When we opened Berliner Freiraum in May 2014 we had a building – and had to develop a concept (agreeably not the normal way of starting something!)
Our concept developed into having a place (1) where people could meet others; (2) where people could develop their skills, talents, and gifts; (3) where people could be creative and experience and enjoy the creativity of others; (4) where people could see and experience joy.
Our art exhibits, small concerts, music/praise-and-worship evenings as well as hosting events that include kids programs, youth groups, Bible Studies, church meetings, College classes, business meetings, and birthday parties have fit right into what we are trying to do. We want to be a “Greenhouse” for people and groups that bring people together and help them grow – personally and in their areas of talent/expertise. When creativity and joy are a part of what that group wants to do, that is a “Home Run” connection.
Our concept brings diverse groups together, which has led to interesting conversations. I shared a couple of weeks ago about the questions some people have about children and art.
Another group of people that we bring together is Christians and Artists. Usually, this is not a problem – but sometimes people are confused by the connection.
During one of our art exhibits, I was visiting with one of the guests on the first opening night. His question? What does God have to do with art? He also was very curious to find out that “Christians” would have anything to do with art. That whole theme is a topic for a different post. But for those who are curious, I do recommend Schaeffer’s “Art and the Bible.”
What I really want to talk about is a challenge I hear from artists, especially those who are Christians. The question is, “What does it mean to be a Christian artist?”
I think that this is a question that Christian musicians have faced (and perhaps continue to face) in the last 15 years. As I was growing up, I was part of the generation that had high expectations on Christian musicians. The expectation was that Christian musicians and performers be blatantly Christian. During this time a Christian musician could barely dare to sing a song that could also have secular intonations. Almost every song had to be tied almost directly to Jesus in some way. Calling a Christian musician a “Crossover Musician” was used as an insulting term – referring to a musician who had left the Christian music scene and had “crossed over” to the secular (DARK) side of music. (Here is one article from 2005 in Christianity Today)
For Christians who work in the art world of Berlin, the argument sometimes works the other way around. Many amazing artists feel that once their work is seen as “Christian”, or once they begin to publicly proclaim themselves as Christians, it will have a negative impact on their ability to survive as an artist. One art professor told me he would never recommend that his students exhibit in a gallery that was known to be a “Christian” gallery. He felt it would kill their chances to become career artists.
Why is it almost impossible for an “artist” to be successful in what is known in the Christian and the Secular scene at the same time? (Ok, not impossible, but very, very, difficult!)
I think it has a lot to do with the expectations of the Christian audience. To perform well in the Christian art world, their work has to be blatantly Christian, or they are viewed as compromising. As artists limit to what sells in specific markets, their creativity suffers. They lose the breadth of their artistic expression, and in doing so eventually compromise the effectiveness of their work. In the secular market, the breadth of expression is broader.
The gift of an and
I wonder if we realize how much of a double standard it is to expect that Christian artists are blatantly Christian as they use their talents. We do not expect a banker who is a Christian to mention Jesus in every contract. No one expects a lawyer who is a Christian to preach a small sermon every time he stands before a jury. And there are no expectations that a business person who is a Christian to open every meeting with prayer. Of course, we hope that a bankers, lawyers, and business person who is a Christian would behave differently.
How could we begin to eliminate the double standard? We could give the artist the benefit of an “and.” A person can be a businessman AND a Christian. A banker can be a banker AND a Christian. But artists? We take away their “and”, and give them the label “Christian Artist” or “Christian Musician.”
What would change if we gave artists and musicians the benefit of an “and”? I think that we would be blessed with better art and better music. Why? Because as I view art from artists who are people of faith and artists who are simply trying to make it in the art scene, I see a depth of interaction with themes that really impact the world. There is no pressure to be seen as “Christian”, which does not mean that there is no pressure. But the lack of pressure to be seen as blatantly Christian allows them broaden their theme selection.
My personal belief is that as artists who are Christians expand to interact with the greater breadth of themes, the discrimination against Christian artists in the art world would begin to fade. I personally believe that artists of faith can bring a broader spectrum of emotions to their work. They know what it means to be lonely and to be accepted. They can see the world through eyes of pain and eyes of hope and healing. I think that as they work with the benefit of an “and”, they have the opportunity for their work to receive mainstream acceptance.
Do you agree or disagree? How do you see things differently?