You've just arrived at art college. It's a pretty exciting time; for the first time in your life you are able to release the shackles of other subjects and wholly delve into your artistic practice and make work all day long! And yet coupled with this excitement is a nervous anticipation: what will art college be like, and more importantly what will it be like to be a Christian at art college?
Together with the prevalent tension of wanting to give your time to developing your gifts, you have the right desire to put God first. So what does that even look like at art school? Is God even interested in art? Does my faith have anything to say about the way I make work as an artist? What if it's hard being a Christian?
Is God even interested in art?
If you have just started at art college, or are currently studying for a creative degree, these kinds of questions no doubt will have surfaced in your mind. The brilliant news is that you are not on your own. Below are a few questions to help get you thinking about the whole prospect of being a Christian art student:
What's Good about Studying the Arts?
Most importantly, what's brilliant about studying the arts is having the chance to enjoy at length that we have been designed with an innate desire to create.
Have a think for a moment about why it is that the very act of creating gives you joy?
When did you first begin to love it? What makes you want to create?
What incredible words to come across as we look to the beginning of Genesis and discover the reason for why we are creative, and indeed why we love it. The Almighty Creator of the universe has the very same instinct and has made us in his image! We find him flinging stars into the sky, bringing forth water, land and sea, and detailing the large expanses of the universe with living organisms of every colour, shape and form. Last but not least we see him creating man “in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27). Our God, our creator, has created us with the very same DNA for creating. What an affirmation for where our innate desire to create comes from! Knowing that God has intimately crafted every part of his creation, from the grandeur of the mountains to the minutiae of a bee’s wing is hugely inspiring isn’t it? We have a God who knows what it is to be creative. We have a God who is more imaginative than all our imaginations put together, and who delights in his creation.
What a privilege to spend time getting to know this God and the creation that he reveals to us.
What's good about studying art? Well crucially it's a wonderful chance to rejoice in being made in God’s creator image, and there is so much of creation to explore, unearth, investigate and recreate as we live in the world. Revel in the enjoyment! Revel that we are made in God’s image and that this is part of our witness as his children – that we bear his DNA!
What's Difficult about Studying the Arts?
One of the biggest difficulties with studying the arts stems from our own hearts. God has made us to worship. By nature we are worshippers. And he has made us to worship Him in all His glory. And yet our hearts are deceitful, and we turn away from the living and true God and put other false gods in his place. This is no more keenly felt than with our own work that we create and spend time working on. The biggest temptation at art college is to make your work, your degree show, your whole degree into your god, your idol. Where is the majority of your thought space at the moment? What occupies your priority list? What are your dreams for the future? It is very easy to turn our delight at the Lord's creation, and worshipping Him as the supreme Creator, to worshipping ourselves and the work we make. This is easy because our hearts are naturally deceitful, but it's also easy because there is so much encouragement from everyone around you at college to invest in worshipping any god but the true God.
There may well be other difficulties, but they will on the whole stem from this primary temptation to put your work over and above that of the Lord Jesus.
How Should I Prepare Myself for Art School as a Christian?
The first port of call is to find out whether there is a Christian Union. It may well be small but the support network from meeting weekly with like-minded Christians will be invaluable to you. Make the most of these relationships and make the most of talking to one another about how to be intentionally living for Jesus in an environment which isn't always sympathetic to the Christian faith.
We have a God who knows what it is to be creative
Pray. And pray again. And again. And Again. And keep praying throughout your time at college. Pray for the Lord to be shaping you more and more into the likeness of his Son. Pray that even when you face tricky times, you will love the Lord. Pray that the Lord would help you develop your artistic gifts and enable you to work to the best of your ability. Pray for fellow students in your studio, and for chances to speak to them about Jesus. Pray that all that you do would be for God's glory, and not your own. There is so much to praise God for, and so much to pray for while you are at art college!
Whether you are aware of it or not, in most art colleges there is a fervent postmodern culture that promotes the absence of any kind of truth and therefore a lifestyle that is in accordance with these convictions. This is something that you need to be mindful of and even prepare yourself for by reading up on what this might look like (Meltdown by Marcus Honeysett is a great book to read for beginners). As a Christian who believes in Truth, and in the sure foundation of Christ, you will be extremely counter-cultural and this isn’t easy. Take Peter’s advice as he encourages scattered Christians to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15) and be ready to give a clear reason for your faith especially in crit sessions. Weigh up your tutor’s advice with your own worldview, shaped by the Word.
More often than not your course will give you a lot of freedom to go in the direction you want to go. This will essentially look like a lot of free time! Be prepared for the change from school, and even foundation. Get a routine going in how you work, and how you spend your time in the studio. And get some key things fixed into your diary like church and CU etc, so that you know when you need to stop working and go and encourage, and be encouraged by other Christians.
What Makes Me and My Work Different from Everyone Else's at College?
The wonderfully freeing thing about being a Christian in the arts is that there is no subject or topic that is not under the Lordship of Christ! Which means whatever is in Creation is food for thought and more. This liberating truth means that sometimes your work on the surface won't be much different to everyone else's at college. And yet the motivation, the attitude, the worship behind it will be entirely different because all you have has been given by God, and all that you create is for God's glory. Paul writes in Romans 12: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” If you are a Christian, you have the mind of Christ. So remember this each time you create work. Do not be conformed to the world's desires, idols, and attitudes, but be transformed by the mercy you have been shown through Christ, in the way you live and work and create. This will always be a battle as sin is still present in our hearts. But pray for the Lord to help you in your battles, and to communicate in a way that best gives him glory.
Remember that your work isn't for your own glory, but for God's
There will be some topics that are either unhelpful for you to delve into, or unhelpful for your viewers. Remember that your work isn't for your own glory, but for God's. And so the question needs to be asked as you look, watch, make, or design: “can I honestly give thanks to God for what I am watching, looking at or viewing right now, and can I give thanks that others will see it too?” This kind of question will help you to weigh up decisions in what to make and what not to get involved in. It might mean that you need to turn down being in a particular play, or being involved in a collaboration that you know isn't helpful for your own godliness. These are the kinds of decisions that will be hard at the time, but by courageously obeying Christ and not the crowd, people will sit up and take notice, and it may well be a great gospel opportunity in the process.
There are many more questions to be answered, and much more to say on what it looks like to be a Christian art student. The UCCF Interface Arts blog is a resource specifically designed for Christian art students. As well as the blog entries, it contains recommendations for useful websites, books, talks and events. So do follow the link, mark it down as a favourite and get stuck in to thinking Christianly about art.
© 2012 Sarah Dargue and Craig Jefferson