Two weeks ago, we spoke to Los Angeles-based choreographer and teacher Marlita Hill about gracefully dismantling the expectations facing artists in churches. In part two of our interview, Marlita explains in more detail the groundwork that she works through when tutoring artists.
You can read the first part of this interview here.
Jonny Mellor: You talk about the importance of an artist’s whole art-life, rather than just the work they produce, could you explore this topic with us?
Marlita Hill: In the Kingdom Artist Initiative (KAI), one major question we answer is how do you serve God and build His kingdom working “out there” making “that kind” of art with “those people”? There is still a very present belief that Christians should only make art in church, for church, about God, and for worship. Any activity outside of that should be focused on evangelism; and the only reason to associate with non-Christians is to get them saved.
Well, I don’t share that belief. Church is wherever the people of God are. The Kingdom of God is bigger than a building and consists of so much more than evangelism. And, worship is practiced and offered up by what we do, as much as it is by what we say.
As an artist in Christ, you have a life in art, not just a message in art. Your life in art is a valid, God-honoring way that you participate in Kingdom citizenship and Christian community. In KAI, I teach about this life in art as three parts: Person, Process, and Product.
Person is who you are. The Bible says that you are the light of the world (Mt. 5:14). You are the salt of the earth (Mt. 5:14). You are the way that God diffuses His fragrance throughout the earth (2 Cor. 2:14). And you are an exhibitor and dispenser of His love. Before you ever do anything, and regardless of what your art talks about, this is who you are. This is how you show up in every space you enter in your art career. You are the representative and ambassador of the living God and of His Kingdom in the earth. You don’t have to do anything extra to accomplish that.
Process is how you do things: how you go about creating your art, how you make career decisions, and how you interact with the people around you. You honor God, make Him known, and demonstrate the Kingdom at work by the way you go about making these decisions, by your disposition in executing them, and by what leads and influences you in making them.
Product is the actual art work. A lot of us struggle trying to figure out what we can make art about. And we shouldn’t. Psalm 24 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to Him.” 2 Peter tells us that God has “given us everything that pertains to life and godliness.” If this is true, what could there possibly be that we cannot talk about? Nothing! It’s all fair game. It doesn’t matter what you talk about in your art. What matters is the perspective you present on what you talk about.
JM: But surely any Christian in any profession would share the first two of these in one respect. Focusing in on the product then, do you think that an artwork has any special value, beyond, say, a fruitful business deal, a well engineered bridge or a successful operation?
MH: As far as what art can uniquely do, I believe its singularity lies in its qualities of being stealth and efficient. Art operates on a frequency that cuts right to the essence of things. It communicates so deeply, so intimately, and so quickly, that people find themselves impacted before they’ve found the words to articulate what just happened to them. We can react to art once we’ve reoriented ourselves back in our intellectual fortresses; but we cannot deny that something got in. Art cuts right to places we would have to ask permission to enter through any other means.
We talk about salvation, but the salvation experience is an unrealistic to our actual faith lives as romantic movies are to real relationships. Where’s our mundane Tuesdays?
This is what’s so powerful about Christians being present and active in our art careers. As Kingdom citizens in the world, we have the opportunity to contribute the Kingdom perspective to cultural dialogue. We’re always told to focus on the salvation experience. But this is as unrealistic to our actual faith lives as romantic movies are to real relationships. The whole movie only goes up to the point of two people getting together, but we never see the reality of their mundane Tuesday. We talk about salvation, but what does life look like as a Christian once you’ve gotten saved? Where’s our mundane Tuesday?
Even though we’re Christians, we’re still sexual beings, we still have feelings, we still deal with loss and grief, have awe, fall in love, make mistakes, feel confused. We still engage in the human experience. So, what does that human experience look like from a Kingdom perspective? How do you address, confront, and look at being human and living in this earth in all its messiness from the other side of being saved?
JM: You specifically serve artists who have careers in the arts. What do you think are the key challenges that Christians who are professional artists face, and what advice would you give them to overcome these challenges?
MH: Three things artists of faith struggle with are liberty, identity, and fragmentation. I believe every artist struggles with these in some way but they manifest uniquely in the faith community. As the arts are slowly being accepted back into the church, artists of faith working in secular culture still have so few champions to tell them that all parts of who they are (as Christian, creative, and cultural participant) are from God, to assure them that they (right where they are, doing what they’re doing) are a needed and contributing part of the body of Christ, and to show them how to victoriously navigate their art life in God’s purpose. Without this, they’re left constantly struggling for permission and validation, constantly struggling with who they are and how they want to be seen and known, constantly feeling like they have to make the impossible choice about which part of themselves gets their attention. But none of these struggles are necessary.
This is why KAI focuses on the artist’s relationship with God, and between their faith, art, and career. To deal with these struggles we have to do three things:
One: We have to remember that we cannot necessarily equate our experiences with the church as being how God sees and feels about us. We have to go to Him for ourselves to find out how He actually sees us. That’s where true, unshakeable identity comes from.
Two: We have to forgive the church and other Christians for not knowing how to tell us who we are and where we fit. We just have to.
Three: We have to release the internal divide we’ve perpetuated, which most likely exists for good reason. Still, we have to allow them to coexist and thrive together in the same space because God never intended our faith, art, and career to be fragmented within us.
Read more about Marlita Hill’s work at marlitahill.com.