Thursday, 24 May 2012

Spontaneous flamenco dancing, old faces reunited, some interesting acting skills and lots of real coffee…

Sarah White (Relay Worker in Aberystwyth) updates us on the Interface Wales day that happened back in April...
Almost a month ago now we held the second Interface Arts Day in Wales. In comparison to the work of Interface which has been going for many, many years-  in Scotland and in London - Wales is only just beginning its exciting journey to develop work with its Christian artists; encourage students across Wales to really engage with their subject area, think critically about the contemporary art world, where their work fits in, pursue excellence in their work and think through and question what it means to be an artist and a Christian and how we can engage intelligently with the dialogues taking place in the contemporary art world.
This year the Interface day moved from Cardiff to Aberystwyth and took place in the University’s School of Art. It was fantastic to have the entire School of Art to ourselves; which is a beautiful and intriguing building full of lots of exciting art work. A big thank you must be said to the wonderful porters who work at the School of Art; who are always smiling and willing to help with all of our strange requests and who put up with our crazy and loud improvised drama which we created around the School of Art and right outside the porter’s office.
We were joined for the day by the Morphe team; Ally Gordon, Cully, Lois Adams and Ed Mayhew. It was such a blessing to have them with us; they brought with them bundles of joy, enthusiasm and wisdom, which was very contagious. Ally spoke in the morning on the task of the Christian artist today, followed two seminars entitled, ‘World Cinema Meets The Ten Commandments’, ‘Satire and the Written and Spoken Word’ alongside a gallery visit to the Aberystwyth Arts Centre, and a Q and A session with Ally.
We were joined by artists young and old and from all disciplines. There were students from Bangor, Wrexham, Aberystwyth and Cardiff Universities. There was even a mini-reunion between three very special people who used to work for UCCF and help with the Christian arts work in Wales; John Harvey, Anne Brown and Rhiain Davies. John is a well respected professor of art at the school in Aberystwyth, Rhiain is a very talented professional illustrator and Anne specialises in History of Art and speaks at many events across the world. 
Now, one thing I learnt very well on the Interface day was that however much planning you do, things can still go wrong, that’s when you improvise; which is exactly what we did! The evening entertainment turned into an incredible time of hilarious, thought-provoking, inspiring and strange sharing of work. Led by Ed Mayhew – who rightly pointed out that we can learn just as much through doing as through listening - the entire group proceeded to navigate their way through the school of art, together acting out and developing a story of murder, addiction, mystery, love and something to do with scarves! We ended up in the gallery space downstairs and closed the evening with a wonderful time of performance by Rhodri Brady (monologue), Ben Cribbin (poetry), Ed Mayhew (comedy through music!), Ian Ho (jazz piano) and Sarah White – that’s me - (dance). Oh plus some spontaneous flamenco dancing from Dan Meiring (Aberystwyth staff worker) and Lois Adams.
All in all it was a wonderful, joy filled day which was such an encouragement and a thrill to be a part of, personally I can’t wait till next year!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Interview # 1: Graduating from art college

This is Faith...

This is Sarah...
This is the first of hopefully a number of interviews for our interface blog.  

This week, i've had the great pleasure of talking with two of the final year girls in the University of the Arts CU: Faith who's been studying Painting at Wimbledon, and Sarah who's been studying Illustration at Camberwell.  

Enjoy reading their insights, joys, challenges and thoughts on their time at art college...

Looking back on your 3/4 years at art college, what have been some  highlights?
Faith: Well the biggest thing was becoming a Christian in first year!  My whole purpose for life and my degree was now completely different.  Getting involved in the CU and meeting Christians weekly for encouragement has been brilliant.  Knowing that this three years has been the most important of my life - because I have been saved, I have a unique identity, and realising that even when i wasn’t particularly keen on art college at the start, I can now absolutely see why I have come!
Sarah: There are so many! I guess first year was so much fun where everything was new and i was making new friends every day! 

What have you found particularly hard?

Faith: Knowing in my head that my identity is in Christ, but I still need to be myself, so working out what that looks like.  The challenge of being arty involves such a wide-ranging variety of identities, so working out how I live out my faith, and how it works out in my art practice has been a challenge in amongst the ‘anything-goes’ nature of college.  I’ve desperately wanted to integrate my Christian life and my work without editing or weakening either - i’ve wanted to live fully for the two without compromising on either one - this has been hard!
Sarah: Trying to get the balance right with work, not idolising it and always putting God first, even when there's a massive dead line looming!

How has it been as a Christian?

