Most of us have a strange relationship with paid work. On the surface, most people like to tell you how much they hate their jobs, but dig a little deeper and you usually find that work is normally where people base their sense of meaning and develop many of their most precious life skills. Recently, our conflicting attitudes to work have been drawn out by the clamour of futurists, predicting the rise of machines in the workplace doing us all out of a job.
The popular responses to these predictions seem to have gone in two directions- Yay! Freedom from work. We can choose how to flourish and spontaneously help the communities around us. But wait a minute… will I actually be able to motivate myself to spend my time constructively? Won’t it just lead us to retreat into meaningless cul de sacs of entertainment (that by then will probably revolve around VR machines that we never need to unplug from)?
And there we have the conflict: work is a drag, but perhaps it is necessary for us to flourish as human beings. Or to put it more biblically, work was given to us as a source of dignity and joy, but through our sin, it has been cursed, and now becomes beset by futility, frustration and stress (Genesis 3:17-19)
Therefore, it was a great pleasure to spend the day on Saturday with a load of other eager drones, thinking carefully through the place that work should have in our lives and how as Christians we should go about our jobs. It was the first ever Catalyst4TheWorkplace Day and it was very worthwhile. More specifically, Sputnik had the pleasure of running the stream for arts professionals, and that too seemed to go well, and I thought I’d share a bit of a report, and some observations from the day.
For me, a day like this was always going to be about people. It was great to be able to spend some time with old friends and make some new ones too and sticking such an awesome bunch in one room and seeing what happened was always going to be fun. In all the presentations and discussions, three things struck me that particularly remained with me afterwards:
‘I decided to approach this properly as a career’
Mike French, writer of An Android Awakes, said this when describing his journey towards becoming a published author. God had told him (in the bath if I remember rightly) to go down this career route, and he wasn’t just going to rely on his imagination and natural flair for writing. Basically he signed up for a course with a literary consultancy and immersed himself as much as he could in the literary scene. This may all seem pretty non-exceptional, but I think it is so helpful to hear simple stories like this. A common experience of Christian artists is that others in their churches don’t take their art seriously, however I wonder if actually a lot of the time Christian creatives don’t themselves take their art seriously. If someone feels ‘called’ to become a lawyer, they do a law degree, if they feel God tell them to become a chef, they go to cookery school, however I’ve met loads of Christians who feel that God has called them to be an artist in one field or another and simply assume that that is the end of the story- all they need to do is be creative and their work will change the world. Now often it has to be said, there is no obvious career preparation track available (how do you become a songwriter, for example?), but often the lack of proactivity that follows from such an assertion of artistic calling is simply down to not approaching ‘this properly as a career’. Do you feel God is calling you to be an artist? Approach your art properly as a career. Do you think God may be calling you to be an artist but you’re not sure? Approach it properly as a career- start training/do an internship/apply for that course and see if things click.
‘We like work that is exciting and at times we also like work that is paid’
This quote was from film maker Joel Wilson and it spurred off an interesting discussion about the even more interesting relationship between artists and money. It was fascinating hearing all of the artists on our panel as they talked through their stories. Each one seemed to divide their work in a similar way- some work that pays the bills, other work that is less financially rewarding but perhaps more in line with what makes them come alive as artists. Daniel Blake subsidising his fashion labels by teaching at the London school of fashion. Phil and Harri Mardlin doing corporate gigs to fund projects like StageWrite, Bedford’s main annual new writing festival. Chris Donald juggling church graphic design jobs with running the Minor Artists record label and production company. It would be fair to say that a theme developed as the afternoon passed.
I’d imagine that this will come as no surprise to any of you who have ever pursued your artistic gifting professionally, but if you are looking into exploring this possibility, it is well worth taking note of this reality. In the arts, as well as in other occupations, what is exciting and what we get paid for don’t always line up perfectly. Understanding this from the outset could save a lot of trouble down the line if you are serious about exploring whether your art form may be able to pay the bills at some point.
As we were worshiping all together in the first session of the day, Daniel Blake took the mic and told us how he’d seen a billboard outside the window with #gamechanger written repeatedly on it. He felt that God wanted to bring this to our attention as the day was going to be a game changer for people in how they see their work. This resonated with me immediately and I leapt up to add that I thought that this could be seen even more broadly as a game changer for how we, as a family of churches, even see church itself and how we serve people in their jobs.
As I talked to artists and listened to their stories in the afternoon, I felt struck by the possibility that there was a third game to be changed. In Sputnik, we’ve spent the last four years discussing the big conceptual questions and encouraging artists and non-artists in our churches to see the importance of the arts and work that through in church life. On Saturday, I suddenly realised that the conversation had moved on. Now, we weren’t talking about up in their air ideas and vague notions of validation and affirmation. We were down to brass tacks. We were talking about how we can get paid from this stuff. How we can self subsidise ourselves in our art. We ended the day taking this even further to the question of patronage and whether the church can play an important financial role in this by taking on a role of patronage of individual artists and the arts in general.
I’m looking forward to God changing the game for Sputnik and working more meaningfully with professionals as well as amateurs, helping talented artists learn how to make a living and even perhaps becoming more of a vehicle to enable the church to take up once again its historical role as an important patron of the arts.
That’s a game I look forward to playing and if that resonates with you I’d love to hear if you’d like to play it with us.