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What is a Christian Artist?
I am a double major in the visual arts and a leader in the art community on my campus so I jumped at the opportunity to join other artists for five days to explore our opportunities and challenges as art students who follow Jesus. I was curious about how my peers integrate their art and their faith. Here is what they had to say at the recent StoneWorks Arts Leadership Training Conference (SALT).
I travelled to Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi to attend SALT, expecting to learn more about God’s calling on my life as an artist. I was excited to meet other people who were passionate about ministering to their campuses and communities through their artwork. I wasn’t disappointed!
It was so inspiring and refreshing to see Christian artists from across the country come together. We represented many different visual and performing arts disciplines and we were all encouraged and empowered to offer our gifts in service to God.
During the conference, speaker Dr. Colin Harbinson talked about what it means to be a Christian artist and the obstacles, or “stones,” we commonly face. Three areas of struggle for many Christian artists are issues related to the church, or the artist personally, or within the culture at large. He emphasized the need to remove these “stones” so that we can be free to live up to our identity as artists. He is the International Director of Stoneworks, a global arts initiative.
I asked some of the art students at SALT about their thoughts on what it means to be artists and Christians on campus and in the world. Here are some of their responses:
What does it mean to you to be a Christian artist?
Meg, a senior at Southern Illinois University, understands the difference between the terms “Christian artist” and “Christian art.” “Someone at SALT said that the word “Christian” is not an adjective; it’s a noun. “Christian” doesn’t describe the art, it’s just art made by someone who loves Christ. I think that’s a really simple way to look at it.”
“I’ve always seen creative expression as one of the greatest gifts God has given us as human beings; we have this ability to express ourselves that is purely from God,” said Grace, a sophomore at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). “There’s no real separation there, to be an artist, to be a Christian, to be a follower of God — it’s all a form of worship and connection with him on a really deep spiritual level. Even if you don’t make explicitly “Christian art,” being a Christian means that your values and your beliefs will come out in what you produce.”
See Grace’s video where she shares her thoughts on art as a form of worship:
Stephanie, a senior at MICA, believes that being a Christian artist is a way she can bring hope to people in the fine arts community. “I think that the fine arts world is often an unhappy place and the joy that I have as a Christian comes through my art. I choose to be an artist because the arts don’t give answers; they pose questions — and that’s the most effective way to do ministry,” Stephanie said. “People don’t want to be told what is right; they want to come to it on their own. I think the Holy Spirit uses the arts to do that.”
What difficulties do you face as a Christian artist on your campus?
“The hardest thing to overcome as a Christian in an arts school is the preconceived idea of what a Christian is,” said Stephanie. “When people find out I’m a Christian, they say “I’ve never met a Christian who accepts me.” I think that just meeting people where they are is the most important challenge that we as Christians have to take on.”
“Because my campus is, in some respects, hostile towards Christianity, it is difficult to practice an art form that you know is God-given in an environment where people don’t see it that way. Christianity is so steeped in the history of art that it’s hard to be in an artistic setting and not talk about Christianity. It is fertile ground for discussing questions people have about the history of the church,” said Grace. “What’s important for me now is to display my faith through my actions and my art for people on my campus who aren’t receptive to my words.”
What impact did SALT have on you personally?
“I’ve been learning just how intricately the artistic side of me connects with my faith and how to express what I know about God and how I feel about God through my art,” said Meg. “I have this really strong sense of possibility and calling on my life. I’m excited about stepping into that and living it out. I feel released and free, as if God is saying, Don’t be afraid or hesitant; just jump into it and see what I’ll do.
“SALT reaffirmed in me the fact that I am a leader in the arts. It sparked a fire in me to share everything I’ve learned, like a reinvigorated commission” said Stephanie. “Through this conference, I sense God telling me that this is what he wants me to do and what he’s enabled me to do, so I must go do it. I think that the message of Christ’s love communicated through the beauty of the arts is something that I am able to take into the world now.”
Dick Ryan, InterVarsity’s Director of Arts Ministries, summarized the SALT conference by saying, “We’re trying to create a way for people to become high-quality, productive artists and, at the same time, to become high-quality, productive Christians. This happens in an authentic community with others where there is a safe place for honest discussions about life, God, and the arts. This is what we want our students to be doing when they go back to their campuses.”
More resources to integrate faith and art
Stone by Stone Arts Curriculum is a new curriculum featuring Colin Harbinson and designed for artists and emerging artists who want to discuss how to connect their creative gifts with God’s redemptive purposes.
Expand your vision for Redeeming the Arts in this interview with Colin Harbinson and Dick Ryan.
Share the Struggles of a Christian Artist with Gary Nauman, InterVarsity’s Senior Graphics Designer, as he looks for ways to nurture his artistic soul.
If you’re wondering how you can use your artistic gifts to make a difference in the world, here’s how a few arts students serve the poor in their local community.