Sunday, June 25, 2006
Summary of Trotter's Pursuit of God and Art
On an online forum, a sister in Christ named Colleen Tinker shared this...
I am reading a book by Noel Piper (wife of John Piper) called "Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God". In her biographical sketch of Lilias Trotter, a woman who spent most of her life (aged 30 on) ministering to Muslims in Algiers during the last part of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. Lilias was a gifted artist and the renowned English artist John Ruskin offered to take her as a pupil when she was in her 20s.
Lilias was pursuing both her art and an inner city ministry in London during those years, and Ruskin became frustrated with her for not concentrating more on her painting. She was spending too much time, he felt, on the streets of London. He finally laid it all out in front of her and said that if she would devote herself to perfecting her painting, "she would be the greatest living painter and do things that would be immortal."
Lilias agonized for day, praying for God to make it clear to her what her calling was. She loved her art (after all, it was a God-given talent), and she knew God could use her influence as a Christ-follower for the Kingdom through that sphere. But in the end she wrote in her journal, "I see as clear as daylight now, I cannot give myself to painting in the way [Ruskin] means and continue still to 'seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness'."
She chose to continue to enjoy her art "as a gift, not a passion," and she threw herself completely into her ministry to which she knew God was calling her.
Years later she wrote this, "Never has it been so easy to live in half a dozen good harmless worlds at once—-Art, music, social science, games, motoring, the folowing of some profession, and so on. And between them we run the risk of drifting about, the 'good' hiding the 'best.'...
"it is easy to find out whether our lives are focussed, and if so, where the focus lies. Where do our thoughts settle when consciousness comes back in the morning? Where do they swing back when the pressure is off during the day?...Dare to have it out with God...and ask Him to show you whether or not all is focussed on Christ and His glory..
"How do we bring things to a focus in the world of optics? Not by looking at the things to be dropped, but by looking at the one point that is to be brought out. Turn your soul's vision to Jesus, and look and look at Him, and a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him."
Essay - My Christian Art Revolution
I've been taking a break recently--or rather, God's halted my brush so I could spend more time with Him. But I've posted a few things on a friend's website about art. Here's one of them...
A question was posed by my friend James:
As Christians, what do we believe about the mind, reality, and the connection between? As Christians, what do we believe art is supposed to represent? Is there a crisis of representation for Christian art? If so, how do Christian artists respond?
As a Christian artist, I guess I have a few cents to put in on this. My understanding of the mind, reality, and the connection between has been greatly evolving in the last nine years. During my year-and-a-half excursion into pseudo-philosophical depression, I had the illusion that I was all logical or all rational and that I didn't have feelings. Like Dostoevsky's "underground" narrator, I looked at the rest of the world in simultaneous envy and contempt during that time.
Two years after meeting God for the first time (rather, being interrupted by Him), I met the Holy Spirit, and He began to re-connect my "head" with my "heart". He "un-froze" emotions I was afraid of feeling, things that had been shut down because of traumatic events in my life; He tore down walls that I'd erected to protect myself and He "re-wired" me.
After going through a lot of this, I realize my understanding of "mind, reality, and the connection between" has greatly changed. The ultimate reality is God. Often I don't feel it, but trusting His love, He always shows me that it's true. My feelings go up and down. So do my thoughts. My logic is not irrefutable. If I can be convinced of something by logic, I can just as easily be un-convinced by different logic later on. Only as I tap into Him do I find reality. Logic, mind & feelings come as aids along the way, but are supports, not ends. Art is the same. I've learned that for me, "art doesn't exist for art's sake."
When I had done art prior to meeting God, I made art for art's sake or for my own sake as an artist. Then while a missionary I did a little, but realized that my best stuff seemed to come when I was depressed and in a self-hating mood. Believing that lie, I gave it up for awhile. In 2003 God started to give it back to me, but it wasn't until 2005 that I truly knew He was giving me art again.
Before meeting God & being doused in His Spirit, I would ponder and ponder what to draw. I wanted to draw or paint something great, something that said something. Even when my ego was at its lowest points, I could barely do this at all. I loved the "dreaminess" of art and so was attracted to Dali (but yes, I was occasionally put off by his pornographic egoism), although even that left me feeling empty and hollow. After coming to God, I still worked from the same paradigm: think of something great and draw or paint it. I naturally thought of doing Biblical scenes, but 1) as I'm a little lazy with technical expertise on occasion, and 2) because there is already no end to these types of pictures, and 3) because often these pictures are very dry and sterile, I didn't get into that. One reason I think they are sterile is because when we try to paint Biblical scenes in realism, we're not working off of a photograph, so to speak. We don't know what it really looked like. We've been given a written word, not a photo-album. Perhaps this speaks a bit of a current "crisis" in Christian art and a direction it's now taking among many...
The revolution in Christian art, to me, has come from meeting the Holy Spirit. I was always longing for something to draw, and after having died to that need, He began to give me things to draw. Some call it "prophetic art" or "worship art". In a nutshell, just like He gives songs, poems and prophecies to some, just like He gives visions and dreams to some, He can also give art to people. Granted, He can give anyone any type of art, but for me this has been the fulfillment of that pre-belief longing for surrealism I used to have. That longing was born for this. Dreams, visions, and pictures often function like parables. He can often show something symbolically or through a story that He wouldn't be able to tell us directly--because of our pride, stubbornness, or plain inability to see it (remember Peter's vision on the rooftop in Joppa). The end result is that I like to begin focused on Him, and then draw in Him, and then when it is finished, He brings meaning out of it, and it comes back to Him in the end. It's terribly fun!!
(The prophetic art of Gwen Meharg really inspired me and opened me to asking God if He would continue to give me pictures as He first did one or two times in 2003...).
In another one of your posts, I wrote: "My Montgomery Community College professor said that 'Art is more about seeing than drawing.' There is a craft to a lot (maybe even most) of art, but in the end it's about perspective more, and the joy of perspective." This fits the eternal way I long to live in now, and it fits the "place" that art has in sight of that eternity. Don't get me wrong, I love the joy of creating! At the same time, there is a much, much greater joy to be found in seeing. (See C.S. Lewis' book "The Great Divorce" for more on this).