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Some Thoughts: What an artist brings to theology and vice versa.

September 9, 2010

Over the past three days, I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of ITIA’s annual conference.  This year, the conference engaged with the work of Professor David Brown, specifically considering his assertion that revelation of God can be found in the experience of the created world.  The level of conversation stretched me beyond my current understanding, challenging me to new levels of thinking and consideration.  There were moments when my background as an artist seemed a liability rather than an asset, especially in discourse that included terms of which I was unfamiliar.  However, a serendipitous conversation at the end of the conference with a fellow delegate gave me new insight and encouragement as I venture further into the depths of interdisciplinary work.  Anna touched on the interdisciplinary nature of this field earlier in the week and to follow this up, I wanted to offer a couple of thoughts as to what an artist brings to the field of theology and vice versa.

My first question: Is the creative process something that you can intellectually assent to understand?  Or is creativity something that you experience more than something that you learn?  Or is it both?  There are some really helpful ways in which theology can help artists to understand who they are, what they do, as well as the metaphors that naturally exist within the way they work that can help both the artist, the church, and wider humanity understand Christian theology and who God is.  However, what I think gets missed when artists are not part of the conversation is a deeper understanding of how the creative process actually happens and what can be gained in the experience of creation, not only as the artist creates but also as the artist draws others into creation.  Does that which gets assessed and concluded in an academic environment hold weight and actually happen when an artist sits before a canvas, a screen, or a piano?  Herein lies the strength of the interdisciplinary nature of the field – theory and practice must co-exist and inform the other.

For the latter to happen, this field challenges the Christian artist to create from within a well-thought through theology, something that I experienced, on the whole, to be missing.  Frank Burch Brown makes a similar comment: ‘The whole meaning of a religious and artistic life is compromised unduly if we simply equate (as is popularly done) both spirituality and artistry with lightly guided spontaneity and with “opening up” to feeling and creative intuition, in the belief that “creative expression is the natural direction of life.”‘ (254)*  While there are encouraging signs of this starting to happen, from my perspective, experience and observation, this a huge area of growth.  For the artist, there’s a need to embrace the fact that creating from within a well thought through theology does not undermine the spontaneity of creation but actually provides a ground that can allow that creativity to flourish.

*Brown, Frank Burch. Good Taste, Bad Taste, & Christian Taste: Aesthetics in Religious Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim permalink*
    September 9, 2010 1:49 pm

    Thanks for this post Sarah. I like your emphasis upon the connection between theory and practice. I think you are absolutely right to point out that this is an important reason why we need interdisciplinary work. It would seem impossible to come up with a theory of ‘who we are’ that does not rely upon implicit assumptions about ‘what we do,’ as much as it would seem impossible to practice ‘what we do,’ without relying upon implicit assumptions about ‘who we are.’

  2. ccematson permalink
    September 17, 2010 10:40 am

    Sara, have you read Dorothy Sayers’ Letters to a Diminished Church and Mind of the Maker? She talks a lot about what artists in particular can add to theology through their experience of creativity.

    • September 17, 2010 10:49 am

      Thanks for the suggestion – I have not read those two works by Sayers’. I look forward to doing so!


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