Faith: I think it’s been amazing to see with clarity.  Once I realised that I was a stranger in the world because of my identity in Christ, I began to see the futility of the career-based life and the worldly desires that are pretty much the air you breathe at college.  God’s helped me to see life in black and white.  Also it’s been brilliant to see this year that my future is not set on my degree show but on eternity with Christ.  I’ve been realising more and more what I do have in Christ - but with that comes the challenge to witness about the certain hope we have in a sincere way.
Sarah: It's been awesome but also hard. Back home I didn't know that many christians my age and it's so encouraging coming to london and finding so many young christians who are super passionate about God. It's really encouraging! But talking about God at uni can be hard.

What would you do differently if you were to do it all again?

Faith: I think I would have a different attitude.  Partly because I started art school with the career-based attitude that most people have, rather than knowing Jesus and knowing he’s got everything in his hands.  My whole perspective has changed - I am a new creation, so I would approach everything differently from the beginning!
Sarah: I'd try to be more confident in talking about God at uni.

What advice would you give to a Christian just starting out at art school?

Faith: Work really hard and focus on your studies - you’ve been given time to develop your gifts so make the most of it.  Remember that God’s put in you that place.  Approach everything prayerfully.

Sarah: Find a great church!!! SOOOO important, I found one where the friends I have there feel like family, its such a blessing. Get stuck into CU as well it's great encouragement midweek.pastedGraphic.pdf 

How do you feel about the prospect of graduating in a few weeks time?

Faith: Excited!  God’s given me security in my church family which I am grateful for, and knowing that my future lies in his hands.  I feel very reflective looking back on my time at Wimbledon.  I’ve learnt double what I thought i would - both becoming a Christian and growing in my faith, and developing in my painting practice - it’s been brilliant!
Sarah: Excited but super scared!! Can't wait to start working!

Friday, 11 May 2012

Towards an Integrated Christian Imagination

Big thanks to Mark Meynell (see end of blog post for more info) for a thoroughly stimulating talk last night at University of the Arts, London!  For those who couldn’t make it/ are interested, I will do my best to summarise the wealth of wisdom, insight and challenge that Mark brought to us as those studying the creative arts.  I warn you, there is MUCH to take in, and my summarising skills are weak, so though this is a long blog post, it's worth sticking with it!
Mark took us to Romans 12:1-2 first of all to help us see the fundamental difference that exists between Christians, and non-Christians.  He explained the difference in simple terms: paganism bribes God into doing something for us, whether it’s with money, time or effort, essentially bringing ‘my agenda to God’.  As Christians however we live in response to the assurance, the confidence, the love and the mercy that we already have in the gospel.  This means the way we do life is profoundly different, as we are called to be living sacrifices, those who die to self and live to Christ.
What a challenge to start with! To remember that we are indeed Christ’s and we are called to live in response to his grace.  The idea of dying to self is often so hard, and yet it also brings such freedom as we do.  
Mark really helped us to see that we are living in response to God’s round-the-clock mercy; there is never any point when we are not his. We are complex beings, all of whom are for Him. This in turn calls for us to integrate our whole lives: body, mind, soul, heart as we live in response to his mercy. 
So, where as post-moderns fragment,
we are called to integrate as part of round-the-clock discipleship.
So what does this mean for our imaginations? What does this mean for the way we approach our creative disciplines?
Mark had a couple of big points for us, both of which were really helpful on broadening our perspective on what’s involved as we imagine and create:

1. We are theologians of the imagination
Artists are societies’ visionaries or to quote Mark ‘society’s equivalent of specsavers’!  As artists we help people to see what they don’t naturally see.  We are more deliberate in feeling, seeing, hearing, tasting, and sensing the world around us because we study it in a more intense and deliberate way, and so we are making people see more of what’s around them. 
This has been keenly felt recently in the work of Hockney as his RA exhibition, but to quote Hockney himself as he saw a Monet exhibition, 
 “ There was a fantastic Monet exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1995. They got a million people to see it. There are forty-six Monets in the Art Institute’s collection, which they lend to other exhibitions, so a lot of museums owed them a favour. As a result, for this exhibition they had got together about a hundred and fifty of his paintings. I went to see it one Sunday morning. It was fabulous. When I came out, I started looking at the bushes on Michigan Avenue with a little more care, because Monet had looked at his surroundings with such attention. He made you see more. Van Gogh does that for you too. He makes you see the world around just a little more intensely. And you enjoy seeing it like that, or I do."
I absolutely agree with Mark that this is exactly what happened after seeing the Hockney at the RA too - I felt a more profound, and more intense delight in the mundane aspects of nature, seeing them and delighting in the wondrous in a thoroughly exhilarating way.

