One of the features of the Sputnikzone that has been present since the inception of the Catalyst Festival has been our art workshops. We’ve put on jewellery making workshops, story telling workshops, photography workshops, willow weaving workshops, painting workshops, felt making workshops, creative writing workshops, percussion workshops, printing workshops, still life drawing workshops, songwriters’ workshops, workshops about how to start creative projects, workshops about how to run art workshops… actually, we didn’t go that far, but you get the point!
I was a little reluctant to dedicate a post to why we did this. I mean why wouldn’t we? Art workshops are fun and there seems to be a plethora of talented and kind people in Catalyst churches who have been very eager to share their skills each year (you know who you are- you guys rock!) It’s not exactly ground breaking as a basic idea.
However, two things made me think that it may be worth outlining the raison d’être of our workshops. The first reason is that this was a deliberate ploy at the first festival and actually there was some thought that went into building these into the programme. The second reason stemmed from a conversation I had a couple of weeks ago. Let’s start with that phone call…
A couple of weeks ago I was chatting on the phone with a guy from another stream of churches about a festival they were putting on. It was a similar idea to the Catalyst festival and he was thinking through the arts stream and wanted to use me as a bit of a sounding board for what he was planning. The idea was simple. He was planning to deliver a series of 3 seminars about the arts.
The content was great and there were loads of good quotes that I will probably nick in upcoming posts. However, while good content may suffice for presentations on most areas of Christian life, in the arts, I think that we need to do something more. I have certainly enjoyed seminars like this before- I remember once hearing Dave Fellingham talk about the arts at a conference and leaving with the comforting feeling that perhaps I wasn’t quite as odd as my two decades in church up to that point had made me feel! However, I can’t help thinking that there is something inherently self defeating in talking about art, unless it’s accompanied by appreciating art or even better actually making something.
Andy Crouch branded this on to my brain with his excellent book ‘Culture Making’. I won’t go into too much detail as I’ve written about this at length before (here), however, one of his key points in the book is that while modern evangelical Christians have put lots of time into critiquing art (placing it into its cultural context, talking about the merits and demerits of different pieces, basically- doing seminars!), there has been very little attention given over to actually creating. For Crouch, to change culture, we must create culture.
Having read this just before the first Catalyst Festival then, we decided that we would make it our habit that whatever we did, wherever possible, we would try to include an element of actual creation. This was the main reason we initiated our Sputnikzone art workshops and have continued with them each year. It might sound quite grand and over blown, but we want to make a statement not just through what we say or what we display, but in what we do- that the practice of creation is valuable.
We applied this at our Sputnik artists’ gathering last year too, where we got Rob Cox to lead us through a monotype printing workshop to kick off the day. It proved an excellent way of putting people at ease so that they could get to know each other, but more than that, it reinforced this statement- we don’t want to be known as those who talk about art, we want to be known as those who make stuff. Excellent stuff, I hope!
So I hope you guys who were at the festival enjoyed learning how to make jewellery, create basic prints, use metaphor effectively, weave willow and tell stories. I also hope that some of you learnt some new skills that you can pursue further in the future. On top of that, I hope that my friend manages to embellish his good seminar ideas with some good art practice. But more than all of this I hope that Christians in the UK stop being known for being good at talking about things and start being known for being good at creating things- beautiful, ugly, provocative, difficult, challenging, powerful things.