ENGAGING THE ARTS, SPIRITUALLY
By Scott R. Ward
As a youth pastor, I have found teaching art classes at our local day Academy to be a great way to connect with teens. As part of the class I take my students on a field trip to the Crocker Art Museum in nearby Sacramento, CA for a docent-led high school student tour—nature, religion, politics, classic Greco-Roman nudes and more. I always teach my students that when they can learn to look beyond the surface of a work of art there is often a depth of meaning conveyed that is beyond anything words can describe.
One of the most enthralling traveling exhibits this year was by a Chinese artist named, Gong Yuebin. I was so captivated by Gong’s work that I returned a few days later to sit with it again and contemplate it’s meaning. This particular exhibit is called, “Site 2801.” In this exhibit there are hundreds of terracotta warriors modeled after the ones unearthed in China some years ago from Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s burial grounds. Gong’s warriors are four foot tall, replicas made of clay taken from the same site as the ancient originals at Lishan Mountan, Xi An, China.
Intermixed with these ancient Chinese warrior replicas are a few modern day soldiers and together they are carrying corroded nuclear missiles. The whole scene is set up to look as if archaeologists from some time in the future have unearthed the scene before us and are attempting to understand what it means. The most unsettling part of the work is the bright red newborn babies lying in the front of each nuclear missile.
Gong grew up in poverty in China. His parents were well-educated teachers but the communists had come in and forced them to become farm laborers so they would not be a threat to the regime. Gong remembers working hard and always being hungry, often being cold and living in fear of the soldiers. I read about his life in a small booklet where the authors also wrote about Gong’s artwork and it was stated that the message he is trying to convey is in regards to the, “apparent lack of progress in thousands of years of human evolution and empire building.” He is trying to get people to think about why nation still fights against nation and why so many people are still trying to kill each other. Gong longs for peace in the world.
Whether you agree with the way Gong attempts to convey his message or not you have to admire his boldness to stand up and shout it. He is convicted, confident and bold. His life is committed to living out his beliefs in public—he wants to convert people to his beliefs and win followers. He wants to covey what he believes to be a greater truth than that which much of society currently seems to believe in.
As I sat in contemplation of Gong’s life and work I thought about what it means to me to live life as a Christian. How do I approach my world with my convictions? Am I confident and bold—working to attract followers in the public sphere?
Some Christians have issues with the art world and they certainly have the right to. Some work is beautiful and comforting and other work can be sacrilegious and crass. The kinds of artwork that exist are limited only by the kinds of people on this planet—and that diversity is certainly unending. Messages/ideas/mediums abound of every imaginable kind. But even the apostle Paul engaged the arts in an attempt to reach people for Jesus. He sat in the middle of Greek architecture and sculptures and quoted Greek poets as he tried to lead the Greeks to Jesus.
The book of Acts records this journey Paul took to Mars Hill in Athens, Greece, where he tried to teach the people about the God of heaven by first talking about the gods of their own making. These gods the Greeks had conjured up were housed in some of the most magnificently designed and constructed buildings our world has ever seen. These religious temples and shrines were filled with what we now call the “classical Greek nudes” and other art forms that went with this society that was the birthplace of modern civilization.
But even though this was a foreign culture, and much of it was unacceptable for Christians, Paul didn’t shy away. After escaping from the legalistic Jewish bubble he’d grown up in he certainly wasn’t going to watch the world go by silently. He stood up in the midst of that secular culture and he let his voice be heard. He stood up and he lived his faith in Jesus whatever the cost.
1. What is it that you are most passionate about?
2. What is the message your life is conveying?
3. The first thing God did in the Bible was to “create” this world and everything in it. When He created us He gave us creative minds and talents as well. How are you using your creativity for Jesus?
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