Artists are also prophets, communicating what we see around us.  It’s no longer philosophers, statesmen and preachers in the pulpit who influence culture and society.  Rather, it’s the media, artists, singer-songwriters, celebrities and the like who are our culture’s prophets, confronting us with some of the realities around us.  Whether we like it or not, we have an influence as culture-makers, and contribute to the visual plethora of stimuli around us.  

Because we look more, we see more and therefore have responsibility to do more.  

This is weighty stuff.  Mark’s question to us: Do you feel intimated by this? 
I certainly did last night.  But what a wonderful thing to realise that we’re not on our own -  we should be on our knees, praying hard for the Lord to guide us.

2. The visionary and prophetic mandate
In light of all this, we were encouraged to see that our mind is absolutely central to how we live out our lives.  Godliness so often begins in the mind, as we are motivated by the grace we have received.  When we know it in our heart and mind, we then can’t help but respond in action and response, living in view of God’s mercy.

Paul calls Christians in Philippians 4 to fill their minds with good things as they strive to be godly:
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”
But where do these verses leave us in the context of our creativity?
So often, they lead down a ‘blind alley of kitsch, cliche and platitude.’
As discussed last night, these verses have been used out of context, to restrict what artists can paint and portray, and have become a shackle to creative endeavours.  Mark was keen to show us that though we are to strive for godliness (which is the context of these verses), integrated Christian art must have a place for the ugly and despairing, because that is real life, that is our world.  The Old Testament prophets are wonderful examples of communicating the despairing world they see in front of them, and speaking into that situation.
So where does this leave us?
With 3 valuable pointers regarding the content of our work and imaginations:
Truth: exposing the false, reflecting the real
Scripture is our foundation, our benchmark of understanding.  We can create in provocative, quirky and poetic ways but we have to be true and real.  It is right to expose the horrors of the world, and being truthful will involve exposing the ugly.
Have you read any of Calvin’s Seerveld’s stuff? If not grab hold of ‘Bearing fresh Olive leaves’ (in the book review section of this blog) and read Ch 2 on ‘The freedom and Responsibility of the artist’ - it is full of rich gems that will help you to think through these thoughts in more detail.  To quote him just once here, 
‘art, like anything else, is relevant if it supplies what it needed.  Art that is popular is supplying what is wanted, but not necessarily what is needed, and may not therefore be relevant.’
Creating what is popular does not equal being relevant.  We have a respobnsibility to decide what is helpful or not for us as Christians, but the challenge remains: are we willing to delve into the ugliness to expose the tensions and lies that lurk beneath?
Beauty: exposing the idolatrous, reflecting the wondrous
Worshipping beauty is idolatry.  We worship the one to whom they all point.  As people look at our work, they should cry, “Where and how are such things possible?” whether that's in the nature of our brushstroke, how we intricately piece together our textile final piece, or what themes are provoked and pointed to in a film that we create.
T-bone Burnett said there are two types of songs: 
there are songs about the light, or songs that describe things that you can now see because of the light.  
What a brilliant way to think about how we see, now we’ve been exposed to the light.  God’s light shines on everything we see.  Are we choosing to reflect the wonderful creation around us with integrity, in view of this light?
Hope: exposing the baseless, reflecting the future
We are called to expose idoaltrous delusion, life and systems that build hope without Christ at the centre, and in turn provoke hope in a way that isn’t kitsch, cliche or trite.
What a challenge! But as Mark rightly points out, this is what society is desperate for.  Do we need to be formulating a sincere language that will be able to deal with such an enormous task?
Mark Meynell left us all feeling thoroughly encouraged in our creative calling, challenged with the weight of responsibility that comes with being those who live in view of God's mercy, and stimulated to think more and more on the wealth of rich material he gave us to ponder.
A couple of things he left us with at the end of last night are supremely helpful for us all as we think about our Christian imaginations:
Remember that we can never do more than reflect the Lord’s creativity
If you’ve led one person to think and see things in a new way, it’s worth it.

* Mark Meynell is a minister at All Soul's, Langham Place, London.  He's got a great blog which is well worth checking out!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Be a thinking fresher...


Excitingly we are already getting emails from freshers who will be starting at art college in september!
Can you remember what it was like during freshers week? How did you feel?

I know for many it's a really daunting prospect, heading into the unknown world of art school, especially as a Christian.  Well, why not take time to read the article we've just written on the bethinking website and then pass it on to someone you know who would benefit from it.

Why not check out the rest of the website while you're at it too - it's full of really useful articles, talks, interviews that are all there to equip you in your studies, and in your walk with Jesus.

Let's serve one another well as we seek to stand firm as God's elect, strangers in the world.