Every once in a while, an age-old question arises. Usually in some interview with a Christian musician. “Are you a Christian artist, or an artist who is a Christian?”
Usually, the interviewee is a bit frazzled by the question, not knowing how to rightly respond. One interviewer asked that question to Phil Keaggy, who answered with a chuckle and said, “next question.” In an interview with Lauren Daigle, she got into some hot water by not outrightly saying she is a Christian artist.
I’ve thought about it a lot myself. It’s a hard question to answer. As a writer and oil painter, I understand what it means to be an artist. I don’t think about it, I create what pops into my mind and won’t come out unless I release it through whatever art form it requires. Does this make me a Christian artist? What if the particular thing that I have to say through my art is not overtly Christian, or even “religious” at all?
I am currently working on an oil painting of hot air balloons. I have another hot air balloon painting, and I plan on making at least one more. I have in mind to paint some antique WW2 aircraft and some landscapes of our trip out west a couple of years ago. Am I not a Christian because I am not painting only illustrations of the Gospel? I have only one of those. Gasp!
Or what about my writing. Yes, I tend to write a lot of Christian themes. This blog is designed for that; my fictional work is, if anything, probably a tad too preachy for even Christian audiences. But the fictional work that I am writing now–a sequel to my slightly too preachy book–doesn’t have anything “Christian” in it at all (I should come up with at least something). And some ideas for other stories that have been brewing in the back of my mind for quite a while do have overtly religious themes. But I have another story that is plain just-for-fun.
And then there’s the pulpit on Sunday mornings. I write my sermons and yes, writing and preaching is an art (at least there’s an art to it), though most people (including preachers) do not see it that way.
So am I a Christian artist or not?
The term “Christian artist” implies that you preach the gospel and your medium is (usually) not a pulpit, but an artform. Your aim is to bless the church and bring others to Christ doing so in an entertaining way. But you stay locked within the parameter of only making religious-themed art.
That’s all well and good, but I just don’t seem to quite fit into that category.
The term “An artist who is a Christian” is probably a little bit more where I belong, but I don’t feel comfortable there, either. That gives the impression that your Christianity comes second.
I suppose I fit into a third category where maybe Lauren Daigle and Phil Keaggy might also fit in–yet has not been an option in the interview process or spoken about anywhere that I have found: “A Christian who is an artist.”
This implies that my identity is in Christ. I am a Christian above all else. My art is secondary as to who I am. My art does not strictly preach the Gospel at all times; but certainly, because I am first and foremost a Christian, my art is going to reflect who I am as a Christian in some way, shape or form. Ergo, a landscape or a WW2 plane might say something (albeit on a subconscious level) about where my Biblical belief system lies, if you want to go there.
God is an artist, is He not? And as such, I believe that God likes variety. Look at the stars in the sky, the planets that surround our solar system, the variety of landscape and seasons and climate. Look at the variety of races and people groups, and yes, the variety of cultural art forms within each people group. Look at how each one praises the Lord differently.
God gave us many ways to express ourselves through art. Our art does not have to always be an illustration of the gospel. It’s okay to paint a landscape or a cityscape. It’s okay to write a superhero novel. It’s okay to enjoy—dare I say it?–a secular artist’s work. Larry Norman once talked about how God gave us music to sing to our children at night, to sing to our sheep who are afraid of the wolves. This was the guy who, 50 years ago, came up with the whole idea of Christian rock (or Jesus rock, as he put it).
God gave us a variety of things to enjoy: painting, photography, creating through song, dance and story. Art is a gift from God for us; and in turn, a gift from us to others. Enjoy. Say whatever is on your heart. Whether you are a Christian artist, and artist who is a Christian or a Christian who is an artist, be free to create your art with the inspiration of The Holy Spirit.