Arts and Education

Artist tend to get solipsistic if not connected to thinkers or education. They need a context for their creative processes. Cistern gazing (getting lost in one’s own process) or over insularity are central shadows in most arts communites I’ve lived in. This is why i think historically, artists have hung out with thinkers. The two are meant to occupy the same cafe.

The teacher and the role of priest or prophet go together. In Jesus you see both aspects. Clear thinking is essential for artists to be near, so that they do not turn their process in on themselves or towards some form of hedonism. Celebrity is not a high enough goal. Artists want to express something meaningful–even the zeitgeist of their time.

Having worked with the arts for many years, i see several reasons for a need for clear exchange between arts and education. One is that educational institutions tend to have resources to held nurture and birth creative projects. Another is that education needs the life and innovation artist bring. There is also a spiritual dimension which artist should carry which is desperately lacking at most educational settings.

The Bloom House–our local arts community experiment here in Austin, Texas–is a mixture of creativity, community and education. For, I think they all go together as part of a true image of God.

Artists, when separated from the rest of society, tend to gaze at self or get hedonistic. They need a cause or raison de ultimate to couch their creative endeavours in. They also need clear thinking around them to keep them from getting lost in the creative process to the point where they are no longer concerned with content.

I think one of the reasons so many artist live or visit learning centers like l’abri has to do with this need for clarity and an overarching narrative or philosophy for their creative processes.

I myself find that when i am only with artists, i often get a bit murky in other areas. Either too insular, or unkept in my thought life. The two should be going together within us as well–our thought life and our symbolic life should both be maturing simultaneously. We are to be growing the whole person!

In Jesus, the prophet (the artist) and the teacher (rabbi) were one. So He could symbolically express His own clear thinking and ideas through His symbolic life. Artist express through symbols what is thought. The thought life is also effected by the creative life–the two are meant to work together. Thought life can also become staid or dry, as we see in much academic writing. There is this divorce at times between fresh new creative connections and clear thinking. The two are meant to be mutually blessing and inspiring one another. In most art movements you will see the beginning of the movement occur when the two are in close contact. Whole systems of thought have been expressed through artist like Satre, Camus etc. But artists need ways of thinking around them also.

I think clear thinking also fights some of the murkiness of hedonism or solipsism which can gather around creative people or communities of artists. And also provide some moral clarity, as many of the arts communities i have seen or lived in have very murky moral boundaries, or none at all.

This is why i think it is important to link education and the arts, and also the arts and the church; for they are related in Christ. These aspects work together to make a clear expression. I am working to help integrate the arts and education and the arts and the church to make a clearer expression of how these aspects work together in God Himself. Mending His Image is the central symbolic work of our times. You see the arts and the business world starting to link in our time, but the church is not yet properly linked and neither are educational institutions. They are meant to be working in tandem.

Educational institutions are often not set up to deal with the needs of artist. The healing necessary and the freedom are often missing. To heal the symbolic aspect of people’s lives requires a willingness to offer more than a classroom environment. It often requires authentic relationship, which is difficult in most university settings. However, mentorship programs and small group learning are mending some of this. The imagination is often not understood or valued in many educational settings. Artist also need to have the whole person addressed in order to learn. This holistic approach is currently offered most often at “alternative” learning environments like Naropa Institute etc. There are art schools which have tried to mend this gap as well. Many, however, are geared towards markatability of the artist upon graduation. This can be deadly to the creative process, though it may help in the business world, it is often a very wounded offering into society.

The church, which should be the model for caring for the whole person, has also not known how to disciple artist whole selves or lives. And either allows them in, but doesn’t know how to deal with the symbolic processes involved in art making, or worse has just ignored that aspect altogether, so that the artist is forced to lead a double life–one of art making, another or spiritual nourishment. The church should be modeling how to integrate the arts, but currently is just not there yet. Since, the church is to offer an image of Christ, our hope is that this breach in His image will become less divided and start to offer a more integrated or whole image of who Christ is.

Historically, the church has feared the freedom of the artist, and instead of helping them morally or emotionally or in the area of thought or theology, has often clamped control down on them to “guard them from the world”. This too is deadly for artist, and is sure to lead to either full rebellion or the above mentioned dualistic life. The church needs to see artist as an aspect of who God is, and try to bring this aspect “home” to help form a fuller image of Christ on earth. Some of this goes back to a misunderstanding of what art is, and the value of the symbolic dimension. That God is symbolic and overtly creative; that His thought life or “truth” aspect is connected to His creative or symbolic aspect is essential to getting a fuller and more accurate vision of who God is!

To educate is to train the whole person. To be the church is to transform the whole person into the image of Christ. These both include the artistic aspect of being human. And with those persons who have the artistic aspect foregrounded in themselves–ie artist-this is even more pressing of an issue.

Recent Posts

Midrash on the Psalms

Reading the Psalms again today (little midrashing for you today!), as I often do, as they seem like the center (and therefore centering parts of

Read More »