My friend Margaret Feinberg emailed me the other day and asked me if I’d do an interview for an e-newsletter she’ll be sending out in March. I thought the questions spurred on some good responses… so I thought I’s shared them with you:
Word on the street is that you’re an artist in residence at a church. What does that mean exactly?
When I was invited to come and be a part of Ecclesia, Chris Seay, lead pastor, asked me to come and be their artist. I asked “what would I do?” He said “Just come and do what you are doing, but do it with us”.
What I had been doing over the last few years is twofold.
One, I figured out that the best thing that i could do in the world was be an artist. as i looked at what i was good at, what God made me to be, the best way to respond to him with my life… it was to be a habitual creator. I gotta say that that moment was a bit depressing. Out of all the skills out there, being an artist didn’t sound like a very entrepreneurial choice. I mean, I still don’t know how i make a living as an artist. But apparently it’s possible. And after i had gotten over the initial shock of my decision, i remember thinking “well, if this is the best thing i can do with my life, then i’m going to make the most of this. and if it doesn’t work out, well… it’s Your fault for giving me a skill set that’s financially unsuccessful.” I’m kidding and I’m not. I didn’t expect to be rich right away. but in this moment of decision, I sensed the Lord giving me the option to trust him with the future if i decided to live a life of worship (“responding”). So i decided to trust Him in it. So back to the answer to one… that is i habitually create. I believe the greater portion of my time should be creating. this means i paint, i have shows, i do commissions, i design a bit… whatever creating looks like, i spend my time doing it.
two, i have the peculiar ability to paint very fast and in front of people. i have been developing this skill over the last 6 years and i’ve been able to turn it into a business. i partner with churches, non-profits, musicians, and speakers in creating a unique piece of art that visualizes to the audience the themes that are taking place. This is how i met Chris. We were both working at a youth conference in Portland. He was speaking and i was the artist in residence for the week of the conference. the rest is history.
round about way to get to your question, but what i do is both these things. One is that i paint during all of our gatherings as a church – creating the Visual Word as I call it. The job of the Spirit is to help us understand the word of God. When we get together, i think he wants to accomplish this through the words we say, the music we sing, and the images we show or create. Two is that i am creating out of the experiences, stories, journeys, prayers, miracles, sufferings of our community. Art comes from story. Faith comes from remembering the work God has done in our lives. The art is a way for us to remember and to grow our faith. it also helps us to envision something that words just can’t do. My job is to create that individually and corporately.
i am also concerned about the lives of artists, probably cause it reflects my own journey as well. My presence in the community instantly gives value to the work they are doing, and so i’m there as kind of an encourager really. I can’t tell anyone what they should do as an artist, or what they should do for the church. But i am there as one who can walk beside them, flesh out ideas, pray and ask God where they should go. i hope to do this with artists inside the church and those in the greater houston community.
What do you love about your role? What’s the most challenging?
love – are you kidding? i’m paid by a church to be an artist. anyone paying me to do art is great… but i love that i’ve been given the unique opportunity to really see what it looks like for an artist to be in the midst of a church creating. it use to happen a lot you know. the church was the major patron of the arts hundreds of years ago. guys like me helped make the places of worship, the destinations of pilgrimages. The only thing that the church has ever asked of me in my lifetime is can you make a logo for us or can you paint our nursery an picture of Noah’s ark? It left me wondering is that all i can do in the Body of Christ? There has to be something else. I’ve been praying this for years. now i’ve been given the chance to see what it looks like.
most challenging – no models. i don’t know any artists who have been the artists in residence at a church. i have no models to go on. no measure of success. in some ways this is a good thing cause all i have is the lord to ask and pray what he wants. i ask him constantly for a vision for what this looks like. so it’s good that it keeps me close and obedient. difficult cause it’s like building an invisible castle.
What’s the biggest misperception people have on a daily basis about what you do?
that i’m just going to paint christian imagery for christians in their christian churches.
i’m interested in the larger discussion that is happening in the world of art. The discussion that’s from lots of perspectives, lots of beliefs, and is about a lot of different subjects. my goal here isn’t to make christian worship pieces, although that may happen. My goal is to create out of the stories we find ourselves in. stories of redemption, forgiveness, cheating, murder, hope, love, poverty, suffering, doubt, sex, abuse, care, joy, pain…..
We cheapen the amazingness of the gospel when we are not honest about our human condition. this is the condition that Christ came into and lived amongst. These are the subjects i’ve already found in this community. So what does it look like to see christ in the midst of all these stories presently? that’s what i hope to create… whether it’s pretty or ugly, safe or dangerous, hopeful or hopeless. the best thing i can do as an artist is to be honest.
If another church wanted to start an artist in residence program, what tips would you offer?
what artists need most is3 types of space:
1. a space to create – mentally, emotionally, timely
2. a space to work – a studio, room, etc
3. a space to show – gallery, walls, etc
it’s a great sacrifice of time, relationships, and finances to create work. if you can help an artist with these things, you will help them in their journey to do what they know God has asked them to do.