The Studio of Eric Valosin

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Christian + Art = Dumb Idea? That can't be right...

Ok, so I'm an artist.  And I fancy myself an aspiring Christian artist.  Well, I already am a Christian artist, in that I am Christian and an artist, so I guess that leaves only the aspiration of being a successful Christian artist.  So, the first question facing me is, WHY would I do that to myself?

If I'm looking to be a successful artist, there are many more plausible avenues than through Christianity - at least on first glance for sure.  And if I'm looking to be a successful Christian, then there would seem to be many more plausible avenues than through art - at least pragmatically.  So what is to be gained by combining the two?  The only logical conclusion I can come to is this:

Though art seems to have almost unparalleled rights to social critique, I suspect that a purely socially critical body of Christian art would soon devolve into the preachy, holier-than-thou, nose-thumbing rhetoric that creates stereotypes rather than dispelling them.  Granted, the artist has a great power to shape culture and that responsibility can't be ignored, but looking at the early Christian art of the Cloisters has made me think that there's a much grander point that is missing.

During a critique, a friend of mine said to me in an aside that he thinks its absurd to have artists talk about or write about their work.  If they wanted to do that, they'd be lecturers or writers.  But they chose to be an artist because they felt that for whatever reason, they could create a message visually that they could not adequately express in any other format.  And so, the privilege of the Christian engaged in the arts, is that they have the uncanny opportunity to convey to people things that simply cannot be expressed but through raw experiential thought and emotion.  The power of art is that it can enter the viewer into a revelatory participation with the artist as creator and maker of meaning.  And isn't religion all about making manifest the intangible and implausible?  Just in the way that the art of the Cloisters was not meant to be viewed so much as used, perhaps art has the potential to uncover the divine by allowing viewers to enter into participation with it in a way that no form of preaching ever could.

So, it now becomes apparent that my primary goal as a Christian artist aught not to be to transform the world into the Kingdom of God one social adjustment at a time, but to introduce the Kingdom of God to the world by allowing art to be a vehicle by which viewers encounter divinity for themselves!

Right.  Ok, well that just leaves the question of HOW.  How indeed...
I have a hunch that artistic success is somehow linked to 3 things: one, the ability to create a new medium, two, the way that medium is intrinsically tied to the social and conceptual landscape in which the artist works, and three, the willingness to adapt that medium into various formats for the sake of furthering that social and conceptual landscape.  I'll be researching these very points for a paper involving the work of William Kentridge and new media artist Erik Sanner, and I'm interested to see where this takes me and how it informs the direction of my work.

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