The Vocation of an Artist

Curated Resources Designed to Help Artists Consider How Their Faith Connects With Art, Aesthetics, Cultural Engagement, and the Church

Curated by Bethany Jenkins

Creation and Creativity

Art is increasingly being seen as a vocation, not merely a hobby or a side job. Although there are a variety of types of artists—musicians, poets, novelists, painters, photographers, and more—they all have one thing in common: they create new things. “There are those who look at things the way they are and ask, ‘Why?’ I dream of things that never were and ask, ‘Why not?’” Robert Kennedy famously said. This, says Tim Keller, is the charter of a creative.

Although this talk was given in the context of a forum on entrepreneurship, the truths that Keller highlights are just as true for an artist as they are for an entrepreneur. For both individuals seek to create something new from raw materials. They both seek to dream of things that never were and create them. This is a wonderful foundational talk to guide our thinking about faith and the arts.  

Reflection Questions
  • What are the four components of the biblical narrative?
  • Do you need a reason to create? Why or why not?
  • What was God’s purpose in creation? How does that affect ours?

The Gospel and the Arts

What does it mean to engage culture? Sometimes it means responding to it; art is a presentation of someone’s worldview, and we have a worldview that can contribute to the dialogue. Other times, engaging culture means creating it; we ourselves are creators, made in God’s image, to build and create. Art can be a vocation, not just a hobby or a side job.

In this discussion hosted by the ERLC and moderated by Mike Cosper (Harbor Institute), Stephen Bush (Austin Stone), Alissa Wilkinson (Vox film critic), and Karen Swallow Prior (English professor) discuss how we can meaningfully and thoughtfully engage culture—responding and creating.

Reflection Questions
  • What do the panelists believe is at the root of our fear about engaging culture? Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  • How can we overcome our fear and “fear not” in the face of culture?
  • How can pastors be more welcoming to artists in their congregation?

Christian Hip Hop and Cultural Engagement

Hip hop isn’t known for moral uprightness or solid theology, pastor and rapper Trip Lee admits. Instead, he says, it’s known for violence, materialism, and misogyny. “That’s American culture,” he clarifies. “Hip hop is just more obvious about it.”

In this talk, Lee says that a Christian withdrawing from culture because the world is broken is like a contractor quitting because the house is a wreck. Of course, it’s a wreck; the contractor’s job is to fix it. The same is true for Christians; we’re called to be lights in the darkness and, most importantly, we’re called to be faithful in public, including in our work.

Reflection Questions
  • What areas of your vocation are broken? How might you work toward healing?
  • What is the difference between Batman and Ironman spirituality?
  • What does being “faithful in public” mean?

  • Bob Doll, Kathryn Leary Alsdorf, & Dave Kiersznowski - Rethinking Work

Five Ways Faith Influences Work

Years ago, when Tim Keller first started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, an actor asked him how to integrate his faith and work. The actor wanted to know what roles his faith allowed him to take. But Keller didn’t know how to respond; he hadn’t studied the integration of faith and work in seminary.

In the video below, Keller says that the job of the church is to preach the gospel and that necessarily includes engaging culture. For the church must disciple people and teach them to obey Christ in all areas of their lives, including work—and work is culture.

Reflection Questions
  • What story do we put our work in for it to make sense?
  • What are the five ways Keller says faith can influence our work?

  • Tim Keller, Bob Doll, Kathryn Leary Alsdorf, Dave Kiersznowski, & Greg Forster - Redefining Work

Art, Conscience, and Theological McCarthyism

When it comes to the arts, we often go back and forth between two extremes—thinking it’s all good or all bad. We’re sometimes suspicious of the arts because, in our culture, “the new priest” is the film director, not the pastor. Movies are influencing what we believe, how we think, and what we trust.

In this conversation, Mike Cosper (Harbor Institute), Scotty Smith (Christ Community Church), and Greg Thornbury (The King’s College) discuss the role of the church in culture and the role of the arts in keeping the church honest about the reality of the world—both its beauty and its darkness.

Reflection Questions
  • How are the arts taking on a priestly role in culture? What do we miss when they do this?
  • How is the church not synonymous with the kingdom? How is God making all things new, not just the church? Why does this make a difference?
  • What role does conscience play in the arts, and how can we be generous toward those who have different pricks of conscience?

Bad Art and the Tortured Beauty of the Cross

What makes art bad? The content? The aesthetics? Both?

In this discussion, Mike Cosper (Harbor Institute), Scotty Smith (Christ Community Church), and Greg Thornbury (The King’s College) discuss the art of Christian subculture, which they lament can often focus too much on the normative and too little on the messiness of life. It seems to be an anesthetized version of beauty, removing all the clumsiness and doubt of reality. “That not good art,” says Smith, “and that’s not good theology.”

Reflection Questions
  • What passages of Scripture do the panelists highlight as being particularly honest about the human condition?
  • Why is it bad art and bad theology to present the world in a clean way? What does that make us think about God?

  • Bruce Herman - Sacred Conversations