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Apr 29

The creative involvement of the audience

Posted on Wednesday, April 29, 2009 in Pontifications

I’m re-reading L’Engle’s Walking on Water and once again discovering that pretty much every sentence is artistically stated and profound.  Today I found this especially intriguing:

“The writer does want to be published; the painter urgently hopes that someone will see the finished canvas (van Gogh was denied the satisfaction of having his work bought and appreciated during his lifetime; no wonder the pain was more than he could bear); the composer needs his music to be heard.  Art is communication, and if there is no communication it is as though the work had been stillborn.

“The reader, viewer, listener, usually grossly underestimates his importance.  If a reader cannot create a book along with the writer, the book will never come to life.  Creative involvement: that’s the basic difference between reading a book and watching TV.  In watching TV we are passive; sponges; we do nothing.  In reading we must become creators.  Once the child has learned to read alone and can pick up a book without illustrations, he must become a creator, imagining the setting of the story, visualizing the characters, seeing facial expressions, hearing the inflection of voices.  The author and the reader “know” each other; they meet on the bridge of words.”

I wholeheartedly agree with what she’s saying as far as reading is concerned.  But is that creative involvement limited to the author/reader relationship?  In theatre, I would definitely argue that the creative involvement of the audience is necessary, what with the willing suspension of disbelief, the degree to which actors feed off of the audience’s energy, etc .  But what about TV, where L’Engle declares that the viewer is a passive sponge, or film?  Does that rely on the creative involvement of the audience?

I know some of you who read this are filmmakers, videographers, and the like.  What say ye?  (this is meant to be an interactive website, so this is the point where you pipe up and publicly post profundity — preferably alliteratively — in the comments…).

Apr 25

The Voyage of Life

Posted on Saturday, April 25, 2009 in Pontifications

As you’ve probably gathered, the performing arts is my artistic medium of choice.  I’m not all that knowledgeable about the visual arts, but that’s not going to stop me from sharing my favorite paintings.  :)

The regenerate Mrs. introduced me to Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School, which I really like.  My favorite is Cole’s The Voyage of Life series, especially the third one, Manhood.

Here they are for your viewing pleasure:

Childhood

Thomas Cole's The Voyage of Life: Childhood

Youth.  Ah, idealism.  Those were the days….

Thomas Cole: The Voyage of Life Youth

Manhood. This is where I live.  As do most of the men I’ve counseled.

Thomas Cole: The Voyage of Life Manhood

Old Age

Thomas Cole: The Voyage of Life Old Age

Yeah, I know.  I’m a fan of some pretty blatantly allegorical art.  Sue me.

Apr 23

Books you should have read by now

Posted on Thursday, April 23, 2009 in Pontifications

I ran across this list of “What Books Every High School Student Should Have Read” today.  Interesting.  I must admit to being surprised at how many I have read.  Granted, I love to read, but I’ve never been much of one for the classics.  Give me a good Agatha Christie and I’m set (well, actually, not any more, since I’ve read all of them enough to pretty much have them memorized).

This was the result of asking a carefully selected pool of people, but it’s interesting nonetheless.  No book published in the last 30 years made the list, and Shakespeare’s plays (esp. Macbeth and Hamlet) was the only entry listed by a majority of the participants (71%).

So, once you get done with the Books that Build Character, get to work on these.  :o)  Oh, and don’t forget the regenerate Booklist and regenerate Musts in my righthand sidebar.  Time’s a-wasting.

Apr 23

Wesley vs. Wesley

Posted on Thursday, April 23, 2009 in Pontifications

My pastor has an interesting blog post up about the influence of John Wesley’s sermons versus Charles Wesley’s hymns, making the case that Charles’ influence may be more lasting.  Check it out here, along with the comment by the regenerate Mrs. who contends that John’s primary influence was through discipleship rather than through his sermons.  She means no disrespect to artists, of course.  :)

This also offers me a great excuse to re-post a quote attributed to Damon of Athens, among others:  “Give me the songs of a nation, and it matters not who writes its laws.”  That’s always been an intriguing statement, especially as one who lives and works in the policy realms of Washington, DC, but who has also run across politicos like Bill Wichterman and Mark Rodgers who argue that the culture is upstream from politics (Wichterman has even written an essay to that effect).

Given the fact that this blog is focused on the arts rather than politics, it’s pretty safe to assume I think they’re right.

Apr 22

Walking on Water and other Life Goals

Posted on Wednesday, April 22, 2009 in Pontifications

Several years back (2002 , to be exact) I was challenged at a church retreat to come up with a list of 100 life goals.  I fell a bit short and only came up with 91, but since then I’ve accomplished several of them — I’ve gone hang-gliding; learned to fence (no, this doesn’t have to do with stolen goods); acted, sung, and danced in a musical (at the same church retreat one year later I was awaiting a callback which led to my first performance, in Kiss Me, Kate); sung and danced professionally (completed when I was paid to perform in dinner theatre); taken a seminary class (completed in spades now that I’m halfway through a seminary degree itself); and visited Scotland and Ireland, which sadly constitute only two-thirds of a single goal (which also includes Wales).

