Practical Steps for Artists

Bret Nicholson   -  

A week ago, I taught at One Life about art. I said my goal was to inspire and encourage artists to produce art and for the rest of us to receive and support art. The idea was to give a biblical basis for the importance of art. This follow up is designed to offer some practical steps to artists who are following Jesus to get on with producing.
1. Don’t wait for the church. One of the worst mistakes people make when it comes to ministry efforts is to wait or try to create formal, organizational programs in the (institutional) church. It’s not an inherently wrong idea, but it often leads to delays in producing and can lead to frustration in the artist. Just PRODUCE what you can. Formal systems may or may not come.
2. Begin. . . today. Many artists are waiting, and that’s about it. Always remember, what makes you a writer is not thinking about writing. . . but writing. What makes you an artist is producing art.
3. Do it for joy and love of it. We live in a culture that equates significance with celebrity. This is not true. Do your art first, as an expression of love for God, love for people and the beauty and joy of living. Just because it doesn’t engage a large audience at first is no reason not to do it.
4. Deepen your devotional life. My definition for Art is: thought expressed through a medium that provides an experience. “Christian art” is not art that somehow contains “Christian themes” but rather art that proceeds honestly from a Christian who is walking in the Spirit. What is in you will come out. Let art proceed from a life that is digging deeper into God with every passing day.
5. Be free. Galatians has a great line: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery”. The Galatian context is freedom not to return to old Jewish forms of religion. But, we can also be encouraged that the Christian life is to be marked by freedom. Christian artists can feel undue pressure from the Christian subculture to produce material that meets accepted norms. Grab freedom. God’s world and His Word are filled with amazing diversity, variety and paradigm breaking ideas. Your work can do the same thing.
6. Become a genuine student of nature. God is the original artist. The creation is God’s art – the “book of His works”. If you develop eyes to see God’s variety, you will have an endless supply of creativity and inspiration. if you need a creative shot in the arm, go to the Zoo. . . and look.
7. Read Francis Shaeffer’s “Art and the Bible”. This book is one of the few I know that treats the subject of art theologically and biblically.
8. Develop your understanding of the Christian faith as a world-view. In the modern world, just knowing a nice collection of Bible verses will not equip you to interact in the marketplace of ideas. Worldview thinking is a map for navigating all the various ideas and thoughts, especially in the artistic world. For a great primer on what that means see James Sire’s “Universe Next Door”.
9. Do your art both inside and outside the church. All Christians are called to love other believers and value unbelievers. The best art is always an act of love for one or the other. Well written songs, page-turning literature, thoughtful painting can enrich the lives of people. Keep that as the motive. Serve the community. Enrich believers by what you do.
10. Fill your mind with the scripture and other great works. This goes beyond just a devotional life. This means knowing the Bible as both the Word of God and a foundational piece of literature. Even if writing is not your art, the richness and beauty of biblical expression can inspire music, painting, film and other art forms. Even if you’re not a writer, read quality writing from the best Christian writers.
11. Learn to be biblical without having to quote the Bible. The Apostle Paul preaches 2 sermons recorded in the book of Acts that do NOT quote the Bible (Acts 14:15 – 17, Acts 17:22-31). Another sermon includes many bible quotes (Acts 13: 16 – 37). The difference between the two is simple. . . audience. Christian artists need to learn the art and skill of communicating biblical concepts without feeling like they have to give word for word quotes. If Paul can do it – it can (and should) be done.
12. Master your craft. Something annoying but often said about Christian art (especially film) is, “that was good. . . for a Christian film.” That kind of qualifier ought to be the enemy. Films you produce or paintings you paint or books you write can and should be great because they ARE great – by anyone’s standard. Rembrandt is arguably one of the greatest painters in history. He used many “Christian themes” but people never say about his work, “that’s really good. . . for a Christian painting.” They know the painting is stellar. That’s what makes them listen to the Christian theme within it. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t be true in all modern artistic endeavors whatever the medium.
What are other helpful ideas you’ve picked up trying to integrate your art with your faith?