Areas of influence: The arts
By Phil Mardlin
The year was 2003 and it was my birthday. My wife (then girlfriend) had bought me tickets to see Blood Brothers. If you haven’t seen it look away, because here’s a spoiler: in the final scenes of the performance one of the brothers shoots the other brother. As tears unashamedly fell down my cheek, I knew the power that theatre held over me – the power to inspire me, provoke me, challenge me and cause my heart to soar. I was 31 years old and I had finally figured out what I wanted to do with my life: I wanted to work in the arts.
The arts, of course, cover more than just theatre. They encompass everything from literature, poetry and film to visual art, dance, opera, music and so much more. Yet culturally the arts have suffered over the years and are often undervalued, both inside the church and out. I’ve always loved the arts but for many years I had simply forgotten their power to inspire and challenge me and give me joy.
Exploring the heart of God
I recently visited Vatican City and St Paul’s Basilica where I was astounded by the number of paintings, statues and tapestries all inspired by the very word of God. As I wandered the halls and corridors exploring room after room of the most incredible artwork, I wondered for a moment what on earth had inspired an artist like Michelangelo to spend four backbreaking years painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and another six years painting the altar. Talk about a crick in the neck! I can only assume the reason is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. If you’ve never seen it, it’s truly breathtaking.
Engaging with the arts, then, would seem to me to be a way into exploring the very heart of the ultimate artist, God Himself. The Bible is literally littered with examples of expression of the arts from David dancing through the streets to his writing of the Psalms. Interestingly, many of us often don’t engage with the arts because we assume it’s, “not our thing.” Honestly, I believe we are missing out.
So why is it not our thing? I would suggest that part of the issue is that the arts are still associated with mere entertainment and nothing more. Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with being entertained, but the arts can offer so much more than entertainment.
So what does engaging with the arts offer? There are three main areas that I’d like to suggest here:
Challenge and Provocation
Sometimes engaging with the arts – theatre, film or visual art – won’t be comfortable. If a piece makes you uncomfortable, the artist is probably jumping for joy because that’s likely to be what he or she intended. In order to understand another person’s life, it’s important to step into it at times—even for a brief moment. When you do, whether through a performance or a piece of art, it’s a courageous and rewarding experience. Not long ago I adapted some stories for a human trafficking awareness day. They were uncomfortable but incredibly powerful; seeing them performed on stage rather than simply read means that they felt much more personal and the experience will stay with those who saw it.
There’s a reason that we, as artists, fight to keep subjects like drama, dance and music on schools’ curriculums. It’s because they teach children – and adults – self-confidence, self-esteem and important communication skills. Engagement with the arts can be a huge builder of empathy skills. As people engage with the arts, they will find that their perception of the world will change as they see other viewpoints and perspectives. This, in turn, allows them to see things from other people’s point of view and therefore will allow them to put themselves in another person’s shoes – the very heart of empathy.
The arts are synonymous with human expression, creativity and culture. If we are created in the image of God, then from that should flow an expression of God’s heart—an expression of beauty. To engage with the arts is to engage with the creative heart of God and with this, joy flows.
God created the arts and He’s the ultimate artist. Are you willing to explore the arts with Him and see what He might be waiting to show you? Trust me, you’ll never look back.