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Diving deeper as Christian artist for food that satisfies soul

Church in the Community - Media Release in the Herald: 18th December 2023

Source: TCN / Duncan Stewart
Date Added: 2023-12-11

Category: General NewsTCN NewsIssues - GeneralIssues - Social upliftment
When we look around our city, there is sadly no shortage of people who are both poor and needy, with many suffering under extreme poverty.

Any action to address and alleviate these conditions is to be applauded and supported.

Most churches within Gqeberha have some ministry that attends to the needs of the poor, the homeless, or widows and orphans, as Scripture requires of us to do.

But there is another, equally pervasive and crippling hunger within our society.

The hunger within each and every human soul for a sense of identity and purpose.

A hunger exacerbated by social media and technologies that anaesthetises our appetite for truth with a deadly cocktail of relativism and hedonism.

It was this very hunger that led me on a search 25 years ago for “food” that satisfies. (John 6:25-59)

After being saved by God’s kindness and grace, I embarked upon a career as a fine artist and have come to realise that artists hold a peculiar position in society.

On the one hand, they can be regarded highly, almost like a high priest of culture who knows the inner secrets of reality.

And on the other, they are like completely non-essential decorations whom people like to admire yet are quite ready to let starve.

People want the artist to create serious and deep work that touches the realms of eternal value but if they want to be successful the artist needs to bow to present tastes, be commercial - play the clown instead of the sage.

This has caused many Christian artists, including me, to wrestle with this one thing: what to paint?

How do I point people to this Source of Life, the One who is the Bread and the Life?

Do I illustrate gospel stories - imposing a Biblical world-view on ideas borne out of rational intellect?

Or is there space for emotive, less calculated expressions that engage on a non “religious” visceral level?

Perhaps the question “what should I paint?” should be sub servient to “how, or why do I paint?”

I am not saying don’t proclaim the Gospel with art.

I am asking, as God’s ambassadors here on earth, can we represent the truth of God’s kingdom in our own unique way with our individual gifts and experiences to satisfy this divine hunger?

In a book I regularly refer to, Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer, there is a quote that keeps me honest: “A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An artwork can be a doxology in itself.”

Martin Luther weighed in on this narrow “tract-like” approach to “Christian art” in his classic response to a cobbler who wanted to create shoes for the glory of God by stamping little crosses on each shoe.

“The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

Our intentions, however good, are usually only to make sure we’ve “stamped” enough little crosses on our work, rather than asking ourselves if the final artwork exhibits a craftsmanship and beauty that brings glory to God and reflects a true love for our neighbour and the world in which we live.

By reducing our creativeoutput to a tract - a simple ve hicle to carry the Christian message of salvation, we limit ourselves and others to see everything only through the lens of the fall and redemption, making evangelism the one and only call on the Christian’s life.

This divorces our art from vital stories of creation and restoration which are also part of God’s great plan to restore everything to its final state of “goodness” under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

In short, God’s plan is bigger, broader, and more comprehensive than the call for personal salvation - it is nothing short of the absolute restoration of everything.

And if Christian art is to engage in feeding the spiritually poor, then it should be free to engage in the culture of the day, proclaiming truth and refuting falsehood, creating good and beautiful and true things for God’s glory - not merely as vehicles to deliver a sermon, but as a thing of praise unto God and nourishment for all who hunger and thirst for righteousness in an unrighteous, upside down world.

To that end, after the shocking attacks on Israel by Hamas in October, I was inspired to create a triptych (three artworks) to express my own horror at the evil unleashed, simultaneously offering a reason for hope amid the destruction.

Instead of considering “what” to draw, I first began with “how” - by using charcoal made from the weeping willow tree.

I called the series “WEEPING”, inspired by Art Needs No Justification by HR Rookmaker which says this: “To weep is to see things must change: to begin to care for victims, and to pray for forgiveness.

“To weep is also to see our own weakness, our own shortcomings, and to see where our love and our care and our efforts have been lacking. It drives us to pray.

“We pray in the knowledge that we cannot change things ourselves and that we need help.”

This work, along with others can be seen on my Facebook and Instagram pages.

Duncan Stewart
is a fine artist and sculptor based in Nelson Mandela Bay.
Source: TCN / Duncan Stewart
Date Added: 2023-12-11

Category: General NewsTCN NewsIssues - GeneralIssues - Social upliftment
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