Why do we create? Lessons from the Bedford Sputnik Hub

There really is no better way to spend an afternoon than with a bunch of Christian artists.

If the 20 year old version of myself had known that 18 years later he’d be saying stuff like that, he would not have been a happy bunny. But I’d like to think that if my younger self was at the inaugural Bedford Sputnik hub meeting, he’d have come round to his older and wiser self’s way of thinking.

There we were. About 15 of us. In my mother in law’s conservatory. Painters, actors, poets, photographers, illustrators, sculptors, musicians. There were performances by Jon Brown (a beautiful song for his wife) and Ben Haynes (an eloquent and thoughtful spoken word piece), a Rob Cox self portrait and Nicola Dailey talking us through a community art project she took on to create a series of sculptures for the people of Dunstable. And it was great to finally see Phil and Harri Mardlin at work, if only on video. And that wasn’t even half of it.

The great thing about the churches I know in Bedford is that there is this underswell of creative enthusiasm that is liberating and infectious. People want to make stuff and they want to grow in their relationship with God. And to encourage other Christians. And to see people who aren’t Christians become Christians. And they want to do it creatively. Good work Bedford!

Apart from the work itself though, what I was drawn to throughout the afternoon was the question of why people make art. As we went round the group and the different artists started talking through their work, everyone seemed to have a completely different purpose for doing what they were doing. For some, their work was primarily for themselves (to creatively express themselves, to find their voice, to process biblical teaching), for others it was a way of deliberately communicating elements of the Christian message to others. For others it was more specific. One artist wanted to reveal beauty where it was hidden, one wanted to bring out the child in all of us. I particularly liked Lynne Harris’ main motivation which was that her painting helped her get out of the house and connect with the natural world.

This observation was perhaps prompted by the discussion that we’d had immediately before the time spent sharing work. One artist had honestly shared that he feared that his work was no good and another of the need to accept criticism to make work better. However how can you even define what is good (or how work can get better) unless you know what you are trying to achieve? And if you don’t know what someone is trying to achieve, critiquing is going to be at best pointless, and at worst really irritating!

I think that the best example would be if you had two visual artists- one who was making art to encourage Christians in times of corporate worship and another who was making art in a bid to engage with people outside the church (by getting included in a local gallery, for example). For the first artist, technical quality could be important but is not a clincher, but clarity of communication is probably going to be vital (if, for example, the piece is made to deliver a prophetic message, it’s probably helpful that people generally understand what that message is!) For the second artist on the other hand, ambiguity may be more desirable so as not to appear too didactic, and technical quality is paramount. Now, imagine the two artists critiquing each other’s work from their own standpoint. It’s going to be a car crash.

My advice to any artist would be to aim to become as good as you can at what you do. However, I recognise that an artist for whom the creative process is mainly about self expression and processing their emotions or relationship with God, isn’t going to be as motivated to do this as an artist with a different motivation. Also, for people who are just starting to explore their creativity, a high bar of technical skill may be incredibly off putting and may stop them developing.

I really hope that the Bedford hub (as with all our Sputnik Hubs) will be a group where people can improve in their work and it would be great to add in some elements of sensitive, constructive critique as time goes on. However, I’d love it too if it becomes a group where people who love creativity and love Jesus but are just starting out creatively can feel safe enough to push their work forward at their own speed.

That is always going to be a difficult balance, but I reckon that we got off to a great start.

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