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Blog

The Intersection of Faith and Art

Ian David Philpot

Jeanne Damoff joins the blog as a guest looking into the union of Faith and Art. When Chris Fisher first suggested I write a guest post for Relief, I asked if he had a topic in mind. He said, “Anything you want, really. Some kind of faith/art angle would be good.”

(Aside: I wanted to insert an “angle” joke here--maybe something about my being too “obtuse” to understand what he wanted--but I couldn’t come up with wording I liked. Feel free to give it a shot. And remember, if you make me laugh, you’ll earn valuable points.)

As I pondered what I might write, the phrase that kept coming to mind was “the intersection of faith and art.” The more I thought about it, the more I liked the images that phrase conjured. An intersection is a place where two distinct things collide or cross and, for a defined space, become one. Where any two roads intersect, that square of pavement is as much one as it is the other. My perception of it depends entirely on the direction I’m heading.

Who Are You?

Suppose you’re creating a personal profile for some networking site, and you’re given the prompt, “I am a ___________.” Most of us could answer that question in numerous ways. Relationally, I am a wife, mom, daughter, friend, aunt, mother-in-law, etc. Vocationally, I am a writer, speaker, musician, choreographer, photographer. Philosophically, I am a Christian, a creature, an eternal soul. I’m also a cook, maid, laundress. Mentor, counselor, confidante. Fitness nut, dancing fool, laugh-aholic. You get the idea. But what if I have to prioritize? Which identity should come first? I have no problem with folks who choose the Sunday School answer. But I also have no problem believing faith can be as much a part of a person as their humanity, and as such, needs no name tag. Perhaps I’m an artist who recognizes my gifts are just that--gifts. They were given to me by One who delights in my embracing and using them, and I delight in being who I was created to be. To call myself “Artist” is to accept my Creator’s design for my life and therefore one of the highest compliments I can give Him. To insist that I always use the “Christian” qualifier--or, for that matter, that all my art deals with overtly Christian subject matter--is to greatly limit the scope of the gift.

I’m going to assume that many of this blog’s readers consider themselves both Christians and artists. I also assume you’ve most likely encountered some incarnation of the “Christian artist” or “Artist who happens to be a Christian” debate. Some folks get their bloomers in a pretty tight wad over this, but I can’t help wondering if it ultimately boils down to which road you’re driving on when the two collide. And does it even matter? Either way, the intersection makes them one.

Where do Faith and Art Intersect?

Main Street and First Avenue intersect in cities and towns all over the world. Likewise, the intersection of Faith and Art is found everywhere. And, if you’re like me, it often sneaks up on you. You may be worshiping God with no thought to your art, when a glimpse of His goodness, mercy, intimacy, or grace inspires you to create. Or you may be playing the piano, photographing nature, ballet dancing, or painting a portrait of your child, when suddenly God feels nearer to you than you ever thought possible.

Those times may take us by surprise, but they’re not particularly surprising. Wherever beauty is found, faith and art commonly intersect. But sometimes the two collide in unexpected places.

Sorrow.

Injustice.

Tragedy.

Betrayal.

Faith is stretched to its limits, and art seeks to understand.

Art depicts darkness, and faith cries out to God in response.

These intersections can be full of potholes and blockades. The way is slippery, steep, and full of shadows. When we finally come out on the other side, we’re older and wiser. Our faith purified. Our art refined.

It makes no difference if we approach the intersection on Artist Avenue or Faith Lane. Once we enter it, the two become one. And that’s where the magic happens. Whoever you are and whatever identity you claim, I hope your road leads you to that intersection again and again. I hope the same for me.

***

Jeanne Damoff is the author of Parting the Waters: A True Story: Finding Beauty in Brokenness and her work can also be found in Relief Number 2.  You can visit her website at jeannedamoff.com and her blog at jeannedamoff.wordpress.com.