Q Los Angeles 2013
Arts + Entertainment
Science + Tech
Arts + Entertainment
Art: On Behalf of the Church to the World
encouraging all of us to encourage artists in our communities
, David Taylor has edited a new book entitled
For The Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts
and begun work on a Ph.D. at Duke. We caught up with David recently and asked him a few questions about the practice of art in the church.
What’s your vision for art in the church?
The contemporary church’s response to art tends to fall into two general patterns: pragmatism and traditionalism. That is, we employ the arts either because “it works” or because “it’s what we’ve always done.” Both approaches betray, I believe, a small view, not just of the arts but of our Triune God. What results often is anemic art—shallow, imitative, predictable art. It is art that’s incapable of surprising (or unsettling) us with grace.
Along with the authors of
For the Beauty of the Church
, we want to offer the church a different kind of vision: a theologically informed, biblically deepened, liturgically sensitive, artistically robust and missionally shrewd vision for the arts. It’s an expansive and holistic vision.
You've always had a passion for the arts. How does your experience as both a pastor and an artist shape that?
As a college student I was passionate about the arts and mad at the church. I especially felt that pastors didn’t get it. If I were honest, I’d say that I felt that they didn’t want to get it. Pastors, truth be told, often misunderstand the nature and vocation of the artist. Partly it’s not their fault. Neither their seminaries nor their upbringing have offered them resources to make sense of art. Artists do need advocates. But they need the right kind (not angry, impetuous kind like I was in college).
During seminary I became a pastor at Hope Chapel in Austin, TX. Growing up I never wanted to be a pastor. Mostly I was neutral about the profession. A part of me thought it was less (I’m embarrassed to say this) cool than being an academic or diplomat or, as the case happened to be during my childhood, a professional soccer player. But very soon into my pastoral work, around the late ‘90s, I discovered both how difficult and how honorable the calling of a pastor is. I saw firsthand how artists misunderstood their pastors, how quickly they were to judge or to become frustrated. So I became an apologist on behalf of pastors.
With this book, I consider myself an apologist for the church. Many pastors and artists are finding it difficult to stick with the church. Some are leaving altogether. Others are taking an indefinite break. Still others are “re-inventing” the church. I had a conversion along the way and I now find myself wanting to encourage both traditional and non-traditional churches, both conservative and progressive, both artsy and woefully non-artsy. I believe the church is the redemptive society through which God seeks to bring about the healing of the world. I believe artists play a crucial role in the church. I believe they play a crucial role
on behalf of the church
to the world. I’m not giving up on the church easily.
How can the church discern between what is great art and what is merely mediocre? Is there a place for a worship/arts pastor to say, “Sorry, this is crap, we’re not including it”?
There are six common dangers associated with our practice of art in the church, and one of them is bad art. As pastors and artists we should expect “no’s.” Being told no—not now, not this, not here, not yet—is fundamental to our spiritual formation. But there are good ways of saying no and bad ways. The best advice I can give to pastors and artists is to meet each other half way, with both sympathy and understanding, and to be willing to offer the church the best work of your hands, even if it means waiting a long time.
How can the church help to nurture artists in their communities/congregations?
Josh Banner—he wrote a chapter in the book—says it best, I believe. He says pastors need to think of themselves as farmers. As pastor-farmers our job is to nurture the artists under our care, calling out their best growth. There are four ways we as pastors can nurture artists. One, offer them opportunities for spiritual formation. If our hearts are in healthy shape, artists will have a greater chance of flourishing. Two, encourage them to pursue deep, thoroughgoing friendship with others. Three, challenge them to
honing their craft. And four, marshal the members of your congregation to engage in creative patronage and to come alongside artists to help them with the business side of their calling.
Good stuff! There is desperate need for more like-minded people as this in the Church and also in Culture.
Nice article! Having met David, I recognize him to be as you describe him here and like him very much for what he is contributing and how he goes about it.
Personally, I'm looking forward to reading his new book. One thing I'm curious about is how he suggests working with artists who have something for their church that they hope to perform or display. I think that it's not all that easy for an artist to fully accept critique from a non-artist (both negative and positive input) because the dualistic thinking that usually surrounds whether people accept others as having valid opinions (in this case, you're either an artist or you aren't / it's either good art or it's not). I don't see humanity's love of us/them thinking changing any time soon, so we might as well get on with encouraging Christian artists to be proactive about honing other Christian artists through encouragement and candor, etc. It's a pretty dynamic challenge to become the Church's primary encouragers and challengers of artists!
Very good points David. I recently read your essay about Encouragement and was both deeply encouraged and challenged. You have found your calling and apparently, you are doing well at it.
In many situations within the church, finding the "halfway point" where pastors and artists can function in mutually meaningful ways invariably involves a process. So, time is a factor. Mostly, time is critical for the development of understanding; perspectives, values, expectations and ideas need to be shared, articulated then clarified on both sides, before we even get near to some sort of outcome. In this regard for example, it is helpful to note that the artists' language has an emotional, non-verbal dimension that often is not sensed nor understood by a non-artist for whom subtle nuances in color, texture, tempo or tone are,... lost. Yet they are often deeply significant to the artist - to his/her purpose and vision and message.
There is a journey to be traveled, but God gives us all His presence and the translation and interpretation of the Spirit. There is a tendency in some cultures/societies - to go for a NOW approach. Yet, great works of art require time. No small wonder then, that the Creator's greatest work (in our lives, in our churches) are works-in-progress.
Our Church has the beginnings of a gallery. The art all speaks to what ever the current sermon series is. Our pastor does indepth series that last for 3-4 months.The current exhibition is the Book of John. We put out a call to artists in our congregation that was simply any medium as long as it pertained to the Book of John. It has been well recieved by our congregation. Later this month we will begin a two month exhibition :A Biblical Christmas. I am also reviewing small group materials directed specifically at artists with the intent of spiritual development and developing deeper relationships within our community of artists.
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