The Christian Artist vs. The Christian Who Makes Art
The auditorium was packed, hundreds of literary hopefuls, avid readers, admiring law students, and simple fans all squeezed in together to hear one of the most respected and prolific writers of our time tell his story.
It was 2000, my senior year at Baylor University, and my eyes gleamed with all the hopes and potential of publication. So when I heard that John Grisham would be coming to speak on campus, I jumped at the opportunity to hear him. Lee and I were engaged at the time, so we went together and, randomly, recording artist Chris Rice was with us as well.
I can’t remember why he was there. I just know that he was, and really it fits because every bit of my history is peppered with random.
I loved listening to John Grisham tell his story. It took him three years to write A Time to Kill, and two years to secure an agent. The novel was picked up by a small publishing house who ordered only 5,000 copies printed. Grisham bought 1,000 of those and sold them himself.
Meager beginnings from a man who just had stories to tell.
At the end of his talk, Grisham opened the floor for a Q & A, and this started off nicely with students asking smart, respectful questions. Then one girl stood up and approached the mic.
“Mr. Grisham,” she said, “Thank you for speaking with us today. I noticed you spoke of your faith, and yet I can’t help but wonder why, if you believe yourself to be a Christian, you aren’t writing Christian books that are more God-honoring.”
And the entire auditorium groaned.
Grisham paused and looked closely at the girl, an amused smile tilting his mouth upward. He cleared his throat and leaned forward just a little before speaking. “Well,” he said. “The reason is simple. I am a Christian who is a writer. I’m not a Christian writer.” Then he straightened up, and the audience erupted in applause.
For the creative Christian artist there is a very real struggle with knowing how art and faith blend. For some, art and faith are obviously intertwined – you cannot have one without the other – and their creative genius spills forth in a visual gospel message.
But what about the Christian artist whose art doesn’t give a blatant visual representation of Christ in every stroke of the paintbrush, completed manuscript, or song penned beneath the candlelight?
Is there a place for creative Christians who aren’t producing overtly Christian work? Can art reflect faith without openly proclaiming Christ?
When you consider that God Himself was the Ultimate creative, the first and the last, the Creator of beauty, of color and smell and taste and sound, the originator of art, and the heavenly conductor of the celestial rhythms that beat out all of this life, it’s not so hard to see creativity as an extension of Him.
[Art] is useful because God is thereby honoured when it is seen that he hath bestowed such genius upon one of his creatures in whom is such art. All men will be gracious unto thee by reason of thine art.
For anyone who works from the creative realm, whether they be the obvious arts such as writing, making music, painting or sculpting, to the more obscure and modern arts such as decorating, photography, producing videos, cooking, or designing, it must be noted that they operate as an extension of God Himself.
The creative genius made in the likeness of the Creator.
Many of the greatest historical artistic works flowed directly from a place of faith and yes, the art often revealed that faith in very obvious ways.
As the world progressed, however, the arts began to change, and it seems that Christians lost their sense of just how to portray faith through the medium of creativity. Christian art became a means of proselytizing. It became less about revealing God and His goodness, and more about saving souls. The art was dumbed down in order to send a message, and in this dumbing down the created actually veiled the Creator.
So my question for you, readers, is this: Can great art still reveal the mystery of God’s goodness without being overtly Christian? Can a writer be a Christian without writing a Christian book? Can a painter still reveal God’s glory and goodness without painting Calvary? Can a musician still edify the gospel without singing about God? Can art and faith exist parallel to one another and still bring glory to the Creator, or should they intersect?
So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31
Personally, I believe that art and faith are both separate and intertwined. Like John Grisham, I believe an artist can be a Christian without being a Christian artist, and can still unveil God’s glory as the Creator. But…
There’s more we could say on this topic.
I’d like to discuss this further in another blog post, but for now I open the comment section to you. What are your thoughts on the Christian artist vs. the Christian who makes art?