A fellow artist asked me the other day why I felt strongly about including art in the worship experience. I thought it was a good question.
I would say that adding live art to the service is not necessarily changing the act of creating to a performance. Sure, there are some practiced folks that can create a painting quickly during a service and with an element of performance, but most of the artists at my church work on one piece over the course of a month. So it can be a slower process like that in the studio. This incorporation of art making, my church has been able to grow a gallery, artist small group, and a creative leadership team. Having the artist on stage during the worship exhibits our commitment to visual art and draws artists out of their seats. It also promotes understanding and appreciation of art by the church members. This leads to other opportunities for the visual art in the church.
What about excellence of craft?
As to excellence in craft, just because it created on stage doesnt decrease the excellence of the work. I've seen plenty of artist who create with as much or more skill when on stage. Also, adding art to the worship gives rise to purpose and community for the artist and a drive to become a better artist. I have met many artists who began painting again or increased their output because the church encouraged their work through live painting and a gallery space. I have seen not only my own skills grow and develop, but many other artists in our community as well. Although we started with mostly casual artists (folks who like to paint but it weren't in galleries), over time we have connected with more professional artists. Also, I've seen casual artists grow and develop their abilities through community and purpose for their work. Name an art gallery in your area that focuses on Christian themes and messages. I bet you cant name one that is not part of a church. I know there is not one in Memphis. In this way we are influencing the culture of the city.
Now painting on stage may seem a strange idea for an artist, but the experience is so enriching to your spiritual walk and worship experience. I've had many artists who shied away at first but after visiting our service and seeing another artist painting, most feel drawn like a moth to a light. No artist has ever told me, "thanks for the opportunity but that was just too uncomfortable." Once they have done it, most artists are eager to paint during the worship again and again. People in the church love it too. They often purchase the work and encourage the artist. People who purchase a painting can use the painting as a conversation piece in their home to talk with others about their faith.
Without the live art element in the service, I believe our arts ministry would not be as strong or as fruitful. We have artists who have found other ways to use art in the church. One artist stated using art in the children's sunday school to help kids express their feelings and faith. Another artist created a series of work after a mission trip. The work promoted awareness and raised money for a building project. We have artists who are planning a mural project in the section of town that the church does its urban ministry. We have artists in our leadership team who help brainstorm creative sermon series and events. But these things were all possible through the door of inclusion or art in the worship.