For some time, I have had a nagging concern that there is a tendency for Christian artists to create art that simply holds a mirror up to the viewer, reflecting to them a reality that they already know. Shouldn’t our art instead be a window for the viewer to look through, on to a reality that is not yet known? Shouldn’t our art bring hope?
While pondering these things, I heard an interview on Radio 4 with the American installation artist Theaster Gates in which he seemed to communicate so clearly all that I was thinking. He stated:
“There are two ways of approaching the plight of a place. You could either focus on the absolutely negative and curse the government and curse the people and curse the apathy. Or you could focus on the possibilities, you could focus on the hope of a place. You can concentrate on breathing and the breath. You can try to sing a song instead of protest. And maybe the song and the protest do the same thing but with completely different effects. And so the effect I’d like to create with song is an effect of possibility and not one effect of criticism.”
Theaster articulated in a minute what I had been pondering for hours. Our art can be windows of opportunity or hope that can transform individuals and, who knows, perhaps whole communities.
With all this in mind, Gates paints a different way of doing things in his TED talk ‘How to revive a neighbourhood with imagination, beauty and art” which is well worth 15 minutes of your time. I am not suggesting he has all the answers but maybe he is a voice worth listening to in our pursuit to explore how art can shape life.