There are a number of goals that I’m making headway towards, but will take quite a while to achieve — my reading goals.  I’m aiming to read all of the books (or other literary works) by Elie Wiesel, George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Madeleine L’Engle, Chaim Potok, and William Shakespeare, as well as all the books listed in Books that Build Character.  (And right now I’m wondering why J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton aren’t on that list, but anyway…)  I don’t have time right now to do all these folks justice, but some random thoughts on a couple:

MacDonald’s faerie worlds and other books had tremendous influence on anybody who’s anybody (Lewis, Tolkien, etc.).  I can’t remember much off-hand about Sayer’s The Mind of the Maker (as a matter of fact, I’m not even sure I’ve read it, although I do own it), but it has to do with creativity and art.  Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev is my favorite book — the fictional tale of an Orthodox Jewish kid with incredible artistic gifts in a community that’s not too keen on art.  Transformational in my life when I read it as a budding writer (I still haven’t blossomed, so maybe it wasn’t as transformational as I thought).  And if you read Books that Build Character you’ll get excited about your favorite childhood books all over again — this is written by folks who value good stories and would likely include the Harry Potter books if it hadn’t been written before they came out.

This year, I’ve been focused on reading Madeleine L’Engle, who may very well be my favorite author (can someone be your favorite author if they didn’t write your favorite book?).  I’m already well-acquainted with A Wrinkle in Time and the associated books, but now I’m familiarizing myself with the Austin Family chronicles.

One of her books I’ve been dipping back into, though, is the amazing Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (you thought actually walking on water was one of my life goals, didn’t you?).  This is a must-read for all Christian artists.  Some excerpts to whet your appetite:

Christian art? Art is art, painting is painting; music is music; a story is a story.  If it’s bad art, it’s bad religion, no matter how pious the subject.  If it’s good art — and there the questions start coming, questions which it would be simpler to evade.”

More:

Obedience is an unpopular word nowadays, but the artist must be obedient to the work, whether it be a symphony, a painting, or a story for a small child.  I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius or something very small, comes to the artist and says, “Here I am. Enflesh me.  Give birth to me.”  And the artist either says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses; but the obedient response is not necessarily a conscious one, and not everyone has the humble, courageous obedience of Mary.”

And one more:

“When the artist is truly the servant of the work, the work is better than the artist; Shakespeare knew how to listen to his work, and so he often wrote better than he could write; Bach composed more deeply, more truly than he knew; Rembrandt’s brush put more of the human spirit on canvas than Rembrandt could comprehend.

When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere.  When the work takes over, then the artist listens.

But before he can listen, paradoxically, he must work.  Getting out of the way and listening is not something that comes easily, either in art or in prayer.”

Okay, and that’s all from the first chapter.  Trust me, you need to read this book.

Apr 20

Hope’s Got Me

Posted on Monday, April 20, 2009 in Pontifications

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the CD release show for Steph Modder’s new Hope’s Got Me album.  It was an awesome concert and it’s an awesome CD (I just spent all day listening to it while at work).  I was already familiar with the title track, which you can download from her site for free and which my church used to great effect in our Baptism by the Bay video last summer (Steph is my church’s worship coordinator).  You can also listen to some of her other songs on her site, including the fantastic songs “Come Away” and “The River,” and it looks like you can hear “Stay, Oh Stay” and my new favorite, “Perfect,” on her MySpace site.  I believe her songs will soon be available on ITunes, so I highly recommend signing up on her email list so you’ll find out when they’ve been released.

Jeremy Johnson, who opened for Steph, was also excellent.  Check out his music here — “Seeds and Seasons” is one of my favorites.

Apr 15

Can actors be regenerate artists?

Posted on Wednesday, April 15, 2009 in Pontifications

This is a question I’ve wrestled with, especially since my area of artistic interest is that of the performing arts: Are you a regenerate artist if you perform the works (plays, musicals, etc.) of others?

What does it mean to be a regenerate artist?  For those who have read Bob Briner’s Roaring Lambs, you may have noticed that it tended to be all about writing.  He believes Christians should be involved in every culture-shaping profession, but seemed to suggest (or maybe he stated it outright, I don’t remember) that if you want to shape the culture, you have to write the script.

I definitely think there are two main reasons Christians can be called to the arts – to create culture shaping art (see Act One) and to personally impact the lives of other people in the arts (see Hollywood Prayer Network — okay, maybe not the best example, but you get the idea).

Granted, I think every Christian involved in the arts should aim to do both (and they feed off each other – you won’t gain others’ respect if your art is crappy and if your art is excellent you will impact others whether you want to or not).  But I think there is a distinct difference between the two.  I think the creation of culture-shaping art is directly regenerate, while regenerating the people who are in the arts is a somewhat more indirect way of being a regenerate.  So I guess it’s both/and.

But, I would still ask the question of whether performing others’ works is a regenerate activity.  To the degree that one is so talented one can control which works are performed, I would say yes.  But simply signing up to play a citizen of Padua in a local performance of Kiss Me Kate, probably not so much.

