Having Faith in Your Art

What Is a Christian’s Role if She Is an Artist?

If a Christian is a musician, a painter, a sculptor, or, as in my case, a writer, does she have a responsibility that is somehow different because she is a Christian who is also an artist? In other words, do I, as a writer, have an unspoken or higher responsibility than a writer who is not a Christian? And if so, what is that responsibility?

I believe the answer to these questions will vary greatly, even, and maybe even especially, among Christians. Even so, here is what I believe about the role of all artists.

I believe that art and artists can change the world.

I believe that artists can challenge how people think, how people see the world around them, how people see themselves, how people see other people.

I believe that artists can provide material to spark a conversation or spark a revolution. Not necessarily an actual revolution, but an idea revolution.

I believe that artists should strive for excellence in their art.

These are the standards to which I want to be held.

Is Changing the World Different for an Artist Who Loves Jesus?

You see, I am a writer. I am also a Christian. I write blog posts and I write novels. I’ve written a Lenten devotional about walking with Jesus. But I also have stories that involve salty characters who drink, curse, are prone to violence, and cause trouble.

Because of this, I wrestle as much with my art — my writing — as Jacob did with God. Is it okay for a character to swear? Is it okay for a character to drink? Is it okay to write stories that include violence or reflect the culture in order to challenge the culture or engage the culture?

I’ve been told yes and no by Beta readers, blog readers, and some friends. There is in these comments an intimation that readers of my devotional materials will be turned off by my salty characters or my stories that are too “secular” or worldly.

But I suggest that to categorize something as secular versus Christian limits the artist, the art, and the God who created both.

The Intersection of Art & Faith

Is there a line that artists who are Christians are expected to toe and, if so, where is that line and who draws it? And, what happens when an artist crosses that line?

I’m guessing that there are as many opinions regarding these questions as there are people. But here are a few of my thoughts.

I am not a Christian writer. I am a writer who is a Christian (in the same way that I am a writer who is a mother, and a writer who is a caustic Yankee from New England). I believe there is a difference between being a Christian writer and a writer who is also a Christian. Specifically my target audience is not necessarily other Christians.

If I want to influence, and perhaps even change, the world my target audience is the world, and while that includes Christians, it includes many beyond that circle, too. I want to tell stories that engage my readers, entertain my readers, challenge my readers, and reflect the world in which my readers live.

I don’t want to write pristine stories removed from the life my readers live, the life that I live. Life is complicated. Life is hard. Life is messy. Because life includes a world filled with messy, messed up, broken people. I encounter it when I go to the grocery store with my children or when I travel to visit family or when I say something to my spouse or my kids that is mean.

Because Life Is Messy, Art Is Messy

My stories include flawed, messed up people who make good choices but also make bad choices. They include people who believe in God and live their lives out with Him and people who believe in nothing or in themselves or in the world or in their money. They include people who change and grow and people who don’t.

And always, my stories reflect who I am, they include allusions directly or indirectly to faith, to God, to Jesus, to living in the world and not conforming to it. Because I cannot separate my faith from my writing, even if my art includes gritty characters who drink or smoke or curse or bully or threaten or seek to control or destroy others.

Even so, I continue to wrestle with my art like Jacob wrestled with God.

So, I’m curious. What do you think about these things? What do you think is the role of an artist who is also a Christian?

3 thoughts on “Having Faith in Your Art

  1. I love this, Judy! Why? Because it supports the view that artists should feel free to create works as they are inspired to create them, not to conform to the ideas and expectations of those around them. And yet, there is also the opportunity for the artist or writer to express his own views or feelings of how he sees the world around himself, whether it be through Christian eyes, pagan eyes, the eyes of a different culture, etc.
    I recently rediscovered the works of a visual artist, Paul Merizon. The more works of his I studied, the more excited I became. I felt I had been granted permission, for the first time, to create what I saw in my mind and felt in my heart instead of subscribing to any one single “style” or “technique” or type of subject matter. I had always felt restrained by my upbringing, family, peers, and the expectations of others and the fear of disappointing them.
    What if you created just for the sake of making something intangible, tangible to others? Something abstract, concrete? To show others how you see the world? And If you truly are a Christian, won’t it somehow, by default, be expressed in your work, whether intentional or not?

    • So we’ll put, Emmy, especially the part about creating works as we are inspired to create them rather than to conform to the expectations or ideas of others. For me, that means telling the story as it comes to me and not stifling it for fear of offending or disappointing others.

      I look forward to more conversations about these ideas.

  2. Yes, we are writers who are Christians–in the fine words of L’Engle, who first articulated this for me. And in our words–“My target audience is the world,not necessarily other Christians.” Yes!

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