Art In = Art Out
Art In = Art Out
By Sam Morse
I have been thinking a lot lately about my love of artistic expression. There has always been this side of me that wants to express myself artistically in some way. There was, however, this feeling as I grew up that art was a wasted use of my time; unless it was art directed towards promoting my religious belief. Even the art that I was encouraged to enjoy should be of such a quality that it would bolster my faith. Basically, if I wasn't praising God with my art, then it wasn't art that I should be seeking to enter my life and mind. There is one phrase that slightly haunts my memories, "Garbage in equals garbage out".
So, I made due for most of my formative years. I was never naturally inclined towards playing musical instruments, but I always found that I had an ear for it, so I found a safe place helping with the sound equipment for Sunday services. I felt that even if I wasn't playing the music I was still making it come to life. My church also produced holiday themed plays which I was always overly excited to participate in. So really, I have fond memories of the art that I was involved in as a child.
The reality though was that religious art within the evangelical church is often...how do I politely say this...it's often emotionally biased. In church theatrical productions the story is almost pre-written; the good guy will always win. There are no twist endings and there are no victorious anti-hero's. It does not allow for a very genuine emotional character study to cause the audience to engage and examine themselves on a deeper level (at least that was the case for me). The only time emotions are brought to the forefront are usually in terms of a person’s eternal salvation, but never in terms of the real, complicated, and messy realities of living in the present world. As I entered teenage years the plight of hormones and a growing mind demanded a deeper examination of human emotions. I was left feeling empty with these cookie cutter and stereotypical Christian forms of artistic expression.
The only logical option then was to search the "garbage" artwork of the secular world. How were they dealing with the examination of the human mind and spirit? I dived deeply into literature, music, film, and every other form of artwork that my mind could absorb. The strange reality that I discovered was that there was plenty of garbage within the secular world, but most art lovers within that world would also title it trash. Within the heaping piles of trash, however, were pieces of treasure. These were moments where artists truly connected with a piece of human existence that was beautifully locked in time within their artistic medium. These moments of human epiphany spoke to me on a rich and deep level that I had never experienced before. They could place pain so clearly in the foreground of thought, so that when one walked away you were so disgusted with the knowledge you had gained that your eyes only searched for the light of healing. I could be moved to tears by the melodies that soothed me while it was being mixed with lyrics of such deep human agony. For the first time in my life I was beginning to grow emotionally thanks to the honesty of these earnestly exploring artists.
After years now of enjoying all forms of art (from secular and religious artists) I have come to one conclusion. Artistic expression is one of the best and most important aspects of being human. I truly believe now that when art comes from an honest place of expression and discovery it can only improve the world. When someone can tackle hard and gruesome realities of life with art instead of expending that energy into our worst qualities such as violence and oppression...then isn't that one of the greatest aspects of the evolution of the human mind? Also does a God, who loves us and wants us to focus on our best qualities, always need that art directed towards him? Does he need verbal credit to every form of artwork? Or...is the use of a pen instead of a sword all the action required to give this loving God the glory he desires?
Someone can absolutely create garbage with their art of course. There is (at least should be) a responsibility for expressing one’s emotions. To be the best version of ourselves we should be putting the best energy back into the world possible. We should not be creating art that is meant to attack, demean or destroy. If that is the art we want to create then why have we replaced the sword with the pen?
There is a piece of wisdom I love in the bible. I place my mind back to those times of human progression. I attempt to meditate on how little they knew about the physical world compared to a modern mind.
Philippians 4:8-9 (The Message Translation):
Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.
The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to encourage the early church in Philippians. The thing that I always seem to forget is that he often wrote these letters from prison as he was trying to teach people about the love and good news discovered in Jesus. Even through his circumstances in a barbaric world where the Roman empire still held control and the Christians were starting to truly be persecuted for what they believed, he encouraged them to focus their minds on the beautiful things of this world. To pick up a pen or paint brush instead of a sword. To focus on what is best in ourselves instead of what is worse.
I am excited to place art in a more focused aspect of my life. This podcast and writing have been a truly liberating aspect of day to day. I am excited to share and analyze who I am through these different mediums. My house is constantly filled with music from all walks of life with a variety of stories to tell. The poetry from a genuine place is my only criteria for what I allow into my life now. The attitude behind the art matters…even if it comes from a very real and uncomfortable place.
I encourage all of you to fill your life all different kinds of artistic expressions that fill your life and inspires you. Allow it to enter a place where you can truly reflect on what it means to be human. May we pray that with each word…song…painting…film…that we get closer to understanding one another and that all strive to grow in unity as we walk together to a better world.