beautiful, heart-wrenching story about a conservative Jewish man who follows his talents to become an artist, even at the risk of being exiled from his strict religious sect.  Among other topics, one theme the book returns to over and over again is the heart of an artist and the role artists play in society.

Near the middle of the book, there is a line that jumped off the page when I read it:

“An artist needs a broken world in order to have pieces to shape into art”.

This small sentence can serve as an explanation for the creative impulse within every artist, and especially within Christian artists.

We all know the world is fractured and torn.  It is not what we wish it to be.  Our experiences never live up to our expectations, and even when times are good, we know that heartache is probably just around the corner.

But for all this brokenness, as followers of Jesus, we live with a sense of hope.  This hope is because of what God is doing in the world through his resurrected Son, Jesus Christ.  Through his life, death, and resurrection, God reconciled the world to himself.  Easter morning was a climactic moment, as God declared irrevocably that human history will end with restoration and hope; not devastation and death.

Artists, then, get to re-live this redemption story every time they create a new piece.

Think of what an artist does on a practical level.  They take separate, dissonant parts of the created world and weave them together in new ways that are harmonious, unified, and often spectacular.  They are literally reconciling the creation.

This is also one of the reasons that some particularly strong artist-types (including the one the novel depicts) come off as being overly emotional, inconsistent, or may find themselves struggling with intense depression or anxiety.  Artists tend to be particularly sensitive to the brokenness of creation.  And this dissonance wears on them.

But this keen awareness of brokenness is also necessary for their art.  After all,

“An artist needs a broken world in order to have pieces to shape into art”.

As a song-writer myself, I often feel that I can’t make sense of events in life until I write a song about them.  Only recently have I come to understand why I function this way.  The reason is that life is complicated.  Relationships are messy.  The world is a huge place.  Sometimes, I get overwhelmed by the complexity of it all.  But if I can just sit down with my guitar and a pad of paper, I find I can slowly (and sometimes painfully) put the world together in a way that makes sense.  Granted, my coherent result may only be a song that lasts for two minutes, but gosh-darn-it, for those two minutes, the whole world makes sense!

My experience of writing songs follows the same pattern as the redemption God is bringing through Christ: brokenness to healing; dissonance to harmony; confusion to coherence.  As followers of Jesus, we can and should appreciate these parallels.  They are all the more reason for us to celebrate art and artists, and not to just push them away as overly emotional expressions or personalities.

Artists leads us all on a journey from brokenness to reconciliation.  May we follow eagerly in their footsteps, their paintings, and their songs.

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