Friday, January 27, 2006

Cultural Guidelines for Artists

Thanks to tommy at christian aesthetic, I just read this fantastic article by Calvin Seerveld on what being an artist (of any sort) should look like from a Christian perspective.

I find some of his conclusions from Scripture about the role of artists ring soundly True. He elaborates on 5 main points that I intend to strive toward as both a writer (at least I am part of a guild of sorts) and a (woefully-inadequate and lately seldom-practiced) painter. Here they are, bolded, with my comments in italics. But please--read the entire article to receive the full impact of his thoughts!

1) Become filled with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit Note the word wisdom here. This is not some kind of second-baptism craziness, but instead, Seerveld comments:
"One's roots have to be deep in Jesus Christ and one's sensitivity to creation has to be uncommonly rich, if you mean to be vitally redemptive in doing anything with christian identity in this secular age."

2) Conceive art as work and undergo its training like a trade. Lazy artists do not a master make. Or, studies in things we all need to hear!

3) Distill a fruitful christian art historical tradition in your own blood and pioneer its contribution in our day. Here he references Eliot's Tradition and the Individual Talent, which helped shape me both as a teacher and a poet when I re-read it last spring in a graduate class. Good stuff in this section.

As a side note, I wonder what it must have been like to hear both Allen Ginsberg and W.H. Auden in the same room. And to talk to Ginsberg in the middle of the Tate must have been surreal. The Tate Britain is my absolute favorite art gallery in the world (even over and above the Louvre, which I've never had enough time to adequately visit and therefore feel somehow deprived) and would think that it might make someone like Ginsberg a bit nervous, overwhelmed by the sheer depth of it all.)

4) Integrate yourself as a band of christian artists with christian taskforces in other cultural areas in order to reach out as a peoplehood of God to the public at large. I am part of our church's writers' guild, and we are hoping to publish a small literary magazine by Easter, and host readings to reach out to the artistic community. I think this is a step in Seerveld's suggested direction.

5) Persevere in unfolding art historically, with a generations-long patience and hope. I especially appreciate these thoughts:
"We do not bring Christ's Rule complete to the earth in our lifetime, and we need a vision that will reach across the generations. We only need to be generous stewards of what we have inherited, to edify the faithful and provide direction for the neighbour."

Seerveld's "guidelines" made me think first of Eric Peters (and others like him) who have chosen art as their occupation, and go about it with glad hearts, persevering despite setbacks and struggles and little recognition from the world, yet preserving the message of the Creator in ways that will continue for my children's children and beyond.

1/29/06 Update: Apparently, I'm just discovering something that has been around a while. This article was derived from Seerveld's twenty-five-year-old "underground classic" called Rainbows for the Fallen World which I hope to acquire from Hearts and Minds Bookstore in the near future; they gave it a great review here.

Also, Gideon Strauss wrote a fine follow-up piece this week on how to incorporate Seerveld's five guidelines into all spheres of life. A must-read.

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