“Art is not a process of creating these superficial realities to me. Art is all about being authentic and being honest before God about my own conditions, things that I’m struggling with. And so the process of painting is very much about prayer to me. It is layering of pigments and gold and silver that allows me to focus on both the beauty of God’s reality but also my own brokenness.” ~Makoto Fujimura
When I stumbled upon a video of Fujimura discussing a Christian’s role in the arts, it instantly caught my attention. He uses paint in his art, and I use writing and, at times, my piano as my mediums. I disagree with the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but I do think a picture can say just as much and evoke the same reaction as a poem. It’s just wordless. I think this is because the goal in any art form is (in general) pure expression.
Why do I write? Why do I love music? Why is the world of art so important to me?
My hands are not very good at putting together an image in my mind and putting it into form, making it into a solid, definite object. When I try to paint or draw, the perfectionist inside me starts saying “Change that. That isn’t good enough. No one is going to look at this and understand what you are trying to say.” I’m not wired to give my emotions or convictions precise form. I do, however, love trying to convey images, which is what my goal is when I write. I’m not concise, I am not always clear, my words are generally very abstract, but I’m not aiming for perfection or a picture that’s been colored neatly within the lines. I’m just trying to form a general image, and I want you to be able to fill in the blanks and interpret things and make them your own through my words.
When I can’t find words anymore, I turn to music. I believe everyone’s talents and gifts come from God and belong to Him, and He sure didn’t restrict Himself when He came up with ways for us to look on His face. He’s painted things in nature that even the best artist can’t replicate, He’s put sounds into His world that no singer or pianist of musician of any kind could imitate, and He’s written stories and worked miracles that even the greatest master of the written word couldn’t type out and still manage to do justice to His beauty.
He’s not just an artist, He’s the Creator of art itself. His art is an expression of His nature, which makes it beautiful- because His nature is itself beauty.
I actually think that’s the reason art has become, in so many cases, corrupt. I’ve yet to meet someone who considers themselves an artist who has told me he’s not trying to express himself. When you reach inside yourself and try to look into your soul and produce an image of it or express yourself, it will, in keeping with human nature, generally reveal quite a lot of unpleasant, sinful things that go completely against God and His nature. I’m not saying God can’t work through these things- after all, what man intended for evil God intended for good. But one can’t go around saying “Well, God will find a way to use everything for His purpose, so I think I shall use this as an excuse to go do whatever I want and put whatever images I so desire into my mind whether it causes me to stumble in my walk with Him or not.”
I think often Christians get a little too cautious, though. We start to say that we should completely separate ourselves from anything that could become corrupted. Hello, people? We call it CORRUPTED because it’s a GOOD THING WE MADE BAD. Music is an example.
(Yes, I did just go there. Ooh, and I can feel the controversy rising up already.)
Now, I am not going to start saying names, but I know more than a few Christians who are very opinionated about what is right and wrong in music. Now, I’m fine with you listening to whatever you want. It’s your personal decision and it’s between you and God. If you choose to listen only to traditional hymns, well, say goodbye to variety but I’m sure that’s not displeasing to God. Your choice. But then you begin branding certain kinds of music as “wrong” or “bad.” I’ve never heard anyone use the word “satanic” out loud in anything but a joking manner before to describe a genre of music, but hey people, let’s admit it, for some of you the word has crossed your mind when I mention , say, rap. Not many of you. But I’ve met a few of you. I want you to say it with me: rap is not evil in of itself. The genre of music itself is NOT WRONG. WE are the problem here. We’re sinners, and that transfers into the lyrics we put to music. Am I saying there’s no such thing as rap that’s offensive to God? Heck no. But it’s not because rap is offensive. It’s us. It’s sin. It can be corrupted because WE have corrupted it and WE are corrupted.
In fact, I’m going to use rap as my illustration right now. I can already hear a lot of you Christians out there right now muttering under your breath about how possessed it is and I can hear plenty of you who aren’t believers saying it’s just retards attempting poetry. Yeah, yeah, whatever. Set aside your opinion of what’s music and what’s not for a minute and bear with me. We’ve all heard some disgusting, offensive rap songs before. All you rap lovers, shut up and face it. I said SOME disgusting, offensive rap songs. Not all. Example of awesome rap: Lecrae. Look him up. Only rapper I ever loved. What makes him so awesome? Not only are his songs catchy like nobody’s business, but if you look up his lyrics, the dude’s pretty much rapping the Bible. “You like music from rap to gospel but you prolly never heard nobody rap the gospel.” Mmmhm, I just slipped in a snippet of his lyrics for free ‘cause I’m generous like that. Lecrae is a GREAT example of a Christian showing God’s light in a field of music regarded by many people as being wrong. Did he say rap is bad so it should be completely avoided? No. He said that even though there’s plenty of bad rap music out there, he was going to use it anyway and turn the focus on God through it. He’s glorifying Jesus Christ in an amazing way, whether you like rap or not. And please don’t be one of those people who are the musical equivalent of what racist is to different races of humans and tell me I must think rap is evil because I used it as an example. Get a life and quit avoiding my point.
Sometimes we forget that the world of art can be a field of ministry. When images catch our eye, they tend to stay in our mind for a long time. When we hear an interesting song, we often walk around humming it without even noticing. There are images we see, accidentally or on purpose, that get caught in our mind and are hard to forget. Some of these are bad and can cause real struggles in our lives. I have plenty of experience with music that was a little too catchy and maybe not quite as pure as it ought to be, got stuck in my head, and caused me to struggle. Some of the things we create can tear us down. But some of the things we create we can use to build others up. Art sticks with us, and it should. God made art, and it’s an amazing tool we can use to help other people look on the face of God.
Words are powerful. Words affect people. God has used words to work in my life nearly every day, and His Word changed my life forever. Now, I’m not saying I think by using words I can be a little more like God, using one of the powerful gifts he gave us- the ability to write and speak. Of course my goal is to live like Christ, but I will never be perfect. But when Fujimura said the process of painting is very much about prayer, I instantly connected with that. Much of what I write is either me trying to express the beauty of what He has made, the pain that the absence of Him causes, my own wretchedness before I accepted Him as my savior, the battle I fight between my will and His, or my joy because of what He’s done for me. My writing is, often, a prayer. I may not specifically mention God in my writing all the time, but that’s mostly because I rarely feel the need to spell what I think out for people. Again, I want people to relate to what I am saying, and the more detailed I get, the less likely it is that I will be relatable. I’m painting basic images; not dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every “t”. I usually leave it up to the person to interpret what I’m saying enough that it becomes personal and theirs. Not that there isn’t a time for me to share my own testimony; my beliefs and convictions and worldview should shine through in my words. But there’s a time and place for everything.
I can’t be sure what God wants to do with me in my life, but based on what I have felt called to do so far, I think a big part of it involves my musical and writing abilities. How? I don’t know exactly, though I do have a few ideas. I do know that I’m called to live for Christ in everything I do, and do all to the glory of God. That’s the main reason I write, the main reason I play piano. I want to go out into places where He is not the main focus, and try to put the focus back on Him. In my opinion, that makes the world of literature and art and music as big a mission field as any place in Africa. The world of art needs missionaries just as badly as any country. It can affect just as many people just as strongly.
My goal basically summed up: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31