I’ve drifted toward producing (and am tempted toward directing) because that gives me the ability to determine which show is performed (a potentially regenerate activity), as well as to shape a show to emphasize a redemptive message.  But even that can have its limits.

My sole producing credits have been of two iterations of a musical revue of my own creation – God on Broadway.  In 2007, I pulled together 11 songs from Broadway shows that I felt dealt with spiritual themes and recruited some talented folks to sing them.  I paired each song with a Bible verse that I felt communicated the same message or interacted with it in a very interesting way.  For 2008, I took it a step further, utilizing more songs and throwing in several monologues, as well.  In that iteration, rather than pairing songs with Bible verses, I instead ordered the songs to create somewhat of a spiritual journey story arc and explained that framework in the program.

That all sounds very regenerate, right?  Perhaps.  But in the second iteration I found myself increasingly frustrated as I tried to shoehorn songs into the themes I wanted them to be, while at the same time wanting to respect their original context.  And occasionally I’d find myself scouring my Broadway CDs trying to find a song that fit the underdeveloped theme I was trying to flesh out, bemoaning songwriters who threw in a single phrase that made a song unusable for my purposes.

That’s when I came face to face with the limitations of using the works of other people.  And that’s when I really, really wished I was a songwriter and could just come up with songs of my own.

So, back to the original question:  Are actors regenerate artists?  Or more broadly, are those who perform the works of others (songs, shows, whatever) regenerate if they are not the one selecting the work?

What say ye?

Apr 14

How can the Church become a patron of the arts again?

Posted on Tuesday, April 14, 2009 in Cultural Activism

Back in the day, the Church was (arguably?) the predominant patron of the arts, hence all the art with a religious flair.  So what happened?  Okay, actually I’m not that interested in exploring that question.  The question I want to explore is:  how does the Church become a patron of the arts again?

I must admit I’m a limited-government conservative, which means I’m not too keen on government funding of the arts.  What I am a huge advocate of is support for the arts by private individuals and organizations.  (I’ve got a column on that somewhere – I should track it down…)

So, peoples, what are some practical ways that the Church – both in terms of local church bodies and in terms of the people that make up the Body of Christ – can function as a patron of the arts?  Please post any and all ideas in the comments below.

Apr 13

Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts

Posted on Monday, April 13, 2009 in Pontifications

One of the things I’d like to do on this blog is review/summarize books about redeeming the arts.  The problem is, I’ve got a stack of books and very little time to read them.  So for this first, I’m simply going to cheat and link over to a review the regenerate Mrs. did a couple years back of Steve Turner’s Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts.  I encourage you to check it out.

Apr 13

How else can we communicate The Story?

Posted on Monday, April 13, 2009 in Pontifications

As I’ve stated before, I believe that much art that resonates deeply within the human heart does so because it in some way reflects The Story.  This thought was provoked several years back when I read the following summary of the spiritual warrior’s authority in A Discipleship Journey by Dave Buehring (which I highly recommend if you’re looking for a good, comprehensive Bible study):

  • God has all power and authority (Job 42:2; Mt. 28:18).
  • God gave man authority to reveal His image and glory (Gen. 1:26); to have dominion (means to subdue, conquer, to bring into subjection) over the Earth and every living thing on the Earth (Gen. 1:28); all things are under man’s feet (Ps. 8:6-8).
  • Through deception, sin and disobedience, man opened the door to Satan and lost dominion (Gen. 3:1-13).
    • Satan became the ruler of this world.
    • Man suffers the consequences of sin, sickness, disease and death.
    • Apart from Jesus, Man has no authority of his own.
    • Satan has authority on the Earth to the degree that people give him access through their sin and disobedience to God.
  • Jesus was sent by the Father to defeat Satan and to establish God’s authority through the church…
  • Jesus passed His authority on to the church
    • Jesus has given believers authority over the powers of darkness (Mt. 16:19; Lk. 10:19).
    • New Testament believers did many of the same works as Jesus: they received authority to heal sickness and diseases (Acts 3:1-10); they received authority to raise the dead (Acts 9:36-43); they received authority over demons (Acts 16:16-18); they received authority to preach the gospel so that men and women could come to Jesus (Mt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15-18).
    • This same authority has been given to us as believers today so that God’s Kingdom might be advanced in the lives of people and in the nations of the earth (Lk. 10:19; Jn. 20:19-23; Rom. 8:31; Jam. 4:7; 1Jn. 4:4).

Can’t you see echoes of all great stories in this?  Man is given authority but loses it through his own misdeeds and Satan usurps authority.  The rightful king is toppled from the throne.   The aimless youth is ignorant of his royal heritage.  The chosen deliverer is unaware of the untapped magic within him.  The self-centered rebel becomes aware of a much higher calling on his life.

One little-known book that captured and highlighted some of this for me was The Oneprince by Bill Hand.  Hand created a world of humans, rats, and badgers, and when he bats around names like Pentatutinus, Josiah, and Yerushela, you know he’s got some Biblical analogy going on, but he keeps you guessing (is the wizardess named Iscara who lives in Magdalawood symbolic of Judas Iscariot or Mary Magdalene or both?  I’m still trying to get ahold of the out-of-print third book in the series to find out).